For a while now, I’ve fantasized about writing a cook book. To that end, let’s be honest: I can barely keep up with a blog and I haven’t published a book in nearly a decade, plus I have no training in the culinary arts. This is clearly a bad recipe (see what I did there?) for writing a cook book. Nevertheless, I still think about it sometimes, so today I’ve decided to start posting blogs containing the recipes that would go into my cookbook.
The book, now blog series, is to be called “Neanderchef” or maybe “Neander-Chef”, a rather obvious combination that I think implies what I want it to — not that I’m overly hairy, though admittedly I could use a beard trim, but instead that, as Geicko used to put it, this is so easy a caveman can do it. Side note: I know that neanderthals do not equal cavemen. Please don’t respond to tell me that. But more than easy, the “Neander” is an allusion to my methodology. I don’t like to measure things, or time them. I prefer to cook using more primitive methodologies.
For today’s post, I’m going to use the template I worked up when I was tinkering with writing a cookbook. I hope, faithful reader, that you’ll reply and let me know if you think I’ve missed my calling and ought to transform myself into a cookbook author? In the least, please let me know if I ought to post more blogs like this, and be sure to stay tuned for the Neander-Somm at the end of this post where I pair wine with the meal. And now, without further adieu, I introduce to you: NeanderChef.
NeanderChef: Coq Au Vin
Coq Au Vin is a traditional French dish that, so far as I’ve surmised, originates in or around Burgundy (Bourgogne). I first encountered this dish at the Bistro Jeanty in Yountville. Sonja and I were in the Napa Valley, and it was near the end of the trip. We had purchased a lot of wine, and I didn’t really want to spend a lot of money. I’d never seen this dish on a menu before, but it was $19 and the waiter said it was excellent, so I rolled the dice. It truly was excellent, and I fell in love with it. From that point forward, I ordered it any time I saw it on a menu, which was rarely.
This recipe, if you want to call it that, is a result of much trial and error. I took a lot from the recipe of Julia Childs, but added parts from others and also things of my own. In the end, true to my ways, I never have a recipe in front of me while I’m doing this. I just turn on Billy Joel, Hamilton, or BBC News, and enjoy maneuvering around the kitchen like a wild man, making food for my family with a glass of wine in my hand. I hope you enjoy it as well.
Prep time: One hour
Start to finish: Five hours
Cost per serving: $4.00
Special things you need:
A dutch oven. If you’re buying one, know that I can make about four pieces of chicken in an ovular six quart, but probably nine in a round seven quart. If cooking for more than four, get the deep dutch oven.
A Trivae (pictured below). You really need one of these if you ever use lids on anything. Seriously. Get one.
Likelihood you’ll fuck this up: Relatively high, at least the first time. Take a practice swing at it before you commit to cooking coq au vin for date night.
- Bone-in chicken. The part with the drummy and thigh.
- Whole, round, bulbous mushrooms
- White onions
- Garlic cloves
- Thick-cut bacon, about half a pound maybe
- Olive oil
- A bottle (.750) of red wine
- A little bit of flour
- A shit load of herbs that you like — bay leaves for sure
- one small can of tomato paste
- Truffle oil
- Shallots in place of onions (you snob!)
- Bourgogne in place of random red wine
- Meat tenderizer (I love this stuff and rub it on everything — get the unflavored kind)
Ok, knuckledraggers, here’s what to do:
First, assembly your ingredients, making sure you’ve got all the pots, pans, etc. for each step below. Be certain you have everything. I once started making this, realized I didn’t have any bacon, and ended up making pretty boring coq au vin. Wah wah. Double check you’ve got your stuff, people.
Next, mix up your herbs and some meat tenderizer and salt in a bowl. Please don’t ask me which herbs to use. Which herbs do you like the flavor of? Some people hate cilantro as much as I adore it. I used paprika, sage, thyme, rosemary, garlic powder, and a few other things yesterday. Use the herbs you like. Herbs de Provence is always a winner, but buy the kind without lavender in it. Seriously who eats flowers?
Next, massage generous amounts of your herb/salt/mt concoction onto both sides of the chicken, leaving the skin on. Rub it in there like you’re on a date and it’s going really well.
