Friday, July 31, 2009

Bistro Classics: Coq Au Vin

The other day the guardien of the house alerted us to the fact that one of the two roosters had recently been terrorizing the other which became an increasingly dangerous affair as the two vied for control of the flock of hens. I use the past tense because the problem was resolved and the aggressor was put to rest resulting in a fresh coq or rooster primed for cooking. Rooster is seldom used due to its extreme toughness and wealth of connective tissue; the male birds are far more active than their female counterparts. They have tons of flavor which is slightly gamier than chicken and their toughness lends itself to a richer broth when cooked. There are a variety of ways to cook a coq though virtually all involve marinating in some form of alcohol to tenderize the meat and lengthy low and slow cooking. One of the oldest French recipes that is served to this day is the archetypal dish and paragon of old school haute cuisine; coq au vin or rooster cooked in wine. It dates back to the 16th century when monarchs like Henry IV enjoyed the rust colored stew, though some say that even the ancient Gauls and their nemesis Julius Caesar dined on the dish.

Jean-Claude and I tried to make a traditional coq au vin last year, relying on a Google search to peruse recipes and ultimately decided on a hodge podge improvisation. We did not cook it long enough the meat ended up dry and very difficult to eat let alone cut with a knife. This year he and my father took another crack at it using Paul Bocuse’s recipe. Bocuse is widely held as an ambassador of modern French Cuisine and is easily one of the most prominent chefs of the 20th century credited as the founding father of French nouvelle cuisine. The dish is a complicated one indeed involving a lengthy bath in a mixture of red wine, carrots, onions, and plenty of fresh herbs after which the coq is dried for a day and then braised. Another round of vegetables including mushrooms is sautéed with lardons before the meat is added and stewed for hours and hours over low heat with more wine, in this case a bottle of Saumur from the Loire. Characteristic of French cooking, terroir plays an important role and affects the taste of each individual coq au vin. Each region has a variant using local wine such as coq au vin jaune in the Jura or coq au Riesling in Alsace though the most extravagant is coq au Chambertin though that runs a little expensive these days and with which it is kind of a shame to cook. The dish came out a lovely golden-red color with a thick, rich broth and tender meat that went excellently with the bottle of Côtes-du-Rhône we were drinking. We served the coq with some steamed potatoes from the garden which helped sop up all of the tasty sauce and was a perfect summer one pot meal.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I never make desserts and I flat out dislike the concept of baking though I respect the art which is way beyond me. Sugar and flour are simply to hard to work with and every time I bake, it turns out virtually inedible. It is curious however that I often make sweet treats in La Touche, leaving the savory cooking for the older guys who clearly know what they are doing. I prefer to be the young apprentice watching from the shadows or occasionally chopping vegetables or making runs to the garden to collect herbs. In short, I experiment with desserts in La Touche because there is little else for me to contribute and we generally lack a patissier or dessert-maker. There is a fancy ice cream maker that I love to toy with and one of my favorite activities is to convert whatever fruit from the garden or local markets my father brings back into frozen treats. For tonight’s dinner I poached a bunch of tiny pears from the single tree we have in the garden. I poached them in some vin du paille or hay wine which is a regional specialty to impart a boozy flavor with some cloves, cinnamon, honey, and lemon. The second sweet treat was donut peach sorbet with fresh strawberries and a strawberry-thyme coulis. Tasty tasty indeed and I think the older dudes were impressed with my dessert duo that was a refreshing treat after a rather rich old school meal. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

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