I have been teased in the past by friends who find it amazing just how much I love chicken and how often I will order it at even the nicest restaurants. I think my prediliction stems from my upbringing as my mother would make chicken curry pretty much on a weekly basis for me. I also gave up red meat for several years and so I relied on chicken even more during those years. I recall during my senior year of college (part of my non-red meat eating days), when I was finally off the university meal plan, I would buy a pack of boneless, skinless chicken breast every week to cook for the week's dinner (I wasn't very adventurous back then). I was the only one of my roommates who ate any meat and there was inevitably some controversy over the "chicken bag", aka the plastic grocery bag that contained the chicken breast pack. Being a little bit more laid back about bacteria in those days, I somehow always forgot to separate out the "chicken bag" and threw it into the house's collection of plastic bags. My roommates were disgusted at the thought of inadvertantly using the "chicken bag." Now that I think about it, the ongoing "chicken bag" controversy is likely responsible for my reputation for excessively loving chicken.
I still love chicken just as much today but I try to avoid boneless, skinless chicken breast, which frankly tastes like cardboard to me these days. I have been trying to master several classic chicken recipes and have already blogged about chicken with 40 cloves of garlic and Zuni Cafe's roast chicken. Last weekend, I decided to try my hand at coq au vin, a rustic French dish traditionally made with an old rooster (while I would love to try old rooster, I made do with a whole cut up chicken). The dish is essentially a braise and perfect for the continuing dreary weather in New York (it snowed on the first day of Spring!). I used a combination of two recipes -- a Barefoot Contessa recipe I found on the Food Network site and a recipe from Molly Stevens' book, All About Braising, which I have discussed before. I used a very cheap red wine for this recipe, which did not hurt the flavor of the dish at all. I also decided to strain the sauce after the braising period for aesthetic purposes but that is completely unnecessary. I served this with mashed potatoes and roasted cipollini onions, instead of the traditional pearl onions.
Coq Au Vin
1 3 - 4 lbs. whole chicken, cut into eighths
4 ounces bacon, diced (I had to use turkey bacon because my husband does not eat pork)
kosher salt & pepper
1/2 lb. carrot, peeled & diced
1 yellow onion, diced
2 or 3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 Tbsp brandy
1/2 bottle (375 ml) dry red wine, such as a Burgundy
1 cup + 2 Tbsp chicken stock
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp fresh thyme
3 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 bay leaf
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp tomato paste
flour for dredging, about 1/2 cup
1/2 lb. cremini mushrooms, cut into quarters
2 Tbsp Marsala wine
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
2. In a large Dutch oven, cook the diced bacon over medium heat until well browned and crisp on the outside but with some softness remaining inside. If using turkey bacon, you may need to add a touch of olive oil. Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels.
3. Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper. Spread the flour on a wide shallow dish and dredge each piece of chicken, shaking off any excess flour.
4. Add one tablespoon of butter to the rendered bacon fat (if using turkey bacon, you will likely have to add a tablespoon of olive oil) and heat over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, ease the dredged chicken pices, skin side down, without crowding the pot. Brown well on each side, around 7 to 10 minutes total, until a deep golden brown crust forms. Transfer the chicken to a large platter to catch the juices and repeat the process with all the remaining chicken pieces. Lower the heat a touch if the second batch of chicken pieces begin to burn.
5. Pour off any excess fat from the pot, and then add a tablespoon of butter and melt over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot and saute until the vegetables are beginning to soften and are flecked with brown, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and bay leaf and cook for another minute. Add the tomato paste and smear throughout the vegetables.
6. Add the brandy and bring to a boil to deglaze, scraping the pot with a wooden spoon to dislodge the crust that should have formed at the bottom of the pot. When the liquid is almost gone, raise the heat to high and add the red wine, 1 tablespoon thyme, and 2 tablespoons of parsley and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-high and simmer rapidly until the wine reduces by about half, about 15 minutes. Stir in the reserved bacon and the stock and bring to a boil.
7. Add the chicken pieces back to the pot. Make sure to place the chicken breasts back in the pot skin side down balanced on top of the other pieces (this helps prevent the breasts from drying out). Pour in any juices that collected as the chicken sat and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and place on a rack in the lower third of the oven to braise.
8. After 15 minutes, turn the breast pieces over with a tong. At the same time, make sure the liquid is not bubbling too fiercely. If it is, lower the heat by 10 or 15 degrees. Continue to braise for another 45 minutes or until the breasts and dark meat are fork-tender.
9. While the chicken braises, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan. Add the mushrooms and saute until they start giving off their liquid. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and thyme. Once the liquid is almost evaporated, add 2 tablespoons of chicken stock. Once the chicken stock evaporates, add the Marsala wine and saute until the mushrooms are browned nicely.
10. When the chicken is fork-tender and pulling away from the bone, transfer the chicken to a deep platter or serving dish and cover loosely with foil to keep warm. Let the braising liquid settle for a moment and then, with a wide spoon, skim off as much surface fat as you can without being overly fastidious. Strain the solids out of the braising liquid and return the liquid to pot. Place the pot over high heat and bring the juices to a boil. Reduce the juices until thickened to the consistency of a vinaigrette, about 10 minutes. Lower the heat and add the mushroom mixture. Spoon the sauce over the chicken pieces, sprinkle with the remaining chopped parsley, and serve.
Makes 4 servings.