Did you know that today is Bastille Day in France? Similar to our Fourth of July, it is the day the French celebrate the storming of the Bastille fortress/prison in 1789, a symbolic event of the French Revolution. Festivities take place all over the country and the President of France presides at a parade on the Champs-Elysees Avenue in Paris. It may have started as a battle, but it is one heck of a party these days!
The Artist and I are going to celebrate (we look for any excuse, you know) by having a French food-filled day. While watching the Tour de France cycling race we’re having an omelet for breakfast, grilled ham and cheese sandwich (known in French as a Croque Monsieur) for lunch, Coq au Vin for dinner, and topping it all off a nectarine and cherry galette for dessert! Ooh, la, la, baby! It will be a lip-smacking kind of day!
Coq au Vin (coke-oh-van) is a very French dish even though legend has it that it traces back to Julius Caesar. It is cooked in some form in every region of France. It is the perfect recipe for older chickens or roosters that would be too tough if cooked in other ways. It can be made with any wine, but tradition dictates that it be burgundy or other similar red wine. These days a good pinot noir is a great choice. Traditionally marinated in wine overnight, cooking the chicken in a slow cooker mimics the long marination and braise without taking two days to prepare.
Seasoned with thyme, bay leaf, onions, and mushrooms, it is a luscious, soul-satisfying meal, especially when paired with mashed potatoes. In classic recipes you partially cook and assemble the ingredients in the evening, put them in a deep cooking pot, cover with wine and marinate overnight. I seldom think that far ahead so I adapted a recipe to utilize the strengths of slow cookers. You brown the chicken and some of the ingredients first which creates a really deep flavor base, then add vegetables, seasonings, and lots of wine, and cook slowly all day. When you get home from work, the house will smell amazing and dinner will be waiting for you.
And just in case this wasn’t “French” enough for you, I am also including a recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon (boorg-in-yohn), the classic beef braised in red wine. It is a fancy French name for Beef with Burgundy wine. The original recipes are labor intensive and time-consuming. This version from the wonderful chef Natalie Dupree, takes half the time and effort, but gives you all the rich flavor. Because Burgundy can sometimes be challenging to find in America, you can substitute Pinot Noir or a light Merlot. If you are serving people who prefer not to have alcohol, you can replace the wine with half water and half additional stock.
Originally a peasant dish, Beef Bourguignon is now found on menus at the world’s finest restaurants. Slow-cooking methods were developed to tenderize tougher cuts of meat. You can save money and make an incredibly flavorful meal for your family. One of the tricks is to keep the heat low and never get the cooking liquid hotter than a simmer. A few hours later and the meat will melt in your mouth.
To replicate the original method of larding the meat with fats, you start this stew by rendering the fat from bacon. This adds a depth of flavor and richness that makes it luscious. You can skip this step if you want, but I urge you to make it at least once with the bacon so you can experience the richness it adds!
I love throwing a bunch of ingredients in a pot and walking away, letting it simmer on the stove or in the oven for hours until meltingly tender and rich. And if you add wine, it mellows during cooking, blending with the other ingredients, adding a hint of sophistication.
So, fire up your Edith Piaf and watch “Julie & Julia.” This is our salute to the French … Bon Appetit Mon Amis!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
When you are adding wine to cooked foods, always use a wine that you would enjoy drinking. Products called “Cooking Wine” are foul tasting and will taint your final dish. I prefer to use the same wine to cook with that I will be serving at dinner. That way I always know they will be complementary!
Kitchen Skill: Braising
Braising is one technique that everyone should learn. It keeps meats moist and tenderizes even the cheapest, toughest cuts. Meats that you normally have to sharpen your knife to be able to cook, let alone chew, become meltingly tender with the slow cooking. To increase flavor and give an appealing color, brown your protein in hot oil, usually in a Dutch oven. Then add a cooking liquid such as wine, broth, or water, lower the heat, cover, and cook slowly for a long time. The flavor intensifies and the protein becomes succulent. It’s just about the perfect cooking technique.
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 (5 to 7-lb) stewing chicken, cut into serving pieces
- 6 oz pancetta, salt pork, or slab (unsliced) bacon, cubed
- 24 to 30 frozen pearl onions, thawed and patted dry
- 8 oz button mushrooms, halved
- 1 to 2 tbsp olive oil, if needed
- 2 (750-ml) bottles red wine, preferably pinot noir
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 medium onion, quartered
- 2 stalks celery, quartered
- 2 medium carrots, quartered
- 3 cloves garlic, smashed, and sprouted green center discarded
- 6 to 8 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cups chicken stock or broth
- Cooked egg noodles or mashed potatoes, for serving
- Minced fresh parsley, for garnish
- Set a wire rack over a paper towel lined baking sheet with sides. Combine flour, salt, pepper, and onion powder in a plastic bag.
- Rinse chicken pieces and pat dry with paper towel. Add a couple of pieces to the flour and shake to coat thoroughly. Transfer to prepared wire rack. Continue with remaining chicken pieces. Discard any remaining flour. Set aside to rest.
- Place pancetta in a large 12-inch skillet and cook over medium heat until fat has been rendered and pork is lightly crispy. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pork to a bowl and reserve. Add pearl onions to same pan and cook until lightly browned.
