Thursday, July 5, 2012

Coq au Vin: Just Like the Frenchies! Promise...

I couldn't bring myself to post on the 4th of July because I wasn't grilling up brats and homemade hamburgers while endangering my life with fireworks, instead I was trying my hand at an old French favorite: Coq au vin. We had a couple of half or quarter-full wine bottles left over from when our visitors stayed with us (we have had 7 people visit so far this summer!). So, I decided it was high time to get those into a sauce reduction, a syrup for chocolate cake, or something more robust like a Coq au vin. I'm happy I made that choice (mostly due to the fact that I don't have an oven to whip up a chocolate cake with wine sauce), because it turned out phenomenal, and it is a great meal for a large lunch. Here in Spain the largest meal of the day is lunch at about 2-2.30PM, and dinner isn't until 10.30 or 11PM; knowing that, we can't really welcome a couple of delicious drunken chicken breasts into our stomachs before sleeping.

We buy our wine from a local bodega, which serves up its wine, mixed or unmixed straight from the barrel into whatever container you bring. It's pretty nifty, and really thrifty at about a euro for 1.5 liters...yes, cheaper than water. The people are really nice too, which reminds me of home. The place my roommate and I used to go to is called Old Town Wine and Spirits on Bardstown Road. They are great people, with a solid knowledge of their products and good taste--I know this because I went in on more than one occasion for recommendations on food and wine-pairings. If you get the chance, stop on in!

For this recipe, I would normally recommend a pinot noir or your favorite full-bodied wine, which still has some sweetness in it. We used a 2007 Rioja and some sweet wine we had left over from the bodega, so it all worked out. Yeah, a few of you probably let out a gasp just then, but mixing wine for drinking or cooking is nothing new, especially if it's not with bottles of $40 wine...take a look at the next bottle you drink, I bet you it is a combination of cabernet, pinot, syrah, etc, etc. Some of the best wines I've had aren't purely from a single grape (although those are to be celebrated as well), rather they have complexity through mixing. I respect both approaches to wine-making--it's all good!

Okay, so why Coq au vin and why now? I would say that this is a great dish to prepare in the autumn and winter because it is so hearty, but we needed a dose of protein and as I mentioned before, we had a surplus of wine. I did some studying on epicurious, one of my food research sites, but I rarely follow the recipe exactly, so here are some changes I made from the Quick Coq au Vin recipe on In place of onion I used leeks and celery, which added a delightfully soft sweetness.The mushrooms I used were called "Setas de flor" or flower mushrooms. I'm not entirely sure which kind of mushroom they were, but pick up a mushroom that has some flavor and texture, not those bland white caps that they put on Papa John's pizzas. I also had tons of carrots and I picked up some parsnips and a daikon radish, all of which I pureed into a happy, creamy side. Isn't using the flavors you have lying around in a new made-up recipe just so much fun? Now, let's get started!

Relatively Quick Coq au Vin with Creamy Pureed Root Vegetables

Coq au Vin
4 Strips of your favorite deliciously smoked bacon, chopped
4 Chicken breast fillets, cleaned and trimmed
1 Leek (green and white parts), minced
4 Cloves garlic, finely sliced*
1 Celery stalk, finely chopped
8oz. Flavorful Mushrooms, rinsed and rough chopped if necessary
3 T Fresh parsley, chopped
1.5 cups Red wine
1.25 cups Water (divided)
4 t flour
Sea salt
Black pepper
Pinch of thyme
 *I slice my garlic as recommended by Tony Bourdain. I think it adds nice aesthetic and the flavor is really conserved compared to mincing. Smashing is the best though if you can manage it...I'll take the whole garlic chunks if you don't want them!

Creamy Pureed Root Vegetables
2 T butter
2 Parsnips
5 Carrots
1 Daikon radish
Sea Salt

To begin, prep everything on the list because it will just make your life easier. Because this recipe has multiple steps, it's nice to have your "mise en place" -work station- all set out and then you can just pick and choose what you need for each step. I arrange my meat and my vegetables separately in order to avoid cross-contamination ( I know, sounds serious doesn't it?), and if I'm using a bounty of herbs and spices, I'll set those up separate, around my vegetable prep or close to the stove. That isn't the case in this recipe!

