Coq Au Vin

Coq Au Vin is one of those dishes that really is as time-consuming, and complex, as it appears. But if you do it right, it's classic French cooking at its finest. I'm an advocate of quickie, low-fuss dishes, but every once a while, I'll make the extra effort, and carve out the extra time, to make something a little more complicated, for those special occasions, like our recent NYE dinner party.

The key to a yummy coq au vin (pronounced "cock-ou-vaugn") lies in the braising wine and stock, so use the very best red you can afford, one with a full body, rich tannins and intense fruit notes, and a brown chicken stock. The toasty accents lend themselves very well into the rich wine.

Ingredients (feeds 6-8):
8 chicken thighs (apportion abt 1 pc per pax)
1 large onion, diced into 1cm cubes
3 cloves garlic, minced finely2 large carrots, diced into 1" cubes
3 ribs celery, diced into 1" cubes
250 gm streaky bacon (better still, get a slab, and cut into lardons)
900 gm mushrooms, sliced (I used a mix of cremini and white buttons)
1/2 cup cognac (brandy in a pinch works fine too)
1 bottle (750ml) burgundy (I was fresh out of burgundy in the pantry, so I substituted it with a dry and intense French merlot-cabernet blend)
3 tbsp tomato paste
6 cups chicken stock
3 bay leaves
10 sprigs fresh thyme, tied together with a butcher's twine
20 pearl onions
3 large potatoes, diced into 1" cubes

1) Brown the chicken, salting liberally on both sides, about 4 minutes each side. Set aside and reserve. In the meantime, crisp bacon in separate pan, and like the chicken, work in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan. Set aside, cut into 1" cubes, and reserve.

2) Leaving 3 tbsp of the chicken fat, and bacon drippings, fry onions and garlic till soft and fragrant, about 2 minutes.

3) Add carrots and celery, and fry until softened, about 3 minutes.

4) Add mushrooms and fry until the water rendered from mushrooms is almost evaporated.

5) Add cognac, and flambe it until cognac burns off. If not confident to flambe it, just stirring in the brandy and letting it reduce works too. Add tomato paste, and toss it thoroughly.

6) Add wine, bringing it to a boil and simmering to let it reduce by a-third.

7) Return chicken to pan.

8) Add bay leaves and thyme bundle. Top up with stock until the top of the chicken is just about covered. Bring to boil before lowering to a slow simmer for an hour.

9) In the last 20 minutes, add onions, potatoes and bacon.

10) Serve with crusty bread.

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