- Using the slotted spoon again, add onions to pork. Then add mushrooms to the pan and cook until they wilt and release their liquid, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms to onions and pork. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
- Still using the same pan, brown chicken pieces on both sides, cooking in batches if necessary to avoid crowding. If needed, add 1 or 2 tbsp oil to the pan. When done, transfer chicken to the crock of a slow cooker.
- Add 1 cup of the wine to the skillet and deglaze the pan, scraping up any browned bits. Stir in tomato paste until dissolved. Pour this over the chicken. Add the onion, celery, carrots, garlic, thyme sprigs, bay leaf, and chicken stock to the slow cooker. Pour in remaining wine (yes, all of it!). Cover and cook on low for about 6 to 8 hours or until chicken is falling-off-the-bone tender. Transfer chicken pieces to a platter and keep warm in a 250°F oven.
- Place a colander over a large bowl, and pour juices from slow cooker into colander. Press on solids with a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard solids. Pour cooking liquids into a pot and cook over medium heat until slightly thickened and reduce by about 1/3. This may take 20 to 40 minutes, depending on how much liquid you start with. If the sauce is still not thick enough for your taste, stir 1 tsp cornstarch into 1/4 cup lukewarm water and stir until dissolved. Stirring constantly, slowly pour this into the cooking liquids. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat back to medium and cook until thickened.
- Stir in the previously cooked mushrooms, onions, and pork pieces. Cook in the sauce for 15 minutes or until heated through. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed. Add chicken back to saucepan to reheat.
- Place noodles or potatoes in bowls and top with a piece of chicken. Spoon sauce over the top, sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.
- Yield: 4 to 6 servings
- 3 oz fat bacon, cut into small pieces (or about 3 tbsp vegetable oil)
- 2-1/2 lb thick cut beef chuck for braising, cut in 2-inch squares
- 2 onions, sliced lengthwise (from pole to pole, not around the equator)
- 2 tbsp flour
- 2 to 3 cups of Burgundy wine (or other dry red wine)
- 2 to 3 cups good quality beef stock
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Bouquet garni of bay leaf, stalk of celery, parsley, and thyme, tied with kitchen twine or wrapped in cheesecloth
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed with salt
- 12 to 18 small white pearl onions, peeled and brown-braised in stock (see recipe below)
- 1/2 lb quartered small mushrooms, sautéed in butter
- Croutons of fried French bread dipped in finely chopped parsley
- Saute the bacon (or heat oil) in a heavy Dutch oven over medium-high heat until brown. While the bacon is cooking, pat the meat completely dry with paper towels. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon and reserve. Add the meat to the hot pan and brown, a few pieces at a time. Browning the meat adds rich flavor and color to your dish. As the meat browns transfer it to a bowl set by the stove. When all the meat is browned, set it aside, add the sliced onions to the pan, and allow them to brown very slowly in the remaining drippings.
- Remove the onions. If you have no more drippings, add a little oil. You should have about 2 tbsp fat. Add the flour off the heat, stirring until smooth and lump-free, and then return to the heat for a few moments. When you have a well-combined roux, remove from the heat again, and stir in the wine and the stock, whisking until smooth. Return to the heat and stir until boiling. Add the meat, bacon, sliced onions, seasonings, vegetables, and garlic. Bring back to a simmer.
- Meanwhile, preheat oven to 325ºF.
- Transfer to the oven and simmer slowly until tender, about 3 to 4 hours. Meanwhile prepare onions, mushrooms, and croutons. When the meat is tender, add the onions and mushrooms and reheat briefly.
- Skim the fat off the sauce. Remove the solids and reserve. Simmer the sauce, skimming additional fat as it rises, until the sauce thickens and coats a spoon lightly. If it is bit too thin, boil it down rapidly. Taste and adjust seasonings. Arrange meat, mushrooms, and onions on a plate and cover with sauce carefully. Garnish with parsley croutons and serve.
- You can use frozen pearl onions to save time (they are already peeled!). Thaw and brown lightly in a little butter, then add some beef stock and simmer until warmed through.
- Make your own croutons: Cut crusts off half a loaf of rustic bread. Cut into 1-inch cubes, drizzle with a little olive oil, and sprinkle with salt. Bake in a 350°F oven for about 10 minutes or until lightly golden brown and crunchy. While hot, you can sprinkle them with very finely chopped fresh Italian parsley if you like.
- Serve over buttered eggs noodles, mashed, boiled, or roasted potatoes, or cooked rice to soak up all the delicious sauce!
- 18 to 24 peeled white onions, about 1 inch in diameter
- 1-1/2 tbsp butter
- 1-1/2 tbsp canola oil
- 1/2 cup brown stock or beef bouillon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Herb bouquet: 4 parsley sprigs, 2 thyme sprigs, 1 small bay leaf, tied together with twine
- Heat butter and oil in 9 to 10 inch sauté pan over medium heat. When bubbling, add the onions and sauté for about 10 minutes, rolling the onions around the pan so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins, but don’t expect to brown them uniformly.
- When browned, pour in the stock or bouillon, season to taste, and add the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove the herb bouquet.
- Roll the hot onions around in a tablespoon of softened butter, if desired. Sprinkle with parsley.