First, you chop up the bacon and set aside. Then you need to season the chicken: salt, pepper, and parsley the fillets on both sides. When you've done this, start frying up that bacon until its crispy. Oh, how I love anything with meat and vegetables cooked in bacon fat...the French brought that beautiful technique to Louisville, and now we're eating bacon and pork right and left. Just look how beautiful it is! Wait until you smell it...
Remove the crispy, but not yet burnt bacon from the pan and set aside. Add the seasoned chicken fillets to the bacon drippings on medium heat and watch magic happen. I cooked them for about 4 minutes each side to brown them. If you have larger chicken breasts, just worry about browning them for now, 8-10 minutes should do them, and later we'll be simmering them in the gorgeous wine sauce. Remove the browned chicken and reserve, covered, or if you're lucky, throw them covered in a low-heat oven to keep them warm. I'm not convinced this part is necessary, I just reserved them on a plate with an inverted bowl on top and they came out juicy as ever.
Chicken fillets browning in bacon drippings

Do not drain those juices from the pan!!! Now you are going to sauté the celery and leeks in the pan (can you see why it is useful to have everything prepped?) until they are soft and fragrant. Then, add in the mushrooms and cook until they start browning. Add those garlic cloves at then end and toss around quickly, just like I taught you before...they are delicate and their best flavor comes when sauteed last.
 The exciting part comes next...add about a tablespoon of parsley (you should still have some left over at this point), the reserved crispy bacon, all of the wine, and about a cup of water. You'll hear that wonderful schwoo sound from the wine deglazing the bottom of the pan. Take this opportunity to stir around on the bottom and make sure that nothing is sticking, this also gets the pieces that might be a little stuck, but are carrying a deep caramelized flavor into your sauce. Simmer this concoction for 10-15 minutes. During this frame of time you can make up your sauce thickener: 4 teaspoons of flour with 1/4 cup water, stirred up until the lumps are worked out and seasoned with a tiny bit of salt and thyme.

When the wine has reduced down, you should add the flour mixture and in about 3-4 minutes you'll see your sauce thicken. At this point, you can uncover the chicken breasts and nestle them into the sauce to simmer for another 20-30 minutes, covered and on low. I turned the breasts over about 10 minutes in, so the other side could soak up some sauce too.

Right when you put that chicken in to simmer, start up on your side dish!
Creamy pureed root vegetables are very simple to make. Clean, peel, and rough chop those root vegetables. I really really love parsnips, so I threw a couple in there with the carrots and I wanted to see if a daikon radish would work too, even though it probably doesn't need to be cooked. It really did add a cool flavor and helped make the texture more smooth and uniform. I bet a sweet potato would be killer in this!
Anyways, all you have to do is pop those vegetables into boiling, salted water until they are soft. Strain them from their water, add 2 tablespoons of butter, salt, and some of that leftover fresh parsley. Take out that immersion blender, or food processor, or the back of a fork, and puree that beautiful mixture until it is as gold as the Kentucky state flower, the Goldenrod. Serve it in a side bowl.

By the time all that is done, your chicken should be ready to come out of its sweet simmer and onto your plate. Ladle a small amount of sauce into the plate or shallow bowl that you'll serve it in, then put a couple fillets on top and ladle more sauce on top. Garnish with parsley and fresh cracked pepper. A nice, crackly, mouth-watering baguette would go nicely with this meal. We followed it up with a bowl of fresh cherries...that's what life is after all!

Bon appetít!

Listening to Marion Dries on WFPK Radio Louisville


  1. Looks good..I like that you gave us step-by-step pictures, it's more enticing!! I wonder what I can sub for the wine, any suggestions? I'll have to look it up. We often have meals made from whatever needs to be used in the fridge, it's fun conjuring up good food. I still picture you the little 10 year old Shannon look at you! I'm having trouble posting...I'm not anonymous...Jerilyn :) Luv you

  2. The reason wine is used so much for cooking is because of the acidity. There is quite a bit of fat in this dish and it is balanced by the acid. The best substitute would be non-alcoholic wine, which you can find in the spice aisle usually next to the vinegars. You could also experiment with mixing grape juice or cranberry juices with red wine vinegar. For just a splash, red wine vinegar and a bit of water would help but there is so much more liquid in this recipe. Let me know what you try out! Thanks for your comment too! I'm excited that people are reading and that they like it. Sending big hugs.