2017-10-21 / Food

Easy French cooking for fast weeknights

But fancy enough to wow a crowd
By ALAN BENNETT
Food Columnist

I’m a lover of coq au vin — you know, the French classic dish of chicken marinated in red wine, seared and slowly braised with lardons, mushrooms and onions.

I’m not a lover, however, of how long it takes to prepare.

Traditional coq au vin encompasses cutting up an entire chicken and marinating the pieces in a mixture of red wine, thyme or rosemary and spices overnight, then searing the chicken and slowly braising it in a low oven for hours more.

It’s delicious, but time-consuming, so I’ve streamlined the process. Here, I take the same flavors as traditional coq au vin and create a dish with similar auspiciousness in a fraction of the time.

Rather than marinate the chicken in the wine (which I feel lends a rather unpleasant purple color to the meat), I let my chicken sit in a mixture of olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary for about 30 minutes, sear it in a hot pan before roasting it until completion, and serving it with a slightly-sweet red wine reduction atop a bed of sauteéd onions, mushrooms and tomatoes. Then I top it with crispy pancetta for a salty kick.

An added bonus? Crispy chicken skin that you just can’t get with the braised variety.

My recipe calls for bone-in chicken thighs and drumsticks. You can certainly use chicken breasts, but note that they’ll take less time to finish cooking in the oven than the dark-meat varieties.

As for wine, Bordeaux is traditionally used, though you can change it up. I prepared mine with a stiff cabernet sauvignon, which I like for its robust fruity flavor and tannic finish. Feel free to sub malbec or merlot, or switch things up and use white wine — coq au Riesling is a brighter and more-spirited variation on this classic dish.

The general rule when cooking with wine? Pick something you would drink — and save a glass or two for yourself.

Modern coq au vin

3 ounces pancetta, diced
2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken drumsticks and thighs
Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
½ tablespoon kosher salt, more as needed
½ tablespoon freshly-ground black pepper, more as needed
2 rosemary sprigs, roughly chopped, more for garnish
1 medium onion, cut into large pieces
2 vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into 1/16ths
8 ounces white button or crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 large cloves garlic, finely-minced
½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 cup dry red wine, such as Bordeaux or cabernet sauvignon
2 tablespoons brown sugar
½ cup chicken stock (or pan drippings)
Crusty bread, for serving

In a large bowl, combine the chicken pieces with the salt, pepper, rosemary and about ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil. Let rest at room temperature 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease a wide baking dish.

First, cook the pancetta. In a deep, wide pot over medium heat, heat two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil until shimmering. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring often, until the pancetta turns golden brown and crispy. Using a slotted spoon, remove the pancetta and drain on paper towels. Set aside.
If necessary, add more oil to the pot until the bottom is completely covered. Turn heat to medium high. Working in batches, taking care not to overcrowd the pan, add the chicken pieces, skin side down, and cook until a dark sear forms on one side. Rotate chicken pieces and repeat. Remove chicken and place, skin side up, in the baking dish. Repeat with remaining chicken.

Bake chicken 40-45 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers 165 degrees.

While the chicken bakes, prepare the vegetables. Using the same pot used for searing the chicken over medium heat, add the onions and mushrooms and a pinch of salt and pepper. Add the thyme leaves and cook about 10 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about one minute. Add the tomatoes, stir and reduce heat to low.

Prepare the red wine sauce. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, add the wine, brown sugar and a pinch of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook about 15 minutes. Add the stock and bring continue to simmer over medium-high heat until sauce reduces by half, about 15-20 minutes. Watch carefully, or it will evaporate in an instant.

When chicken is done, remove from the oven and let rest in the pan for about five minutes. Layer a spoon of sauce on the bottom of a plate, followed by a scoop of vegetables in the center. Stack a chicken thigh and drumstick on top of the vegetables, and garnish with a sprinkle of freshly-chopped rosemary and a good crack of black pepper.

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