My love affair with coq au vin began at a particularly difficult moment for my then younger self. I was inching in on finishing my master’s degree in communication at Ohio State University in 1980. I defended my master’s thesis and my committee gave me 6 reasonable changes. Except, at that point, I wasn’t reasonable. I was tired. The typist for my thesis, my friend Rick, was tired. There was a lot of political scrambling in my academic environment which was very uncomfortable. Competitive professors didn’t want students to work with other professors, a competitive graduate student culture, demands on my time as a speech coach. I wanted to be done. So,… I decided I was. I went home from my defense, opened the door to our house and said to my typist and my roommates “I quit! I don’t need a master’s degree and I don’t have anything to prove to anyone. They were stunned into silence.” My roommate Trish, rarely lacking for words said, “Awesome! Let’s party! I want to make coq au vin. Where’s the wine?” As she and our roommate Mimi started preparing food, Rick helped me box up everything related to my thesis and put it in the basement. I was done! I felt free! It was exhilarating! That day we cooked; laughed; drank wine (a lot of wine). We invited friends over and played in the rain. I breathed. We were all a bit (or a lot) “happy” by the time the coq au vin was ready, several hours later and together we enjoyed one of the best, most delicious, meals of my life.
Three years ago, my friends at Wichita State University, Mara, Glyn and I began a tradition of spending a day cooking together that we have done several times (but not nearly often enough). We begin the day at Mara’s with brunch, sometimes just the 3 of us. Sometimes with more friends. Mara always makes palachinque (Bosnian pancakes – which will be the topic of a later blog post); the rest of us bring whatever we want to eat with the pancakes. Then if we’ve decided what we want to cook, again with wine, usually also with music and dancing, always with laughter and friendship, we cook dinner together. The first time we cooked together, I told my graduate school story as we were trying to decide what we wanted for dinner. That did it. The decision was made. Coq au vin it would be. It was a wonderful day and the coq au vin was as delicious as I remembered.
The third time I made coq au vin, again for my friends on one of our cooking days, my last as a resident of Wichita, was in celebration of my birthday, my retirement, and my moving to Colorado. For more on my retirement decision, click here: The three of us shared a delicious brunch and couldn’t decide what we wanted to cook. We reviewed what we’d made on prior occasions: pilaf, curry, cioppino, pasta… Mara looked me in the eye and with great certainty said, “Coq au vin. I want coq au vin. Let’s go shopping,” And off we went.
Throughout the day, more friends came and left, Jan, David, Carolyn (a new friend), Randa, Julie, Jeff. They wrote to me on a “Congratulations on your retirement, Happy Birthday, Good luck on your move” poster Mara had taped to the wall. Like always, we laughed; we danced; we talked; we ate; we drank wine; we prepared more food; we ate some more.
Glyn acted as my sous chef and we spent the day in Mara’s open kitchen preparing food while our friends floated in and out, enjoying all the tasty food everyone had brought. Food made in an atmosphere of love and friendship always tastes the best! It was another precious day!
Coq au vin is typically a rustic French chicken and wine stew with mushrooms, onions, carrots, and potatoes. We had salad, roasted vegetables, hard bread, more wine. Purists make coq au vin with bone-in chicken. I’ve done that twice and the recipe below is my newest modification, boneless chicken. I prefer this version for a number of reasons, most important, how much more quickly the chicken cooks, and how much easier it is to eat. As always, I perused various online recipes for inspiration. Our basic recipe was inspired by Ina Garten’s: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/coq-au-vin-recipe4-2011654, Alton Brown’s: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/coq-au-vin-recipe-1952021, and the New York Times recipe: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1018529-coq-au-vin?mcubz=3. Below I’ll share our portions in such a way that they can be halved or quartered for easy adaptation of the number of people you need to feed. We were cooking for 10 people and hoping for leftovers.
