10 Dishes to Make This Winter: #5 Coq au Vin

Coq au Vin sounds like pretentious French food.  When I was young and heard the name I always thought it was CocoVan.  Sounded strange but I now understand why my mother did not go into detail explaining that it was in fact, “coq” au vin!  I wonder if a dish called “rooster in wine” would ever stand a chance in this country?

While it may sound pretentious, it is of the most humble origins and when I got ready to make this I found I had all the ingredients in the house already.  It is not ingredients in this case but technique that makes this dish special.  The key to success here is browning.  Lots and lots of browning.

The choice of wine is not critical in my opinion, but I had an inexpensive Bordeaux so it seemed appropriate!

It is a hearty chicken stew made with red wine and garnished with mushrooms, pearl onions, and bacon.  This, and a nice bold red wine by the fire would make for a very cozy winter evening!

You don’t need to use “coq”, or rooster for this dish (insert joke here!) but there is a question of which cut of chicken to use.  The true recipe would call for a whole chicken cut up, browned with the skin in tact, and pulled off the bones after cooking. 

I worry that boneless, skinless chicken breast will dry out, yet I know that many people (my family included) do not care for dark meat, or even the presence of bones.

Boneless skinless breast proved to work just fine. Cut it into bite-sized pieces.

For this recipe I did an experiment, using whole chicken thighs, skin included, and boneless skinless chicken breast cut into stew sized pieces.

I am pleased to report that the chicken breast was excellent and while I myself enjoy the thighs, the dish can be successful without them.  Thus, the recipe below uses only chicken breast (though some of the pictures may show the thighs).

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast, cut for stew
  • 1 cup flour
  • salt and pepper
  • vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large celery stalk, chopped
  • Bouquet Garni:  cheesecloth, peppercorns, bay leaf, thyme sprigs, fresh parsley, and 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbs tomato paste
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 qt chicken stock
  • Garnish:  6 oz button mushrooms, 3 oz bacon, 6 oz pearl onions

Season the flour with salt and pepper.  This is done to your own tastes, but do not be shy as this is the seasoning that the 3 lbs of chicken will get.

Dust the chicken with seasoned flour, reserving the flour that does not stick.

Put the chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces in the flour and toss it.  Using your hands, lift the chicken out, shaking lightly to let excess flour fall through your fingers back into the bowl (reserve this flour).

In vegetable oil, brown the chicken very well.  First you must use an oil with a high smoke point.  Olive oil will not do for this.  It must be peanut oil, canola, corn oil or some vegetable oil like that.

The key to success in this recipe is deep browning...without scorching.

Heat the pan, then put enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan and when it begins to smoke, add the chicken.  Spread the chicken pieces out so they fit comfortably across the floor of the pan with a little space between each piece.  This will likely require that you do it in batches.

Once it is in the pan, leave it without moving it for a couple minutes.  You want a good deep brown crust ont he outside of each piece.  This is where you begin to develop the flavor.  Watch your heat because if it begins to scorch, you will taste that bitterness in the stew.

After a couple minutes turn the pieces and give them enough time to deeply brown on the other side.  Once this has happened, remove the chicken to a strainer over a bowl and brown the next batch, adding oil if necessary. 

If it begins to scorch, then between batches, deglaze with a little bit of red wine, scraping the chicken from the pan.  pour this in a measuring cup to use later.

Once all the chicken is browned, add more oil and brown the veggies.  They will begin on medium-low to render some moisture out of them, then back to med-high to brown them.  You will see the moisture leave the pan in the form of steam and when the steam clears they will begin to brown.  Don’t be shy here, season them well with salt and pepper and let them get a good deep brown.  This is the second major step to developing the flavor of the dish.

Once the chicken is browned, brown the veggies next.

Once the veggies are browned, add the red wine and using a wooden scraper, deglaze the pan by scraping all the browned bits from the floor and sides of the pan.  Allow the wine to reduce until it does not quite cover the bottom of the pan.

Add the wine and reduce until it does not quite cover the floor of the pan.

Toss the browned chicken with the remaining flour in the bowl.  Add the tomato paste and stir into the wine to thicken it a bit.  Now add the chicken to this mixture and stir it into the wine, making a pasty roux-like coating over the chicken.

