Today, we have the epic tale of a dinner party thrown by my friend (and famed playwright) Colin P. Delaney. I promise I did not pay him to write these nice things about my cooking. --Lisa
What’s best about having a friend who’s a food writer—more particularly, a writer whose blog is centered around throwing dinner parties—is that you get invited to a lot of wonderful dinner parties, where your cocktail is continually refreshed, the amuse-bouches are plentiful and your entrée is served entirely gratis (nonetheless, I like to think I “tip” with my ever-charming repartee).
However, there’s a corollary to all these dinners, which, cutting to the quick, is guilt. Because for all the times Lisa’s hosted you in her lovely home, you’ve reciprocated precisely never. At first, it’s just a little fluttering that you easily bat aside, thinking “Well, she likes to do these things, ” a denial that eventually frog-marches into “Really, it’s me doing her a favor—otherwise, what would she have to write about?”
But every dog, as they say, has his day, or in this case, dinner. Emails were exchanged, times were proposed and a date was decided on. Now! What to make?
The thing of it is—it’s not just that Lisa opens up her home to us on a near-monthly basis, it’s that the food, it really is that good. Better than average, better than better, better than your best. Lisa’s dinners are the meals you think about when you’ve skipped lunch and all you eaten for the last twelve hours is a yogurt and piece of cheese. And I was supposed to cook for her?
A crisis of faith, you see. And like so many of us who have suffered a dark night of the soul, I turned to Scripture, knowing that in my time of worry and doubt, Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking would let its light shine on me, as the old-time spiritual teaches.
Now, I needed something special, but not something too special (I still had to be able to make it, remember). Flipping through the book, the answer bolted off the page and struck me with the force of a religious conversion—coq au vin. Hearty, but elegant, refined but still rustic. Plus, you have to use an entire bottle of wine, so really, how badly could I screw that up? And as an aside, the notion of solving the problem of making tough, rooster meat succulent by soaking it in a bottle’s worth wine—really, I think that amounts to the cutting of a culinary Gordian Knot.
The Missus (referred to at home as “Mrs. Darcy”) took command of the dessert, which left me free to focus on the entrée. To own the truth, coq au vin is not hard to make, as much as time-consuming. There’s a fair amount of prep and a good amount of standing around and it took me the better part of three hours to close out the proceedings, but, like everything good and golden, it’s well worth the effort (Especially if you serve the coq au vin over mashed potatoes).
However, Dear Reader, I must admit something. Out of equal measures of laziness and cowardice, I did not flambé the chicken. See, I forgot to pick up cognac that morning and I didn’t want to go back out, not to mention my perfectly reasonable and not at all exaggerated belief that I could easily set the whole apartment ablaze if I flambé’d improperly. I leave it to braver souls.
Now, a few points before I leave you to Mme. Child’s instructions for a superlative coq au vin. First, certainly, we had appetizers , but I’ve not idea what those were, as this post, like the dinner itself, is ridiculously late (and yes, I see the pattern, thank you for noticing the mote in my eye, Dear Reader). Whatever it was, I’m sure it involved some kind of cheese.
Secondly, as aforementioned, the Missus provided the dessert—bee’s-wing-thin golden brown crepes, kissed with vanilla and just a soupcon of rum, offered with a choose-your-own-adventure selection of fillings: sweet berry compote, Nutella, ice cream and home-made whipped cream, which (and again, Dear Reader, I must admit) we forgot to put out until everyone had at least four crepes all ready. But you always forget something, right? My grandmother, it was the green beans and the way she cooked those green beans—let me tell you, her forgetting? It was a service. But I digress—crepes. Lisa had already done a post on the crepes, but actually linked to the wrong recipe, so following below, I’ve supplied the correct one for your edification.
Finally, let us consider for a moment the noble rooster, the cock in the coq. In researching the recipe, I read that coq au vin grew out of the French fermière’s need to do something with the stringy, tough meat of a rooster who was past his prime. Which is to say, a rooster who could no longer, ahh—shall we say, see to the business of keeping the henfolk happy. So—if you ponder on it a bit—the rich and sweet coq au vin is really a hymn to impotence. Funny old world.
