Sunday, January 30, 2011

coq au vin

I know, I know, my last post featured a braised chicken dish; time to move on, right? Well, I just wasn't ready, especially when I spied beautiful locally-raised chickens at the market yesterday. Not "coqs" (roosters) perhaps, but still, fine chickens I couldn't help but envision bathed in the winey, shroomy, bacony braise that is Coq au Vin. 

Coq au Vin holds a special place in my heart; it introduced the world of French cooking to a highly impressionable, if somewhat provincial, twelve year-old. Since I grew up in a small, restaurant-deficient town an hour outside of Boston, I coveted special occasions when my family ventured to the city to eat at the now defunct Maison Robert. I recall the thrill of opening the menu and poring over exotic dishes proffered in the mother tongue. Coq au vin, mousse au chocolat; how I loved the ring of those words in my head, though they never sounded quite as mellifluous when I self-consciously pronounced them to the waiter. How could I not be tongue-tied? I looked around and saw Real French People.  

Maison Robert, a bastion of French cuisine in its day, went out of business decades later when its owner opted to retire - but the classic standbys it featured, such as Coq au Vin, remain timeless.

Since I still had Molly Stevens' All About Braising within arm's reach from my last cooking extravaganza, I looked to her for a well-tested recipe and she didn't disappoint. While there are many "quickie" recipes out there employing a variety of shortcuts, they just make me sad. In one, chicken breasts are cooked all the way through, set aside, and a wine sauce is created on the fly with the bits left in the pan. This may taste okay but it's not the Coq that inspired me to go to culinary school. At the other end of the spectrum are historic recipes which require marinating a rooster for days and thickening the sauce with its blood. I think the following version is the best compromise: relatively quick but still respectful of the braising tradition that made this dish a classic.

For adaptations I made to the recipe, see notes below.

Coq au Vin

1/4 pound slab bacon, rind removed, cut into 1/2 inch dice
one 4 1/2 to 5 pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces, wing tips, back neck and giblets (except the liver) reserved
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
all-purpose flour for dredging (about 1/2 cup)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
1 carrot, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons cognac or brandy
one 750-ml bottle dry, fruity red wine
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 cup chicken stock


10 ounces pearl onions, (about 24 3/4-inch onions;) frozen pearl onions, not thawed, may be substituted
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 pound cremini mushrooms, quartered
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

1.  The bacon: Place the diced bacon in a cold, large Dutch oven or other heavy lidded braising pot (7 quart works well), set over medium heat, and cook the bacon, stirring often with a slotted spoon, until well browned and crisp on the the outside but with some softness remaining inside, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels. Set the pot with the rendered bacon fat aside off the heat.

2.  Heat the oven to 325 degrees.

3.  Dredging the chicken: Rinse the chicken with cool water and pat dry with paper towels. Season on all sides with salt and pepper. Spread the flour in a wide shallow dish, and dredge half the chicken pieces one at a time, placing each one in the flour, turning to coat both sides, and then lifting and patting lightly to shake off any excess.

4.  Browning the chicken: Add 1 tablespoon butter to the rendered bacon fat in the pot and place over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, ease in the dredged pieces of chicken, skin side down, without crowding. Sear on both sides, turning once with tongs, until a deep golden brown crust forms, 7 to 10 minutes total. Transfer the chicken to a large platter to catch juices. Dredge the remaining chicken pieces and discard the flour. Add another 1 tablespoon butter to the pot. Sear the chicken pieces as you did the first batch, turning once with tongs, until golden.  The second batch of chicken pieces may brown faster; lower the heat a bit if the skin begins to burn at all. A thick ruddy crust will have formed on the bottom of the pot that will later contribute a great depth of flavor to the sauce. Transfer chicken to the platter, and pour off the fat from the pot without discarding the tasty browned bits. Return the pot to medium heat.

5.  The aromatics and braising liquid: Add the remaining tablespoon of butter to the pot and melt it over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot, and toss to coat the vegetables in the butter. Saute, stirring once or twice with a wooden spoon, until the vegetables are beginning to soften and are flecked with brown, about 5 minutes. The browned crust on the bottom of the pot will continue to cook and may soften from the vegetable juices released into the pot. Add the tomato paste and stir to smear the paste through the vegetables. Add the Cognac and bring to a boil to deglaze, scraping the pot with a wooden spoon to dislodge the precious crust. Simmer, stirring a few times, until the liquid is almost gone. Raise the heat to high, add the red wine, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, and parsley, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-high and simmer rapidly until the wine reduces by about half, about 15 minutes. Stir in the reserved bacon and the stock, and bring to a boil. Using a ladle, scoop out about 1/2 cup of braising liquid and set aside for later cooking the pearl onions.