Whisk in the chicken broth at this point and bring to a simmer. 

It is now time for the bouquet garni.  This is a small pouch of seasoning that will be retrieved after cooking.  Think of it as a seasoning tea bag.  Using a square of cheese cloth, put a bay leaf, 4-5 whole peppercorns, and fresh parsley.  Tie the bundle with string and put into the stew.

The bouquet garni is a bundle of cheesecloth with seasoning in it. In this case, bay leaf, parsley stems, peppercorns, a couple smashed garlic cloves and thyme.

A tip on the parsley, the stems contain as much flavor as the leaves, but cannot be used the way the leaves can.  This is a perfect place to use them.

If you don’t he cheesecloth, you can use a tea ball.  You will see in my pictures that I did not have fresh thyme and used instead ground thyme.  Not ideal, I’m sure but this subtle distinction will be lost on most of us.

Simmer this mixture until thickened and the flavors are developed.  It should be thicker than soup, but not as thick as gravy.  The chicken will not take long to cook through, but you need to give it enough time to develop flavor, maybe 20-30 minutes.

Add veggies, chicken, bouquet garni and chicken stock to simmer for 20-30 min.

To prepare the garnish, saute the bacon in whole strips until quite crispy.  remove the bacon but leave the fat.  Quarter the button mushrooms and if using fresh pearl onions, peel and blanche them.  I used frozen ones here (lazy perhaps, but a huge timesaver with no noticeable lack of quality.

Brown the mushrooms and pearl onions in the bacon fat, crumble the bacon into this mixture and use it as a garnish over the stew.

The garnish is made from bacon, mushrooms, and pearl onions and is served over the stew.

This dish can be served with any starch such as rice, spaetzle, but my favorite is mashed potatoes.

π

10 Dishes to Make this Winter: #4 Tony’s Ultimate Mac and Cheese!

This is the 4th in a series, 10 Dishes to Make this Winter.

Mac & Cheese invokes different emotions in different people.  For some it was–at 10¢ a serving–a means of survival, and for others it is mere kids’ food.  And while it may have evolved to these states, it began as a decadent rich dish using another of the French Mother Sauces, Bechamel.  From there we add cheese making it Mornay Sauce.

So we may not think of it as gourmet food, but it certainly can enter that realm!  The component that puts it over the top is the browned buttered breadcrumbs.  This recipe has broad appeal and years ago when I operated a small meal delivery service, we sold 100 portions a week of this! 

Here is the recipe and please leave a comment if you like it. 

And I would be negligent if I didn’t give a shoutout at this point to my eager quasi-step-nephew who called me to ask when I was posting the M&C recipe.  Ryan, I hope you find this worth the wait!  I only regret I do not have a picture of you making a pope hat with a napkin!

Ingredients

  • 8oz Cheddar Cheese, shredded
  • 8 oz Monterey Jack Cheese, shredded
  • 1 lb elbow Macaroni (I like Barilla Plus, more on that below)
  • 2 oz butter
  • 4 Tbs flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 4 cups milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 can Campbell’s Cheddar Cheese Soup (more on this below)
  • 2 oz butter (separate from the 2 oz butter above)
  • 3 cups panko breadcrumbs

Partially cook the macaroni.  You want it undercooked because it will cook more in the oven.  So if the box calls for 6-8 minutes, cook it for 5.  I am a big fan of Barilla Plus pasta.  It is a little coarser than normal pasta, but not the cardboard texture of most whole wheat pasta.  The nutritional trade-off is profound.  It has almost the protein of tofu or meat and more fiber than oatmeal.

Barilla Plus has a very positive nutritional trade-off for just a slightly coarser texture and flavor.

Combine the two cheeses in a bowl and remove a large handful of it to another bowl for garnish.

Preheat oven to 350° and butter a baking dish (like a large casserole dish.)

Put the milk and cream in a bowl and microwave for 3-4 minutes.

Over medium heat, melt the first 2 oz of butter and stir in the flour, dry mustard, salt, and cayenne.  Don’t worry if you’re not a fan of hot food, this barely comes through but makes it a bit interesting.  If you are a fan of hot food, double this quantity.  Stir this mixture for a minute or so to cook out the floury taste.  It should be a light blonde roux.