Colin cooks coq au vin
Assorted cheeses, crackers, salami
Coq au vin with mashed potatoes
Crepes with assorted fillings
Julia Child’s coq au vin
(Serves 6 to 8 people)
3 to 4 oz. chunk lean bacon
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 1/2 to 3 lbs. chicken, thighs and legs (to replicate the dark meat of the rooster)
1/2 tsp. salt, plus additional for seasoning
1/8 tsp. pepper, plus additional for seasoning
1/4 cup cognac (for those who don’t fear to tread)
3 cups young, full-bodied red wine, such as Burgundy, Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone, or Chianti
1 to 2 cups brown chicken stock, brown stock or canned beef bouillon
1/2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/4 tsp. thyme leaves
1 bay leaf3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. softened butter
Fresh parsley leaves
Cut the bacon into lardons (rectangles 1/4-inch across and 1-inch long). Blanch for 10 minutes in 2 quarts of water. Rinse in cold water. Dry.
In a heavy large heavy bottomed casserole or Dutch oven, saute the bacon slowly in hot butter until it is very lightly browned. Remove to a side dish.
Dry the chicken thoroughly. Brown it in the hot fat in the casserole.
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Return the bacon to the casserole with the chicken. Cover and cook slowly (300 degrees F) for 10 minutes, turning the chicken
Uncover, and pour in the cognac. Averting your face, ignite the cognac with a lighted match. Shake the casserole back and forth for several seconds until the flames subside.
Via Con Dios
Pour the wine into the casserole. Add just enough stock or bouillon to cover the chicken. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic and herbs. Bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer slowly for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and its juices run a clear yellow when the meat is pricked with a fork. Remove the chicken to a side dish.
While the chicken is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Traditionally, it’s brownbraised onions, but instead, as I’ve never been fan, I used shallots, sautéing them with the mushrooms in butter.
Simmer the chicken cooking liquid in the casserole for 1 to 2 minutes, skimming off the fat. Then raise the heat and boil rapidly, reducing the liquid to about 2 1/4 cups. Correct the seasoning. Remove from heat, and discard bay leaf.
Blend the butter and flour together into a smooth paste (beurre manie). Beat the paste into
the hot liquid with a whisk. Bring to the simmer, stirring and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes. The sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.
Arrange the chicken in a casserole, place the mushrooms and onions around it and baste with the sauce. If the dish is not to be served immediately, film the top of the sauce with stock or dot with small pieces of butter. Set aside uncovered for no longer than 1 hour or cool, cover and refrigerate until needed.
Shortly before serving, bring the casserole to a simmer, basting the chicken with the sauce. Cover and simmer slowly for 4 to 5 minutes, until the chicken is heated through.
Serve from the casserole, or arrange on a hot platter. Decorate with sprigs of parsley.
The Missus’ bee’s-wing-thin crepes
Via Martha Stewart
(Serves 4 to 6 people)
1 1/2 cups milk
2 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. rum, brandy, or other liqueur
3 large egg yolks
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
5 Tbsp. melted butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil, for brushing pan
Place milk, vanilla, and rum in blender. Add yolks, sugar, salt, flour, and then butter. Blend on high speed for 30 seconds. Scrape sides of blender; blend 30 seconds more. Transfer batter to an airtight container; refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight. Brush a 6 1/2-to-7-inch crepe pan or nonstick skillet with oil. Heat on medium until just starting to smoke. Remove pan from heat; quickly pour 2 tablespoons of batter into middle of pan.
Quickly (in 2 to 3 seconds) tilt pan in all directions so the batter covers entire bottom in a thin layer. Return pan to heat for about 1 minute. Jerk pan sharply back and forth to loosen the crepe.
Lift edges with a spatula; if underside is golden brown, turn crepe by using two spatulas or by flipping crepe with a toss of the pan.
Cook about 30 seconds more, until spotty brown. Slide crepe onto a plate. Grease pan again with oil, heat to just smoking, and repeat with remaining batter. To keep warm, cover with an ovenproof dish in a 200 degrees oven. Or make up to a day in advance; reheat, covered with foil, in a 300 degrees oven until warm.