6. The braise: Add the chicken pieces to the pot in this order: place the legs, thighs, and wings, and the wing tips, back neck, heart, and gizzard (if using) in the pot first, then put the breast pieces on top of them, skin side down. (Keeping the breast pieces on top protects them from overcooking and drying out.) Pour in any juices that collected as the chicken sat, and bring to a simmer. Cover the chicken with parchment paper, pressing down so that the paper nearly touches the chicken and extends over the sides of the pot by about an inch. Cover with the lid, and place on a rack in the lower third of the oven to braise. After 15 minutes, turn the breast pieces over with tongs. At the same time, check that the liquid is simmering quietly. If not, lower the oven temperature by 10 or 15 degrees. Continue braising gently for another 45 to 60 minutes, or until the breasts and dark meat are fork-tender.

7.  While the chicken braises, cook the garnish: If using fresh onions, bring pot of water to a boil. Add the onions and bring the water back to a boil. Boil the onions for 2 minutes, drain, and rinse with cold water. Using a small paring knife, slip off the onion skins, and pat the onions dry. (If using frozen onions, skip this step: frozen onions have already been blanched and peeled.)

Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the blanched onions (or still-frozen onions) and saute, stirring and shaking frequently until tinged with brown,  3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, add the reserved 1/2 cup of braising liquid, cover and simmer, shaking the pan frequently, until the onions are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, about 12 minutes (or 3 or 4 if using frozen). Remove the lid, increase the heat to medium-high, and boil to reduce the liquid to a glaze. Transfer the onions and liquid to a small bowl, scraping the pan with a rubber spatula as best you can.

Return the pan to medium-high heat and add the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter. When the butter stops foaming, add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and saute briskly. The mushrooms may release a lot of liquid at first. Continue to saute, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms develop an attractive, chestnut brown sear, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and return the onions and liquid to the skillet. Set aside.

8. The finish: When the chicken is fork-tender and pulling away from the bone, transfer the breast, thigh, leg and wing pieces to a deep platter or serving dish (discard the wind tips, back, neck, heart and gizzard), and cover loosely with foil to keep warm. Let the braising liquid settle for a moment and then, with a wide spoon, skim off as much surface fat as you can without being overly fastidious. Place the pot over high heat and bring the juices to a boil. Reduce the juices until thickened to the consistency of a vinaigrette, about 10 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaves, if you like.

Lower the heat, add the reserved onion-mushroom garnish, and heat through, about 4 minutes more. Spoon the sauce over the chicken pieces, sprinkle with the chopped parsley, and serve.

Serves 6

Recipe from All About Braising by Molly Stevens


* As I was typing this recipe I thought, damn, this recipe is long! I was tempted to pare it down, but then, Molly Stevens is an award-winning cookbook author; who am I to question? So she doesn't skimp on details, but don't be put off by its length. You'll see that much of the recipe elaborates on techniques you're probably familiar with. 

* I forgot to reserve the back, neck, etc., after cutting up the chicken and decided not to dig them out of the trash. Everything was fine without them.

* I used as little butter as I could get away with, although this is definitely not spa cuisine.

* Although I followed instructions and braised the pearl onions in braising liquid separately, I don't typically do this and wouldn't do it again. I would simply saute the onions until browned and add them to the pot with the mushrooms.

* Unfortunately, I didn't have slab bacon so I used regular sliced bacon, cut into 1/4 inch pieces; I also skinned the chicken parts (and was glad I did; braised chicken skin turns me off and the dish was very moist without it) and added an extra carrot and an extra clove of garlic.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

braised chicken with meyer lemons, prunes & green olives

Yep, I'm still on a Meyer lemon jag, and with the temperature crashing outside, this is a timely use of them: a classic, warm-your-bones chicken braise inflected with sunny bits of cheer.

Here, an intriguing trinity of tangy lemon, earthy prunes and briny olives combines to create a complex flavor much bigger than its parts. Honestly, I suspect even olive-and-prune-fearing types might find a way to begrudgingly love this dish. (And you could always tag it with the "dried plum" euphemism, if you think that would help.)