Pour in the hot milk and cream mixture whisking throughout.  If it seizes up, do not panic, it will cook out, just keep whisking.  You have just made a bechamel sauce!

Flour and butter make a roux, the addition of milk makes it Bechamel sauce and the addition of cheese makes it Mornay!

When it is thick and bubbly, add the can of soup and the shredded cheese.  If you read this blog at all you will know this is the first time I have recommended a can of Campbell’s soup as an ingredient.  It is, however what was specified when my sister gave me this recipe years ago.  It is one of the few things in life I have never questioned, nor experimented with alternatives!

Rarely do I use a prepared ingredient like Campbell's soup, but in the case of this recipe given to me by my sister, I do not question. Hey, it says right on the can it's great for cooking!

Once the cheese is melted and the soup is blended into the sauce, you now have a mornay sauce (with soup in it).  Now add the pasta and mix it in well.  Pour this mixture into the baking dish and sprinkle with the cheese you reserved in a small bowl for garnish.

Spread the cheese reserved for garnish, and then top with buttered bread crumbs and then into the oven she goes!

Melt the second quantity of butter and mix it with the panko breadcrumbs.  These breadcrumbs are perfect for this use.  They are larger like fresh breadcrumbs and not grainy.  Spread this mixture over the top of the casserole and put in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are GBD (golden, brown and delicious).

Bake 20-25 minutes until GBD (golden, brown, and delicious)

π

10 Dishes to Make This Winter: #3 Spaghetti and Meatballs

This is the 3rd of a series, 10 Dishes to Make This Winter.

Meatballs are a very personal food and one person’s favorite is another person’s disaster.  I would never claim that my style is the best, only that it is my favorite.  There are variables like the ingredients, and the size but the most distinctive feature of mine is the technique. 

I brown meatballs in a skillet to put a nice caramelized crust on the outside and then drop them into the spaghetti sauce to finish cooking them.  It flavors the sauce to be sure, but it also give the meatballs their characteristic crusty exterior and soft center.

Many cook theirs in the oven or entirely in the sauce and it is highly subjective; but, if you’ve never tried this technique, give it a shot!  It also happens to be a great recipe in my opinion.  The sauce has a rich meat flavor, and the onions and tomatoes are left chunky which complements the meatballs.  Further, the tomato paste helps thicken the sauce to the perfect consistency.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 oz veg. oil
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 16oz cans diced tomatoes
  • 3 16oz cans crushed tomatoes
  • 8 oz tomato paste
  • 16oz beef broth
  • 1Tbs + 1tsp sugar
  • salt & pepper
  • dried oregano, dried
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 1/2 lbs ground beef
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
  • spaghetti

    Leave the onions fairly large for this recipe, about the size of the canned diced tomatoes. Chunky really works for this dish!

SAUCE

Cook onions and garlic in some olive oil or butter (not the vegetable oil listed above) until softened, but not browned.

Add tomatoes and their juices, tomato paste, beef broth, sugar, salt and pepper (1 tsp salt/1/2 tsp pepper), 1 1/2 tsp oregano, and the bay leaf.

Simmer uncovered for 30 min (while you make the meatballs.

Let the sauce simmer while you make the meatballs. Make sure you use a large pot because you will be adding the meatballs to this sauce.

MEATBALLS

Mix breadcrumbs, beaten eggs and water.  Blend in ground beef , half of the grated parmesan cheese (reserving the remainder for garnish), parsley, 1 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, and 1 1/2 tsp oregano. 

Mix this mixture well.  I find nothing works as well as two hands.

All of the ingredients, the breadcrumbs, the eggs, the parsley, the cheese all play a role in the flavor and texture of the meatball. Be sure to mix well!

With a 2oz ice cream scoop, make the meatballs, rounding them with your hands and place on a sheet of foil near the stovetop.

The size of the meatball is a matter of personal preference, but take care to make them all the same size.

Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet on high, to just about the smoke point and brown the meatballs.  Move them around in the pan to get an even browning and as they achieve this, drop them into the simmering spaghetti sauce. 

