Thursday, July 14, 2011

Around the World...France

Happy Bastile Day! In honor of the Frenchies, today's post is about them.

For many, French food is the epitome of dining. The French were after all the creators of “grande cuisine”, the classic cuisine of France, which evolved from its beginnings in the 16th Century to its fullest flowering in the lavish banquets of the 19th Century. Prized was the richness, balance and elegant presentation of food.

While the grand cuisine of France must be amazing, I find I am usually more interested in a country’s peasant food than in the fancy creations of Five-Star Michelin chefs. Peasant food is the creation of average people, simply taking the ingredients available to them and making fantastically flavored dishes out them. It’s the epitome of taking what you have and making the most of it. That, to me, takes as much creativity and imagination as any highly trained chef.

Perhaps one of my favorite Country French dishes is Coq au Vin, a dish that is like all great peasant food around the world: earthy, full of flavor, hearty, and very satisfying. It "sticks to your bones", as my mother would say.

Although the French word “coq” refers to a rooster, and tough birds with a lot of connective tissue benefit from braising, most coq au vin recipes call for a capon or chicken and therefore require less cooking time, which makes Coq au Vin a totally “do-able” weekday meal. The “vin” part of course refers to wine and traditionally red Burgundy is suggested, but I imagine any good hearty red wine that you have will work. But don't use anything expensive.

Most coq au vin recipes I've come across call for chicken, wine, lardons, mushrooms and sometimes garlic. I like the recipe below because there are also pearl onions and tomatoes involved which makes the dish a little more stew-like. Seasonings are typically salt and pepper, herbs such as thyme, parsley and sometimes a bay leaf, and the sauce is usually thickened at the end. I love this recipe and have been making it for over 20 years. I hope you like it, too.

Coq au Vin

Coq au vin
1/3 lb. bacon, cut into bite-sized chunks
1 broiler-fryer chicken (3-4 lbs.), cut into pieces
a handful of pearl onions*
1/2 lb. small mushrooms (I like the crimini)
2 cups chicken or beef broth
1 cup red wine, preferable Burgundy or Beaujolais
2 Tbsp. each Dijon mustard and chopped parsley
Sprig of fresh thyme
1 (14 oz.) can of diced tomatoes
1 tsp. each corn starch and water

In a wide frying pan over medium high heat cook bacon in its own fat, stirring, until meat is crisp and well-browned; lift out meat and set aside. Add chicken and onions to pan.

Cook, uncovered, over medium high heat until well-browned on all sides (about 20 minutes). Lift out and set aside.

Add mushrooms to pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated and mushrooms are lightly browned. Lift out and add to chicken and onions.

Pour broth into pan, scrape browned bits free, and boil over high heat until reduced to 1 cup. Return chicken, onions, and mushrooms to pan; stir in wine and mustard. Add sprig of thyme and tomatoes. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer until meat near thigh bone is no longer pink when slashed (about 30 minutes). Stir in parsley and bacon, return to simmering. Add salt and pepper to taste.

With a slotted spoon, lift out meats and vegetables and arrange on a serving dish. Combine corn starch and water and add to cooking juices. Bring to a boil, stirring (sauce should be moderately thick); pour over chicken. Serve over egg noodles. Start with a nice salad of mesclun greens and a vinaigrette. End with some luscious fruit sorbet or some cheeses as the French do, and voila! You've got a nice French meal. Bon Appetit!

Makes 4 servings.

*I was delighted to find these at Trader Joe's in the frozen veggie section! You can use just what you need and toss the bag back into the freezer.

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