On Christmas Day, my friend Jim served up the most scrumptious Coq Au Vin. Tender chicken breast with soft vegetables in a delicious wine based broth – it was wonderful. In fact, it was so good, it inspired me to give it a try.
Jim used a recipe by the wonderfully talented Fannie Farmer. After doing some research, I decided to try a recipe from The Balthazar Cookbook. I’ve long admired this French bistro, so why not? I pulled the book down from the shelf and studied the recipe — something I’m glad I took the time to do.
Coq Au Vin is not by any means a quick dinner. It requires two days of marinating and hours of slow cooking. Since slow cooking has been gaining momentum lately, I decided I would look into it. Slow cooking is the antithesis of fast food. Basically, as Michael Pollan put it, slow food enthusiasts “eat real food.”
Now, there are a few peculiarities with slow cooking I found along the way. In order to truly make a slow food meal, I had to ensure my ingredients were “slow grown” as well. Meaning, I had to go to the farmer’s market, buy as much locally grown produce as possible, and also, try to get a local chicken. I found myself running between the downtown farmer’s market, the Mennonite market and the Fresh Market attempting to make the best choices. As I used a car, I’m not convinced this was wise. The wine too, should have been locally grown, but seeing as there are no reputable vineyards in the area, I opted for a French import.
The first step in making a Coq Au Vin is marinating the meat. Although the recipe said to put the chicken in a bowl and refrigerate, I found that I just didn’t have the space. So I used a plastic container. Yes, I’m aware of the environmental impacts of plastic, but trust me, I reuse this container and didn’t dispose of it.
The chicken soaks in a medium to full bodied red wine, like cabernet sauvignon. In addition, largely diced onions, carrots, celery and a bouquet of parsley, thyme and peppercorns join the party. It is recommended that the chicken marinate between one and two days prior to cooking (see, this really is slow cooking).
Once the chicken has marinated, you can finally start cooking. I’ll admit, I had a hard time with this. Typically, I like to be a fast cook. From chopping to stirring to plating, I like to work fast. I kept reminding myself that this was slow cooking. So. . . slow down, lower the heat, take your time. It’s a lot harder than it sounds.
The first step is to brown the chicken on all sides. On low heat, this is about 8 to 10 minutes per side, and I completed this in two batches. Then, you brown the vegetables. Once the vegetables have browned, add tomato paste and flour and continue cooking. After that, it’s time to add the marinating liquid. Once this is brought to a boil, it needs to be reduced. It takes at least 30 minutes to reduce properly.
The wine reduction takes on a beautiful texture and shimmer, and the smell is incredible. With glee, I returned the chicken to the pot and added three cups of veal stock. Once again, it was cook and wait. After simmering on low heat for an hour, the Coq Au Vin is almost complete. Almost.
In a separate pan, I fried up thick slices of bacon with pearl onions and chopped mushrooms. The chicken mixture was strained and the liquid reserved. The vegetables, which will be mushy at this point, are discarded and the liquid gets a second reduction. Finally, after this reduction, the chicken, mushrooms, onions and bacon are combined and the dish is complete. Coq Au Vin on the table.
I love all types of cooking and especially love international cuisines. This recipe, however, is painstakingly disturbing. The end results are phenomenal. . . but it’s just one meal. Tomorrow, there will need to be another. Was it really worth 36 hours of preparation? I think it will take days for me to fully answer that question.