One would never guess by the final outcome that this is a simple and quickly executed braise. The only prep work involves skinning chicken parts, pitting olives and smashing a clove of garlic. (In fact, the recipe calls for skin-on chicken parts, but I prefer to remove the skin.)

I probably don't need to tell you, but it's even better the next day.

I served this with orzo because I had it on hand, but it would also be great with couscous, egg noodles, mashed potatoes or polenta.

Quick Braised Chicken with Meyer Lemons, Prunes and Green Olives

1/3 cup brined green olives
3 1/2 pounds chicken thighs and drumsticks (I used all thighs), skinned
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
all-purpose flour for dredging (about 1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
1/4 cup chopped Meyer lemon, peel and all
2 whole cloves
3/4 cup plump pitted prunes

1. If olives are not pitted, remove pits by smashing the olives one at a time with the side of a large knife, then slipping the pits out. (Or use an olive pitter.)

2. Skin the chicken thighs, if desired.

3. Season thighs well on both sides with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour, one piece at a time, shaking off excess flour.

4. Heat the oil in a large deep skillet or shallow braising pan (a 12 - 14 inch works well) over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Brown as many thighs as can fit without crowding, then turn and brown other side. Transfer thighs to a plate and repeat with remaining uncooked thighs. Set all cooked thighs aside and discard excess flour.

5. Pour off fat from the pan and quickly wipe out any black spots with a damp paper towel, being careful to leave behind any browned bits. Add the wine, vinegar, garlic, zest, and cloves to the skillet and stir with a wooden spoon to scrape up those prized browned bits stuck to the bottom of the skillet.

6. Return the chicken pieces to the skillet, arranging them so they fit in a snug single layer. Pour over any juices that have accumulated on the plate. Scatter over the prunes and olives.

Cover tightly, and reduce the heat to low. Braise at a gentle simmer, basting occasionally and turning the pieces with tongs halfway through, until the chicken is tender and pulls easily away from the bone, 30 to 40 minutes. When you lift the lid to baste, check to see that the liquid is simmering quietly; if it is simmering too vigorously, reduce the heat or place a heat diffuser under the skillet.

7. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer the chicken to a serving platter to catch the juices, and cover loosely with foil to keep warm. Skim any visible surface fat from the sauce with a wide spoon. Raise the heat under the skillet to high, and reduce the pan juices for 2 to 3 minutes to concentrate their flavor. Taste for salt and pepper. Retrieve and discard the cloves, if you like. Pour the juices over the chicken, and serve.

Serves 4

Recipe from All About Braising by Molly Stevens

Tip: Be sure to pay attention to the size of your pan. The chicken parts should fit snugly in one layer for the braising stage; a pan that is too big or too small with throw off the braising liquid level.

Recommended reading: This is a great book from Molly Stevens, a graduate of my culinary school alma mater, La Varenne.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

meyer lemon marmalade

I don't know how I did it, but somehow I've survived many years without once stumbling upon a Meyer lemon. I've read about them, imagined them, pined for them, but assumed I'd never see one up close as long as I was in New England during their season. It was my impression they grew in small, private California groves and were too perishable to be shipped across country.

Imagine my unbridled glee then, when I was shopping at a local Shaw's last week, and before my eyes gleamed beautiful, smooth-skinned Meyer lemons, five juicy orbs to a bag. Of course, I was unprepared and immediately began to dither, trying to conjure up recipes I'd been forced to bypass in the years I was lemonless. But, since my brain shorts out when I'm excited, nothing immediately came to mind but marmalade.

First, if you've been sheltered like me and haven't partaken of this particular fruit, it's described as a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange, and that's pretty much what it tastes like - sweeter than a lemon, slightly tangeriney - but I'd guess it's the je ne sais quoi quality that sends people swooning. If I must fumble to describe it I would have to call it floral.

I cut into my first Meyer lemon imagining I would sample a sliver, and ended up eating the whole thing (this may be because citrus fruit here in Vermont often seems to be destroyed by freezing temperatures along its journey north - a depressing surprise when you're anticipating sunshine-nurtured succulence). These lemons were perfect. If you're not prone to making fruit preserves I'd recommend you at least make a batch of lemonade while they're available; if that seems incongruous in January, make hot lemonade and sip it out of a mug (perhaps enhanced with a shot of bourbon or rum?).