For this technique, it is critical to get a good caramelized crust on the outside of the meatballs before dropping them into the sauce to simmer.

Once the last one is in the sauce, simmer partially covered for another 30 minutes and cook the spaghetti.

Once browned, drop them into the sauce to simmer another 30 minutes. The result will be a rich delicious meat sauce, and meatballs with a crusty exterior but soft center.

Serve a healthy ladle of the sauce with a couple meatballs and garnish with grated parmesan cheese.

π

10 Dishes to Make This Winter: #2 – Chicken Pot Pie

This is the the second of a series of postings, “10 Dishes to Make This Winter” which will feature hearty warm recipes for winter weather.

Mention Chicken Pot Pie to most people and inevitably the name “Swanson” is mentioned.  King of the frozen one-pot meals, the Swanson Chicken Pot Pie is legendary; but it is not what we are making here.

The difference between the Chicken Pot Pie we are about to make below and the one you purchase is your freezer section is the difference between “sauce” and “gravy”, or “pie crust” and “pastry”.  This version features colorful crisp vegetables, tender poached chicken, a rich puff pastry crust, and–in my mind–the most important component of all, a silky smooth sauce that pulls it all together.

This silky sauce is the difference between what you will make and what you can buy!

There is a little bit of work to this one, but it is not hard to make.  Paired with a fresh green salad this will be a great meal for a cozy weekend dinner party with a warm fire.  It is also easy to make in quantity to freeze or reheat for weeknight meals.

Another key difference in this recipe is the use of puff pastry over traditional pie crust. It is easily found in frozen sheets which can be cut to fit the tops of individual pot pies.

Ingredients

  • 2 Sheets Puff Pastry
  • 1 1/2 oz veg oil
  • 3 lb boneless chicken breast
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 lb yellow squash
  • 3 red onions
  • 6 carrots
  • 4 celery stalks
  • 6 oz butter
  • 1 1/3 cup flour
  • 4 cups milk
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 oz sherry
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen peas
  • 1 cup parsley, chopped
  • one egg (opt)

Preheat oven to 400° and put puff pastry out on counter to thaw.

Put chicken breasts in a pot and pour chicken stock over them.  They should be just covered.  Simmer (poach actually) until they are just done (there will be more cooking) which should take approximately 8-10 minutes of covered simmering.

Not an advertisement, but in my experience, this is the best commercially available chicken broth. Perhaps a bit saltier, but also a deeper chicken flavor.

Pull breasts out to allow them to cool, and reserve liquid.  You have just done a simple, yet very powerful thing here.  Not only have you cooked the chicken, but in the process, you have made the chicken stock more “chickeny”.  Taste it…would this not be a great base for any soup, stew, or pot pie?

These brightly colored and crisply textured veggies will retain both color and texture in this method.

Chop all of the vegetables, the squash, carrots, celery, and onions to bite-sized pieces taking care to make sure they are all the same size as each other.  Heat the oil in the pot and sauté the veggies until they are all soft, but not brown.  All you are looking to do here is cook out the harshness of the onions and soften the carrots and celery a bit.  We want them to retain their gorgeous color, and some of their crispness.  Season as you go with salt and pepper, and do not be shy…there’s a lot of vegetables in there!

While those are sauteing, cut up the chicken.  There are two choice here, either shred it with a pair of forks, or dice it to the same size as the veggies.  I am a fan of dicing. 

Note:I have called for boneless breast in this recipe because it is so universally preferred in this country.  There is no reason you could not include a combination of light and dark meat according to your own preferences.

The chicken can be either shredded or diced. I prefer diced to match the vegetables.

Set the softened veggies and diced/shredded chicken aside (you can combine them if you want to use the same bowl…they will appear together from here on.)

Pour the milk into either a sauce pan or microwaveable bowl.  Heat the milk until it is warm to hot.  The purpose of this is so that when you add it to the pot it does not completely stop the cooking.  It is not a critical step but will save you time.

In a large pot melt the butter and add the flour.  You are making a blonde roux here, and this means you do not want excessive browning of the butter/flour mixture.  Still, stir it around a bit to cook the flour some and get it well mixed with the butter.

