Cook, Memory

Recipes are curious: performed partly in the vocative case and a (gently) imperative voice, put together from clearly understood influences and forebears, but also personal and idiosyncratic. This one for coq au vin is assembled from different sources (I’ve folded together approaches and influences from two Julia Child versions, Cook’s Illustrated, Anthony Bourdain, and Craig Claiborne), but the inspiration and first source is my mother, Ann Irvine. It was one of my favorite dishes that she made, and she made it in a variety of ways: sometimes, for a dinner party, in a long, elaborate preparation (though perhaps not as long or elaborate as what follows); other times, she seemed like she could put it together in less than an hour for a family dinner on a weeknight, in a preparation that probably owed quite a bit to the tattered and wine-stained Better Homes and Gardens cookbook that was her standard. In any case, her method was relaxed, and usually involved a glass of red wine in hand or on the counter nearby. That relaxed feel is how I like to approach the following recipe, which serves eight. What follows can take you three days, if you like. It’s not much work if you spread it out. Go slowly and enjoy yourself. Have a glass of wine.

1.5 bottles Oregon Pinot or something similar, with some fruit to it
1.5 large diced onions
2 carrots, sliced .25 inches thin
1 celery rib, sliced .5 inches thin
2 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 1 teaspoon black pepper
3 pounds skin-on chicken thighs; 1.5 pounds chicken breasts; 1.5 pounds chicken drumsticks
.5 cup pureed tomatoes
2.5 cups chicken stock

Combine all above ingredients except for the chicken stock and marinate overnight, turning occasionally. Remove the chicken and strain the liquids from the solids, reserving all. Boil the red wine with the chicken stock (I supplement store-bought with some of the homemade from my freezer) about 20 minutes until reduced by about a cup. Set aside.

12 slices of bacon
2 chopped shallots
4 finely minced garlic cloves
2 tablespoons butter

In a wide, flat-bottomed pot or pan (a dutch oven works; you’re looking for about 8 quarts’ capacity, but in something not as narrow as a stock pot), fry 12 slices of bacon over medium high heat until golden brown. Set bacon aside on paper towels to drain grease. Brown chicken pieces in bacon fat over medium heat for 4 minutes per side, making sure you scrape up as many of the brown bits as you can. Set chicken and brown bits aside. Add 2 tablespoons of butter to fat. Add reserved wine-marinated vegetables and chopped shallots and garlic. Brown 10 minutes over medium-low heat. (If your pan is not large enough to brown all the vegetables at once, don’t steam or sauté them: instead, reserve half the bacon fat and one tablespoon of butter and brown half a batch of vegetables at a time.) When vegetables are cooked, transfer them to a fine mesh colander or sieve and press them with a spoon, draining the fat and grease that has stuck to them, and then transfer them to paper towels to try and further absorb as much of the excess grease from them as possible. There should be some of the butter/fat mixture left in the pot: pour 2 tablespoons of it into a separate wide, flat-bottomed sauté pan and discard the rest. Deglaze the 8-quart large pot with the wine mixture and add the chicken and cooked vegetables and simmer partly covered for 50 minutes, turning the chicken once.

16 ounces white or baby bella mushroom caps (halved or quartered if large)
16 ounces thawed frozen pearl onions
.25 cup brandy

In the sauté pan, cook pearl onions in the butter/fat mixture over medium heat for 5-8 minutes until golden brown. Add mushrooms and cook uncovered for 5-7 minutes until mushrooms give up their juices. Stir in .25 cup of brandy and cook 2-3 more minutes. Set onions and mushrooms aside with bacon. Remove the chicken from the large pot and set aside as well.

Strain the red wine sauce with vegetables through a fine mesh strainer into a metal bowl, mashing the vegetables against the mesh with a spoon to get the liquid out. Discard the vegetables. Chill the bowl of sauce in the refrigerator for at least 6-8 hours until the fat solidifies at the top. Skim off the fat and reserve. Measure how much sauce is left with a cup measure and let return to room temperature.

For each cup of sauce, you will combine 1 tablespoon of flour with 1 tablespoon reserved fat or butter in equal proportions into a roux in the large pot. Melt the fat and butter over medium high heat until bubbly, and then add flour 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring constantly, until you have equal amounts butter/fat mixture and flour and the roux turns the color of a penny and starts to smell nutty. Add the wine sauce all at once and whisk together until combined and smooth and cook slowly for 5 minutes. Add the chicken and cook slowly over medium-low heat until warmed through.

Here you have a choice: you can add the mushrooms and onions and cook for another 10 minutes and serve immediately with the bacon crumbled over, or you can let the dish sit in the refrigerator (for 8 hours or overnight), warm slowly over medium-low heat until warmed through, and then add the mushrooms and onions and cook for the last 10 minutes and crumble the bacon over that way and serve. It’ll be good in either case, but many people say that coq au vin tastes best the day after it’s made. The standard, and my mother’s way, was to serve it over buttered egg noodles, but I like it also with a mix of brown and wild rice. Serve with a wine that will complement what you cooked with rather than reinforce it: not too oaky or tannic, and while the cooking will have mellowed the fruitiness of the wine you used, you’ll still want something either spicy or earthy; a good California Zinfandel, or maybe a Côtes du Rhône or (if you didn’t use one to cook with) of course a Burgundy.

Memory does what it does. However complex or elaborate or rich I make this recipe in its ten years (so far) of attempts and revisions, it’ll never be the same as the coq au vin that I remember as Ann Irvine’s. That’s OK, though, and is as any recipe should be. If I do this well, and share it in the way that cooking should be shared, both the dish and the doing (glass of wine in your hand or on the counter nearby) will be good, and might pass along, reader, to you.

Cook, Memory

2 thoughts on “Cook, Memory

  • June 19, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    Thank you… My mouth is watering. I sometimes make it with small red potatoes. It is definitely a dish that brings back memories of Ann.

  • June 29, 2011 at 11:06 pm

    Well, now I feel like a loser for just dumping chicken thighs, wine, onions, carrots, etc. in my slow cooker. Ha!

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