Paris. You almost say it with a sigh. The city of light. Wine, cheese, French bread, crepes, music in the streets at night- it’s no wonder everyone loves Paris. Even in the darkest days of winter, the lights twinkle and the warmth of the city embraces you. Maybe winter isn’t so bad when a roaring fire, hot mulled red wine and French soup await. Maybe summer isn’t so hot when fresh picked strawberries, cream and chilled Normandie shellfish are waiting.
The French chefs of yesterday set the standard for ‘western’ cuisine. Men like Careme, Escoffier, Fernand Point, and so on. These are the men who defined classical (haute) cuisine. Then the others rose to fame in the 70s and 80s with nouvelle cuisine. Nouvelle cuisine is really the classics interpreted, many times in a healthy, or redirected way. Michelin began its famous guide (which started as a guide for the first Michelin tire salesmen), and the cream rose to the top, and thus began the beginning of the celebrity chef.
Classic cuisine today is almost a lost cause. The extravagant platters, displays and presentations just aren’t done anymore. The closest we come now is probably an ice carving packed with shrimp and shellfish on some Vegas brunch display.
I love the classics. Do I make them? Only once in a great while. Are they sometimes too much work and too complicated? Yes. Even for me. Fluting mushrooms, turning vegetables, setting meats ‘en glasage’ is incredibly time consuming and not practical.
This dish, coq au vin, is an old classic. Traditionally, it’s made from farm raised rooster, which is tougher than hen and therefore needs a long braise, as opposed to a hen, which will become tough and overcook very fast. The chicken is braised in wine, aromatics, herbs, and other little wonderful things until tender and delicious.
Coq au Vin
Prep: 45 min
Active cooking time 2 hrs
Inactive cooking time: 24 hrs
1 poussin chicken, capon, or 2 cornish game hens
2 yellow onion, medium dice
2 stalks celery, medium dice
3 sticks carrots, medium dice
|Coq au Vin|
1 bunch thyme
5 cloves garlic
3 tbsp tomato paste
750 ml dry red wine
2 cups white mushrooms, quartered
1 cup flour
1/2 cup brandy
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup demi-glace (*see note)
1 cup cream
1/4 cup chopped parsley
cracked black pepper
Cut the chicken or hens into 8 cut (classic French chicken butchery, see youtube for lesson). Marinade chicken over night in wine, onion, celery, carrots, thyme, and garlic. Next day, remove the chicken from the marinade and let dry. Strain the vegetables and herbs out of the marinade and reserve everything.
Heat oven to 300. In a heavy bottom dutch oven, begin heating a little vegetable oil. Season the flour with salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken in the flour, tapping off any excess. Sear the chicken in the oil. When all sides are brown, remove and let drain on paper towel. In the same pot, put some fresh oil and saute the mushrooms. When golden brown, remove and drain. Again, in the same pot add some fresh oil and begin caramelizing the vegetables. When dark brown and highly fragrant, add the herbs and tomato paste. Stir to evenly coat everything with the tomato paste. Do not burn! Deglaze with brandy (away from open flame) and let reduce to au sec (almost dry) Add reserved red wine and reduce by 2/3. Add the chicken stock and reduce by half. Add the chicken back to the pot with the mushrooms, add the demi-glace, season with salt and pepper, cover, and place in oven for 1 1/2 hours.
Remove from oven and return to stove top. Add fresh cream and reduce until sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Reseason. Remove sprigs of thyme. Serve and garnish with fresh parsley.
*Note: demi-glace can be bought at gourmet markets like whole foods. It is a reduced and thickened veal stock, and is also the base for most brown, or red meat sauces.
This dish goes best with things that absorb the sauce well, like fresh French bread, mashed potatoes, or purees. A drizzle of truffle oil at the end won’t hurt either. It is true classic ‘haute’ cuisine.