Now whisk in the newly fortified chicken stock.  Work fast and do not panic if the butter/flour mixture seizes into a giant ball.  Keep whisking and it will dissipate and serve to thicken the stock. 

Note:  What you have in front of you now is one of the classic French “Mother Sauces”, called velouté.  This translates to “velvety” and you should be seeing why they say that.  Had you led with the milk before the stock you would have made a béchamel sauce. 

Once you have whisked in the chicken stock and smoothed out the butter flour mixture, add the warm milk and any juices that have accumulated in the bowl from the chicken and veggies.  Add the thyme and season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Simmer until thickened.  This is an important step because what you see before you is the final product and if it is too thin you will wish you had given it more time.  Be patient and allow it to thicken to approximately the consistency of pancake batter.

When it reaches the desired thickness, kill the heat and add the sherry.  The aroma that now emanates from the pot should have you very excited!

Mix in the chicken, sautéed vegetables, parsley and frozen peas and adjust the seasoning (salt and pepper) to your tastes.

At this point the pie filling is complete. It will cook a bit more but mostly to warm it.

Ladle the mixture into individual ramekins and top each with a round of puff pastry.  I use an upside down coffee mug to cut the rounds from the puff pastry sheets.  This is not a difficult step as they do not have to completely cover the dish and require no handling.  It is fun to carve a design or shape into the puff pastry because it will cook into it and show in the finished product.

Working on a sheet pan, ladle the filling into individual ramekins and top each with a round of puff pastry. A brushing of eggwash will give it a glossy finish.

I do recommend at this point beating an egg and brushing the eggwash over the puff pastry.  It’s not a required step but will give the pastry a nice gloss when it comes out.

A design cut into the pastry will give the finished dish a personalized touch.

Place the ramekins on a sheet pan and bake until brown and bubbly.  They need bake only long enough to cook the pastry as all of the ingredients within are more or less cooked.  20-25 minutes, watching the top of the crust as your guide.  When they are golden-brown-and-delicious or gbd it’s time to pull them.

They will hold the heat forever, so pull them a bit before your guests sit down to dinner!

π

Basic Marinara Sauce

 

Marinara is a very personal and subjective staple.  The recipe someone grows up with, maybe their grandmother’s or their mom’s is a sacred memory.  This is a very basic recipe and I encourage you to personalize it and make it yours.

There are a lot of factors such as what type of tomatoes to use, seasoning, and texture.  The technique, however, is basically the same.

Start with onions, garlic, and Italian seasoning...

Start by sautéing onions, garlic, and seasoning.  You want them soft, but not browned.  Seasoning can include bottled Italian seasoning, herbs such as basil, thyme, oregano, or just salt and pepper.  This is where you begin to make the recipe yours.

Choice of tomatoes is another way to personalize. In my book, canned is just fine.

The choice of tomatoes is primarily one of preference and texture.  Diced tomatoes will yield a chunky texture and crushed tomatoes will yield a more consistent and thicker texture.  The addition of tomato paste will thicken the sauce.

I am a fan of crushed tomatoes, and the pot I use will comfortably accommodate a #10 can from Costco.  Today I used a mixture of diced and crushed because I was serving it with bread and big chunky gnocchi.  For something fine like spaghetti or even a vegetable lasagna, I would opt for a smoother texture.

After sauteeing the onions and garlic, add the tomatoes, season and simmer.

Once the onions and garlic are softened, add the tomatoes and simmer.  Simmering time will vary from 15 minutes to an hour.  What determines this will be the desired thickness of the sauce.  When using diced tomatoes I prefer to add all the juice, and then reduce it through simmering.  This concentrates the flavors.

SUGAR:  Many recipes will call for sugar.  I mentioned above that marinara is a very personal preference but in my opinion, sweet tasting marinara is unforgivable!

That said, some people will saute the onions with a bit of sugar to caramelize it and develop flavor, and others will add a small amount (like a teaspoon) to balance the flavor when the tomatoes are acidic.

Once reduced, let it cool at room temperature, and it can be packaged for the freezer if you will not be using it all.

An hour of reduction lowered the level by about an inch but thickened the sauce and concentrated the flavors.

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