Coq Au Vin is (almost) like Pollo Guisado

Coq au vin is the French man’s version of one of my favorite Dominican dishes, pollo guisado. If you grew up in the Caribbean you, like me, have fond memories of the tangy creole chicken stew seasoned with sour oranges, oregano, tomatoes, and smoky sweet ajicitos (which grew in my backyard, by the way). So what to do when half of the ingredients that make up this flavorful dish can’t be found without having to schlep to a mercadito in Washington Heights or a remote part of Brooklyn? You have to get creative.

Enter Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I’ve been staring at the elegant fleur de lys-stamped tome for the past three years, dog-earing classics like Moules a la Mariniere (mussles with wine) and Navarin Printanier (lamb stew with spring vegetables), but never once having the courage (or the time) to dive into one of these elaborate dishes. This week, however, whether spurred by the rainy forecast or the ridiculously decadent meal I recently had at Daniel, I felt inspired.

I headed out to the neighborhood butcher shop (Esposito’s), where I picked up a fresh chicken and a gorgeous slab of porkiness for my lardons. I dropped in at Stiles Farmers Market for herbs, potatoes, onions, mushrooms, and the rest of the ingredients. I dug up a dusty bottle of brandy from my pantry and uncorked a bottle of Long Island red. I was dicing, chopping, frying, sauteeing, braising, roasting, and simmering for about five hours. But the reward that night – serving my first Coq Au Vin with roasted potatoes and a bottle of Channing Daughters red to a hungry crowd – was totally worth it.

Coq Au Vin (adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking)
for 4-6 people

You need:
4 oz. of lean bacon
3 lbs. cut up chicken
1/4 c. cognac
3 c. young red wine
1-2 c. chicken or beef stock
1/2 Tb tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/4 tsp. thyme
1 bay leaf
10 small white onions
1/2 lb. mushrooms
3 Tb. flour

Remove the rind and cut the bacon into lardons. Simmer for 10 min. in a pot of water. Rinse with cold water and dry.

Using a 10-inch heavy casserole, sauté the bacon in 2 Tb. Butter until lightly browed. Set aside.

Dry the chicken thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper, and brown in the hot fat. Return the bacon to the casserole with the chicken. Cover and cook slowly, turning the chicken once.

Uncover, pour in the cognac. Light the cognac with a match and shake the pan until flames subside.

Pour wine into the casserole. Add enough stock to cover the chicken. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, and herbs. Bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer slowly for 25-30 minutes, or until chicken is tender. Remove and set aside.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the onions and the mushrooms:
Saute the onions in 1 1/2 Tb. Butter and 1 ½ Tb. Oil for 10 min. Once they have browned, roast them in the oven at 350 degrees with some sprigs of thyme and parsley for 40 min.
Heat up 2 Tb. Butter and 1 Tb. Oil over high heat. Once butter foam has begun to subside, add the mushrooms. Saute for 4 – 5 min. or until mushrooms begin to brown lightly.

Simmer chicken cooking liquid in the casserole and skim off the fat. Raise the heat and boil rapidly until liquid reduces to about 2 cups. Check seasoning and discard bay leaf.

Blend 3 Tb. Flour and 2 Tb. Butter into a smooth paste in a separate saucer. Whisk the paste into the hot liquid, stir, and simmer for a minute or two. Sauce should thicken.

Return chicken to casserole. Place mushrooms and onions around it, and baste with the sauce. Decorate with parsley. Serve with roasted potatoes, parsley potatoes, buttered peas, crusty bread, or even tostones for a Dominican twist!

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