Next, or at the same time, really, toss your bacon, as thick as you can get it, into a pan with some olive oil, butter, any herbs you want, and your garlic cloves. If you buy whole garlic cloves, which you should, put them into a bowl, place another bowl on top of that bowl so that the garlic clove is trapped inside, and shake the shit out of it. It’s a magic trick to remove garlic husks that will make you want to kill someone if you try to remove them any other way. I may have just saved you from a homicide charge. You’re welcome. Cook the bacon gently, never really frying it, on medium-low heat for a little bit. Nothing burns here.
Wash. Your. Mushrooms. If you don’t, please never invite me over to eat again. Mushrooms are gross until you wash the dirt off. Do this like it’s part of your religion.
Add your washed mushrooms to a pan with a little bit of olive oil and let them simmer on medium heat for a bit while you do the other stuff.
Remove the bacon and, when you have a moment, chop it up. I like to cut it into skinny strips that leaves some fat and some meat on each one, but you do you. Actually, no, do it my way. It’s better my way.
Add a bit more butter and olive oil, maybe some truffle oil if you’ve got it, but not much, to your big pan. Then put the chicken in there, still on medium heat. Everything gets baked later. We’re just prepping. Let this simmer for a bit and be sure you flip them. No cooking, and don’t burn the skin off or get it stuck to your pan. Leave the garlic in there. Add bay leaves and onions. How many onions? I dunno — how much do you like onions? This is the part where snobby people can add shallots instead. They’re just little onions as far as I can tell. I used them a few times but, meh. I like onions.
In a big pot, dump (gently — no splashy) your bottle of red wine. You have probably heard people say things like “Don’t cook with wine you wouldn’t drink”. This is stupid. You are dramatically altering the flavor of the wine when you cook with it. If you dump a bottle of Smith-Madrone Cook’s Flat into a pot and heat it up, I will personally come to your house and kick your ass. Drink the good wine, and just cook with something passable. I was going to use Burgundy yesterday, but the only bottle I had in the cellar was grand cru. Instead I used a low-cost Portuguese wine that I like enough to sip a little bit of while I made the sauce. Use medium heat on this as well. Add a bit of flour to the sauce, stirring as you go. Add whatever herbs sound good. I also like to add just a little bit, like a small can, of tomato paste. It thickens it up some, but it also adds a subtle tang. Be careful — too much of it and the wrong combination of herbs and your french food will smell and taste a lot like pizza.
Add the bacon to the sauce. You don’t have to do this, but I usually do.
Once you’ve got your ingredients assembled, start transferring ingredients into the dutch oven. This actually requires a little bit of thought, so I’ll show you quickly below. It also requires the Trivae I mentioned earlier (pictured above), unless you’re really gross and want to set your lid on the countertop, in which case you probably didn’t even wash your mushrooms anyway and your coq auv in is going to be terrible. Assuming you’re not gross, here is what to do next:
Whether I’m right that this food originates in Bourgogne or not, a Pinot Noir is a nice pairing to go with a dense, rich dish like this. Red wine sauce calls for a red wine pairing, in my opinion. Pairing it with the same wine you cooked with would work, but I tend to enjoy drinking better wine than I cook with, and again, please don’t cook with bottles you ought to drink instead. I know that runs counter to the opinions of others, but unless you just can’t figure out what to do with all of your money (in which case, send it my way) then there’s no need to cook with excellent wine.
Last night, I paired my coq au vin with Tom Meadowcroft’s amazing Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, 2016 vintage. My friend Jerry says this is the best SLH he’s had, and I’m sure he’s right. It’s light and varietally correct, but explosively flavorful with just enough structure coming in between the relatively high acidity and the subtle presence of tannins to make it more interesting than many of the more “delicate” Pinots I’ve had. Tom Meadowcroft trained in France, and brings an amazing wealth of experience and knowledge to the California wine-making scene, and to many regions and AVA’s and single vineyards that I’m coming to love and appreciate because of him. All of his wines are amazing and worth drinking, and this one is no exception.
So there you have it, my first ever installment of NeanderChef. I hope you enjoyed it, and I’d value your feedback. I hope you have a fantastic weekend, ideally full of great food and wine. Oh — and if you end up using my recipe to make coq au vin, please let me know!