Sunday, December 25, 2016

Coq Au Vin

     A Comfortable French Classic!
     Coq Au Vin translates to "rooster cooked in wine."  The meat of an ordinary rooster is notoriously tough, unless a special cooking technique is used.  A tough rooster can be slowly braised in an acidic sauce and the result is rooster meat that is tender enough to melt in the mouth.
     In modern times, roosters are rarely marketed in regular grocery stores.  Roosters can be special ordered at some butcher shops and they can be found in some Asian food markets.  Basically, because rooster is so tough, it is now considered to be a specialty meat that is only in demand for ethnic or rustic farm country recipes.  In fact, rooster is most often used to make specialty soups than anything else.
     Since rooster is not commonly available, most modern chefs substitute a 2 1/2 pound Broiler Chicken, a 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pound Fryer Chicken or a Game Hen.  A Stewing Hen weighs well over 5 pounds and the meat becomes stringy when stewed, so a Stewing Hen is not a good choice for Coq Au Vin.  I have cooked large Capon as Coq Au Vin, but this specialty bird actually is better suited for other recipes.
     Cornish Game Hens are really nothing more than a young Broiler Chicken that weighs less than 2 1/2 pounds.  One whole Cornish Game Hen is considered to be a single portion, but it can be served as two petite portions during a multi course meal.  A Game Hen is best for a whole bird presentation.
     The acidic red wine braising sauce used to make Coq Au Vin is meant for tough birds.  The meat of a Cornish Game Hen or Small Roaster Chicken is fairly tender, so care must be taken not to braise in red wine for too much time or the meat will literally fall off of the bones.  It is best to keep in mind that if a small tender chicken is used, then the role of the red wine braising sauce is to impart flavor.
     I used a Cornish Game Hen for today's recipe example.  As one can see by the color, the red wine imparted plenty of flavor, yet the meat was not overcooked to the point of falling off the bones.  The result was a whole tender Coq Au Vin that can be used to make a whole bird platter presentation.  This adds class to any dining event!
     Mushrooms, salt pork and a rustic mirepoix flavor a classic Coq Au Vin.  Black Truffles are a classic choice, but they are rarely available outside of fine dining restaurant food distribution circles.  Morel Mushrooms are also a nice choice and they are preferred by many chefs.  Morels add a very rich wild mushroom flavor to Coq Au Vin.
     Coq Au Vin is an old French country style recipe that is still popular in today's age.  Coq Au Vin can be served in the casserole dish that it was baked in for a rustic presentation.  Coq Au Vin can also be served on a platter for an elegant presentation, like the example in the photographs.  Either way, Coq Au Vin is a perfect choice for when a light entrée is desired on a chilly day.

     Coq Au Vin:
     A German executive chef at a country club taught me this style of Coq Au Vin.  The chicken is not sautéed before braising.  The lid is removed from the braising pot part way through the recipe.  This allows the red wine sauce to reduce and it allows the bird to brown.
     The bird must be covered with braising liquid, so select a braising pot that is just a little bigger than the bird or an excessive amount of red wine will be needed.  The dry red wine selection should be good enough to be served on its own.
     Beurre Manie is kneaded chilled butter and flour.  It works like a simple roux to lightly thicken a sauce.  Beurre Manie is used by many French Provence chefs to thicken veloutés that are made a la minute with pan jus and fume or chicken stock.  Beurre Manie also mellows the flavor of a quickly reduced acidic vin rouge sauce.       
     Step 1:  Heat a deep braising pan (or a wide sauce pot) over medium low heat.
     Add 2 tablespoons of diced salt pork fat.  (1/4" cube shapes)
     Gently sauté till the grease is rendered and the lardons start to become crisp.
     Step 2:  Add 3 whole garlic cloves.
     Sauté till the garlic starts to turn a golden color.
     Step 3:  Place 1 Cornish Game Hen in the pot.  (Trussing the bird with twine is optional.)
     Add 3 cups of chicken stock.
     Add 4 dried Morel Mushrooms.
     Add 8 large pearl onions (or 8 small boiler onions).
     Add 4 thick carrot sticks that are 4" long.
     Add 3 thick celery sticks that are 4" long.
     Add enough good dry red wine to barely cover the game hen.
     Step 4:  Tie these bouquet garni ingredients in a cheese cloth sachet:
     - 3 tablespoons of chopped leek
     - 2 sprigs of thyme
     - 3 parsley stalks
     - 1 bay leaf
     - 8 to 10 whole black peppercorns
     Add a bouquet garni sachet to the pot.
     Step 5:  Raise the temperature to medium heat.
     Bring the liquid to a gentle simmer.
     Step 6:  Remove the pot from the heat.
     Covered the pot with a lid.
     Place the pot in an 325ºF oven.
     Braise till the hen is almost fully cooked and the meat is still very firm.
     Step 7:  Remove the lid from the pot.
     Continue braising the Game Hen uncovered.
     Braise uncovered till the sauce reduces enough to allow the top half of the bird to lightly brown.
     Step 8:  Remove the pot from the oven.
     Keep the pot warm over very low heat.
     Step 9:  Trim the crust off of a 3/4" thick slice of French bread.
     Cut the bread into a 3"x 2 1/2" rectangle shape.
     Brush the bread with melted unsalted butter.
     Place the bread on a small baking pan.
     Bake in a 325ºF oven till the crouton is lightly toasted and crisp.
     Place the crouton on the center of a serving platter.
     Set the serving platter aside.
     Step 10:  Remove the Game Hen from the braising liquid.
     Place the hen on the on top of the crouton on the serving platter.
     Arrange the carrots, morels and pearl onions on the platter, so they look nice.
     Keep the platter warm on a stove top or in a very low temperature oven.
     Step 11:  Pour the wine broth sauce through a fine mesh strainer into a second sauce pot.
     Discard the sachet, garlic, celery and lardons.
     Step 12:  Place the sauce pot over medium/medium high heat.
     Add 1 pinch of tarragon.
     Adjust the seasoning with sea salt and black pepper if necessary.
     Step 13:  Bring the liquid to a boil.
     Rapidly reduce till only 2 1/2 cups remain.
     Step 14:  Knead 1 1/2 tablespoons of chilled unsalted butter with an equal amount of flour to make a Beurre Manie.
     Knead the clump of butter and flour, till it is as smooth as putty.
     Add a little bit of beurre manie at a time, while vigorously whisking, till the sauce thickens to a very thin consistency.
     Step 15:  Rapidly simmer and reduce till the sauce is thin consistency that can glaze a spoon.  (The finished volume will be about 1 3/4 cups.)
     Step 16:  Remove the pot from the heat.
     Pour a generous amount of the sauce over the Game Hen and onto the serving platter.
     Serve any remaining sauce in a ramekin.

     This is a nice elegant way to present a Coq Au Vin!

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