Ingredients and preparation:
1 pound thick cut bacon (based on the theory that one can never have too much bacon) sliced into ¼ inch strips)
6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (washed, dried, and cut into 2×2 inch chunks)
12 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (washed, dried, and cut into 2×2 inch chunks)
1 ½ pounds of cremini mushrooms (or your favorite type – washed, dried, sliced with stems – I always trim off the tip of the stems because they are typically dried out)
1 pound of carrots (cut into 1 inch chunks – we cheated and got the peeled baby carrots – they worked perfectly)
2 large yellow onions (or 1 onion and a bag of pearl onions – 1 peeled and cut into chunks, the other roughly sliced – pearl onions replace the roughly sliced onion)
16 oz container Italian spiced tomatoes (optional – I prefer spiced tomatoes with garlic, oregano, and basil)
3 Idaho potatoes (optional – can be peeled or unpeeled, cut into rough 1 inch chunks) ((We decided to serve the dish with fresh Italian pasta, so I didn’t add potatoes))
1 bottle dry red wine. We used Malbec (our favorite)
1 cup plum brandy (You can also use any type of brandy, cognac, etc. – we used what we had on hand)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 handful of fresh Thyme (washed, uncut – about 1-2 oz – 12-15 sprigs)
1 ½ tablespoons Garlic (Spice World Minced garlic or 5 or 6 fresh cloves)
Olive oil (as needed)
8 oz Chicken Stock
3 (or 4) tablespoons salted Butter
1 ½ tablespoons Flour (your favorite – All-purpose flour works fine)
2 pounds hearty pasta (your choice – this is a hearty dish, so you want a hearty pasta to go along with it – rigatoni and cavatappi ((which we used)) are examples. I prefer Italian pasta (as in pasta made in Italy).)
Making the dish:
- After preparing all ingredients above, salt and pepper chicken to taste and set aside
- Preheat oven to 250°
- Fry bacon in a heavy skillet (cast iron works well) on medium high heat until crispy (About 10 minutes) (Everything will be prepared in this skillet until we transfer it to a stock pot to put into the oven. It will be used again when we saute the mushrooms and onions. Don’t wash it!) Set aside.
- Brown chicken pieces in bacon fat until golden brown on all sides. (About 5 minutes per skillet – we browned about 3 skillets of chicken for this recipe.) Set aside.
- Salt and pepper all veggies to taste. Add veggies (carrots, potatoes ((optional – great if you don’t serve with pasta)), onion chunks ((reserve the onion slices for later)) to remaining bacon grease. Saute for 10-15 minutes until carrots are just softening, potatoes are still crunchy, and onions are lightly browned.
- Add chopped garlic and cook for 1 additional minute
- Add brandy – make sure to scrape all the delicious chunks off the bottom of the skillet
- Transfer everything to the stock pot
- Add wine, chicken stock, and Italian spiced tomatoes to the stew – Bring to a gentle boil on top of the stove
- Add thyme and gently push into broth. Cook in the oven for 30-40 minutes until chicken is white inside, but still moist. (Note, the outside of the chicken will take on the lovely color of the wine.)
- About 20 minutes into the oven cooking time, saute the sliced mushrooms over medium heat in 2 tablespoons of butter (About 10 minutes). (We used the cast iron skillet to take advantage of any remaining bacon juice and dripping residue. This is why you don’t want to wash the skillet.)
- Add sliced onions to the mushrooms and saute for the last 3 minutes of the mushroom cooking time. (Add another tablespoon of butter as needed.) Set aside.
- When the chicken is done, remove the stock pot from the oven and place it on the already medium hot burner. Remove the thyme. (If some stalks are left, people can just pull them out.)
- Combine 1 tablespoon butter and 1 ½ tablespoons of flour. Mix thoroughly and add to stew. Stir gently, but thoroughly.
- Add the sauteed mushrooms and onion slices to the stew. Simmer on top of the stove for roughly 10 minutes to allow the flavors to co-mingle. Stir occasionally.
Prepare pasta according to package instructions. (For this dish, I prefer al dente – Cooked, but still firm.)
Serve hot in soup bowls either on top of the pasta or with the pasta on the side.
Wine – more Malbec or wine of your choice
Mixed green salad with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper
To make long stories more manageable. I did finish my thesis. In fact I went on to get my PhD (I built in 2 months of “unreasonableness” during my dissertation writing process, just in case I needed to “quit” again. I did!). I have had a wonderful career as an academic and now I’m moving on to new adventures with wonderful friends to visit in Wichita. This party was delightful and the coq au vin delicious! Memories, food, and friends. More of each to come!
One thought on “Graduate School, Cooking with Friends, and Coq au Vin”
My wonderful friend. I thank God for your enthusiasm for life every day.
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