Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Coq au Vin with Cornish Game Hens

Coq au vin is a classic French dish cooked with love, time and wine. The sauce created as the chicken simmers is divine. Try not to drink it straight from the pot with your stirring spoon. 

I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, after cooking my little hens, but circumstances intervened and I didn’t post it. If you’ve been reading a while, you know that these game hens are special.

Adapted from Julia Child's Coq au Vin

Coq au Vin is chicken in red wine with small-braised onions, mushrooms, and lardons of pork, which are small slices of smoked bacon. Julia wanted me to blanch my bacon first to get rid of the smoky flavor, but frankly, the reason I love bacon is because of the smoky flavor so I skipped that step. I also changed the onions for shallots and tipped them in the pot after peeling. I do not know what a small-braised onion is but it seemed to me that they would add to the flavor of the whole dish if they were added early instead of using them as a garnish for serving. Oh, and I substituted fresh baby carrots for the mushrooms.  Mushrooms might have added to the sauce but carrots will make this a meal to serve over rice or even mashed potatoes, n’est pas?

1/2 cup lardons (I cut slices of smoked bacon into little pieces. Same thing.)
2 nice plump Cornish game hens, cut in half
2 tablespoon butter
tablespoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 or 2 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced 
1 imported bay leaf
1/4 tsp or so thyme (I used one nice spring of fresh thyme. I scraped off the little leaves and then threw the stem in as well. Why not?)
1 large ripe red unpeeled tomato, chopped (or 1/3 cup canned Italian plum tomatoes)
3 cups young red wine (Zinfandel, Macon or Chianti type) I used Merlot, because that's what I buy.
1 cup chicken stock (or more)
Beurre manie, for the sauce (1 1/2 tbs. each flour softened butter blended to a paste)
Fresh parsley sprigs (or chopped parsley)
1/3 cup good brandy (optional)
8-10 small shallots, peeled and left whole
Small bunch of baby carrots, scrubbed

Before browning the chicken, sauté the bacon and remove to a side dish, leaving the fat in the pan.

Brown the chicken in the pork fat, adding a little olive oil, if needed.

Notice the bacon in the little dish on the side. 

Flame the game hens with the brandy, if you wish -- it does give its own special flavor, besides being fun to do. (Julia was right! That step was very fun but next time I will wait until my able assistant, who was napping, is awake and poised with the camera. I almost dropped it when the flames shot up way higher than I expected.  Also, I felt restrained from shouting the loud WHOOP! this really deserved.) 


Now add the wine, stock, tomato, herbs, garlic and bacon back in along with a sprinkle of sea salt and  freshly ground black pepper. Close the lid tightly and turn the fire down to simmer. 

Yeah, it looks like a lot of wine, because it is. But it will cook down.

I let this simmer a few minutes while I peeled the shallots and then added them and a knob of butter as well, poking the shallots down into the wine and stock.  I covered the pan again and continued the simmering.

After half an hour of simmering, I turned the little chickadees over.

After an hour of simmering, I skimmed as much fat as I could off the top and then I added the carrots.

After another half an hour, I took flipped the hens upright again and left the lid off to allow the liquid to cook down and skimmed some more fat.

Two total hours into the simmering, it was probably time to finish the dish. Take all the solid things out of the pot with a slotted spoon until you are left with only the liquids. (I took this opportunity to discard all the parsley and thyme stems and the bay leaves.)  If there is still visible fat on the liquid, use a spoon to skim what you can and discard. 

Thicken the sauce by whisking in your beurre manie. 

Allow this to cook for a few minutes to get rid of the floury taste. I wish I could show you how rich and thick and succulent the sauce turned. The photos do not do it justice. Check the seasonings and add salt and pepper if necessary.

Return the game hens to the pot and baste with the sauce. Add the carrots and any other solids that were removed. Simmer for a few minutes, still basting, to rewarm the chicken and to blend flavors.

Okay, this is a terrible photo, but you get the idea. 

Serve over white rice or some creamy mashed potatoes.


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