Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Happy Birthday Julia: Celebrating with Coq Au Vin

"The only time to eat diet food is while you're waiting for the steak to cook.”
Julia Child

For anyone who has been living under a rock for the past few months, August 15th marks the 100th anniversary of Julia Child’s birth.  You won’t find many food bloggers who won’t be doing a tribute to Julia to commemorate her big birthday, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to throw my whisk in the mix. 

Although tomorrow is her birthday, I thought it poignant that this post go out today, the day before.  Julia died on the 13th and was born on the 15th, and I feel very strongly that it is not these two dates that define a person, it is what they do with the time in between them that counts, and she made the most of her time.
For almost four decades beginning in the 1960s, Julia sparked America’s interest in gourmet cuisine through her books and television shows.  Her ability of breaking down once mysterious French and continental recipes and making them accessible to the home cook, brought a love and curiosity of cooking and dining to this country that lives on to this day.

You may remember some time ago that I wrote a post about how I had the pleasure of serving Julia and her husband cocktails back in the 1980s in Houston.  They were both gracious, sweet and a little bit drunk and I still kick myself to this day for not asking her for her autograph.  Even in my very undomestic early 20s, Julia occupied a special place in my heart by encouraging me to cook her recipe for braised turkey breast through her TV show, The French Chef several years before.

For this celebratory post I searched the web once again for this phantom recipe without any true luck, but thank goodness there is no lack of great recipes by Julia for me to choose from.  Like that braised turkey breast recipe, I wanted something that sounded gourmet but was relatively easy and affordable so that even my own 20 something daughter would feel inspired by one of her dishes.

My chosen recipe Coq Au Vin (pronounced "coc-o-van" and translated “cock in red wine sauce”) is a moderately simple yet stunning dish of braised chicken, vegetables and herbs bathed in a rich and glossy red wine sauce.   The extra bonus here is that this dish can be made with chicken legs and thighs which make it super affordable for cooks on a budget.  This French peasant dish is the whole package.

So, happy birthday Julia!  Thank you for inspiring me as a 14 year old to beg my mom to drive me to the grocery store and take on cooking that recipe of yours.  From that moment on cooking has been a never ending source of entertainment and relaxation for me.  You have given me a gift that I have enjoyed my entire life.  Bon Appetit!

Coq Au Vin

This is my own take on Julia's recipe.  I made just a few adjustments to the recipe to compliment my style of cooking and my kitchen equipment, but all the ingredients and all the flavor is still in there.

2 - 1/2 - 3 pounds chicken parts (I prefer leg quarters)
4 ounces bacon (approximately 5 pieces), cut into 1/4" pieces across
16 small onions (such as boiler or pearl)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/3 cup brandy or cognac (optional)
1 fire extinguisher
3 cups red wine (1 full bottle)
1 cup chicken stock
1 large tomato, chopped
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
4 tablespoons butter, softened and divided
1 tablespoon light olive oil
10 ounces (give or take)  fresh button mushrooms cut into halves or quarters depending on their size
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Wash and dry chicken.  Remove and extra fat from chicken; set aside until ready to use.

Brown bacon pieces in a large frying pan (or ovenproof casserole) set over medium high heat.  Transfer browned bacon to a small bowl reserving bacon drippings; set bacon aside.

Place chicken pieces in the pan with the reserved bacon drippings.  Brown chicken on both sides.  Transfer chicken pieces to a plate reserving drippings in the pan.

Cook the onions in the drippings until they are brown.

Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.

Remove the onions and transfer to a plate before adding the chicken back to the pan.  Pour the brandy over the chicken.  Now, while standing back, VERY CAREFULLY (and I really can't emphasize that enough) flame the brandy and chicken (being careful not to singe anything and keeping that fire extinguisher handy just in case) by just touching it with a flame.  This is a spectacular step in the recipe to put it mildly, so get ready.

The flames will die down in just a few seconds as soon as the alcohol burns off.  This is not a necessary step although I must admit I felt very French and very accomplished after I realized I had lived to tell the tale.  I'm sorry if I've scared you, but if you want to skip the brandy and the fire altogether that's ok, your dish will still be great.

Assuming there are no calamities so far,  add the red wine, chicken stock, tomato, bay leaf, thyme, bacon and onions; cover the pot and place in the preheated oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Just before the chicken comes out of the oven, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter along with the olive oil in a medium size saucepan over medium high heat.  Add the mushrooms and saute until they are browned around the edges and softened a bit; set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and the flour; set aside.

Remove the chicken from the red wine and place on a plate; set aside.  Place the red wine and onions over a  low heat.  When the mixture starts to simmer whisk in the butter and flour mixture and cook until it starts to thicken.  Simmer uncovered, stirring frequently, until the desired consistency is reached.  Add additional salt and pepper to your taste.

Return the chicken to the wine sauce and top with the cooked mushrooms.  Serve immediately or it can be refrigerated and served the next day.  It does improve with time and the advantage to this is that any fat that solidifies on the top can be removed before reheating.  Remove bay leaf before serving.

I love this served with roasted or steamed new potatoes, green beans or just a piece of crusty French bread.

Makes 4 very hearty servings


Holly @ abakershouse.com said...

Love the idea of me trying the flaming brandy technique and am laughing picturing the fire extinguisher and the whisk hand in hand. I'll let you know when I get brave enough to try this!
What a great tribute to Julia!

DaniD said...

Have you ever heard of the poem called "The Dash" it is similar to your thinking that what you do in between your birth and death are really what matter.

In our amateur cooking class, we used that brandy technique - I too felt pretty French and sophisticated :) I can't wait to try this recipe - I feel like it is one we would really enjoy!

Karen Harris said...

Thank you so much Holly! I've never flamed any dish before so it was quite an adventure for me and the extinguisher is just a little bit of a joke . . . kind of.

Dani, I will have to look up that poem. This recipe is just too good. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Barbara | Creative Culinary said...

Once again I read your post before breakfast and now all I am craving is coq au vin. I did not cook a dish for Julia for her birthday; I'll just celebrate with yours!

Karen Harris said...

It is a shame you don't live closer Barb as this is exactly what I had for breakfast this morning. I hope that made Julia smile.

Lea Ann (Cooking on the Ranch) said...

Coq Au vin... what a great way to celebrate someone who had so much influence on us. I've never flamed and am very afraid. :)

Karen Harris said...

I encourage you to try it Lea Ann. If you walk away with eyelashes, it was a success.

Jersey Girl Cooks said...

I love this dish especially with dark meat like you made it. Happy birthday to Julia!

Kate from Scratch said...

Looks beautiful! Such lovely execution. Very fearless...she would be proud, I'm sure.