Luckily, I was able to make the best of my find with a marmalade recipe by Edon Waycott, from her now out-of-print Preserving The Taste. Finding a copy of this book was itself quite a coup, as it has been hailed by many cookbook authors and used copies have been swept up. If you luck out and get your hands on one, congratulations. Although it looks unassuming, the recipes truly capture the essence of their ingredients, often using less sugar and forgoing commercial pectin.

Meyer Lemon Marmalade

20 Meyer lemons

1. Remove the zest of 16 lemons with a zester. Or carefully cut it away with a paring knife, then slice the pieces into 1/8th inch strips. Reserve the remaining 4 lemons for juice. Place the zest in a large bowl.

2. With a paring knife, remove all but a very thin layer of the white pith and cut the fruit into quarters. Remove as many seeds as possible. Place the pulp in a food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse until coarsely chopped. Measure the pulp and juices and add an equal amount of water. Pour the mixture into the bowl with zest. Let stand at least 4 hours at room temperature or overnight, covered, in the refrigerator.

3. Pour the mixture into a shallow preserving pan and add the same amount of sugar as you did water in Step 2. Add the juice from the 4 remaining lemons. Stir and bring to a boil over moderately high heat. Scoop out any seeds. Cook for 30 minutes. The marmalade will look thin, but it continues to thicken as it cools.

Makes 4 pint jars.


*If you want to be scientifically foolproof about things, use a candy thermometer and cook marmalade to 220 degrees F. That is the temperature at which it gels.

*Add 1 minute of water-bath processing time per each 1000 feet above sea level.

*Fellow home-canners out there may cringe upon seeing my photos depicting lemon marmalade bubbling in an unlined copper preserving pan. I know, I thought that was verboten too, until I read the recently released Blue Chair Jam Cookbook and discovered author Rachel Saunders blithely using copper vessels for all her commercially prepared preserves, including acidic ones. After much research, I could only ascertain her philosophy is that as long as the fruit is mixed with sugar and cooked briefly there is no real danger of lethal leaching; the problem occurs when fruit alone is left to sit in unlined vessels for long periods. Since she sells her preserves to the public and I would imagine her operation has been examined and okayed by those-in-the-know, I decided to relax my rules a bit in this case. If I start exhibiting signs of copper poisoning I will let you know.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

braised pork with three peppers

I'm not a big pork eater. I never buy pork chops or pork tenderloin or pork roasts. I buy chicken sausages. I do home-smoke ribs occasionally, and I can't pass up good country ham, but other than that, pork is not really on my radar when planning a menu.

But, something about the following recipe piqued my interest. It may be that I'm a sucker for just about anything braised, and I can only eat so much beef and chicken. Whatever the inspiration, it was a welcome addition to the winter repertoire. I'm especially looking forward to leftovers, as it's one of those dishes that will only improve on reheating. So, if you have the foresight to make it a day or two ahead, you will be optimally rewarded.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper's Braised Pork with Three Peppers

extra virgin olive oil
1 each large sweet red and yellow peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 large Italian frying peppers (or more sweet red pepper), cored, seeded, and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 to 3 large medium-hot fresh chilies, seeded and cut into 2-inch pieces
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 3/4 to 3 pounds boned pork shoulder (if possible, hormone-and-antibiotic-free), trimmed of fat and cut into 2-inch chunks
leaves from 4 6-inch branches fresh rosemary
1/2 medium onion
3 large garlic cloves
3 oil-packed anchovy fillets
3 bay leaves
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
4 whole canned tomatoes, drained

1.  Lightly film a 12-inch skillet with olive oil. Set over medium-high heat. Add all the peppers with a little salt and pepper.  Toss just to lightly sear them, about 2 minutes. Remove them from the pan, leaving the oil behind, and add a little more oil. Once it is hot, add the pork, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and brown well on all sides, adjusting the heat so the glaze at the bottom of the pan doesn't burn, about 10 minutes.

2.  While the pork browns, chop together the rosemary, onion, garlic, and anchovies into 1/4-inch pieces. Once the pork's half-browned, add the bay leaves. After 1 to 2 minutes more blend in the chopped mixture and finish browning the pork over medium heat, stirring to keep the garlic from burning. The onion should be golden brown.

3.  Pour in the vinegar. Simmer it down to nothing while scraping up all the glaze from the bottom of the pan. Add the water, tomatoes, and the peppers; adjust the heat so the liquid bubbles slowly, cover, and cook 50 minutes, or until the pork is tender, stirring occasionally. Taste sauce for seasoning. Serve right away with polenta, or cool. refrigerate overnight, and reheat to bubbling before serving.

From The Italian Country Table - Home Cooking From Italy's Farmhouse Kitchens

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

roasted winter squash, pear & ginger soup

Happy New Year, patient readers!  I'm slinking back to you with my tail between my legs, never having expected to be diverted by the holidays for more than a week. As I said in my last post, I was cooking like crazy - just not chronicling!

It's good to be back. Today, in the aftermath of all the holiday cheer, I took stock of my overflowing refrigerator and knew something had to give. It so happens my mother and father independently sent big boxes of pears for Christmas, and since I've consumed crazy quantities of sugar lately I needed a healthful, savory treatment for the nearly overripe surplus. I spotted this recipe by Deborah Madison at Epicurious, and saw that one positive reviewer had been in the same predicament as me with extra holiday pears. That, and my general love of Deborah Madison's vegetarian cookbooks seemed like good omens.

This is a soup of few ingredients, so be sure to start with flavorful ones. I was skeptical I would complete the recipe without feeling compelled to add something (especially when I tasted the stock and it seemed - I'll just say it - disgusting) but I uncharacteristically managed to hold back and was glad I did.

There do seem to be a lot of steps for such a simple soup, but I faithfully trudged along until I was directed at the end to strain the final product or put it through a food mill.  I found this unnecessary and was happy with the texture achieved by the food processor alone.

My small personal flourish was a roasted chestnut garnish, mostly because when I see fresh chestnuts at the market it seems wrong not to take advantage. I also substituted Greek yogurt for the sour cream, but honestly, this may be one case where Greek yogurt doesn't quite cut it (I knew I'd find it eventually). In fact, the soup is delicious but borders on cloying and would be perfect with the assertive tang of sour cream to counterbalance its natural sugars.

Although for photographic reasons I show the final product in a rather large bowl, it is quite a rich soup and a little goes a long way. It would probably work best in a small cup or mug as a first course rather than as a meal, although on second thought my husband ate a huge serving and would probably disagree.

Let me know what you think!

Deborah Madison's Roasted Winter Squash, Pear & Ginger Soup

one 2 1/2 pound Buttercup squash, rinsed
3 ripe but firm pears, quartered, seeds and stems removed
1 chunk fresh ginger, about 2 inches long, thinly sliced
olive oil to coat the squash
sea salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup creme fraiche or sour cream, optional

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Cut squash in half, scrape out seeds, then cut each half into thirds. Put the pieces in a large baking dish or roasting pan with the pears and all but a few slices of the ginger. Brush with oil, season with salt, and bake until fragrant and tender, about 1 hour. Turn the pieces once or twice so that they have a chance to caramelize on more than one surface. If the squash seems very dry (some varieties are) add 1 cup of water to the pan to create steam and cover with foil. When the squash is tender, transfer everything from the pan to a cutting board, add 1 cup water to the pan, and scrape to dissolve the juices, reserving the liquid. Scrape the flesh of the squash away from the skins You should have about 2 cups.

2. To make a stock, bring 6 cups water to a boil and add the seeds, and eventually, the squash skins, the remaining ginger and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 20 - 25 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a soup pot. Add the onion, give it a stir, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until in begins to brown a bit and is fragrant, about 10 minutes. Add the pears, ginger, and squash, then the reserved glazing water. Strain the stock into the pot. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes. Cool briefly, then puree until smooth and pass through a food mill or strainer to ensure a silky texture. Serve as is or swirl in the creme fraiche or sour cream.

Makes about 4 1/2 cups.

Note: I peeled the pears after roasting because I didn't really want the peels in the soup.

Recipe from Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison's Kitchen

Roasted Chestnuts

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Score a large criss-cross pattern into the flat side of each chestnut with the tip of a small paring knife. Spread out on a sheet pan and roast for 20 to 40 minutes, depending on size, until the skin peels open at the scored marks. Check one to be sure the peel releases easily from the flesh and the meat is cooked through.

Best to eat or shell while warm, as they are difficult to peel once cooled.