Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Coq au Vin, Champ, and Rhubarb Crumble

     I remember when I first made coq au vin. We had been watching a food programme on the tv and it was the main dish of the programme. The food looked so tempting we actually went out that day and bought all the ingredients to make it. I remember it because the eventual taste and flavour was so good I couldn’t believe we had created it. It was simple and delicious. And it was from scratch.
just a few ingredients...
        After watching Julie and Julia (for the second time) the idea of French food was well on my mind, so I decided to cook it for dinner this week. The main ingredients were simple enough: chicken, bacon, mushrooms, a few herbs, shallots and of course some red wine. I decided to do champ instead of mash as well just to mix it up a bit. This largely involves crushing the new potatoes with leeks and a bit of butter and milk. Kind of like a half-hearted mash but with a bit of extra flavour. There’s always a place for leeks at dinner I think.

        As simple as the dish should be, I suppose where I struggled was just how to put the whole thing together. It all ends up in the same pot but there are a few variations on how it should get there. Some recipes call for browning all the ingredients first in stages and then combining it all at the end and letting it cook. I wasn’t sure of this concept as I thought a lot of flavour would be lost through doing this. Other options as well were braising the mushrooms, onions and carrots about half an hour before serving, and adding them at the end to the sauce. I was thinking if the carrots and onions went in sooner it would again add more flavour. But, there is the risk of it all breaking down which I suppose wouldn’t be great. In the end I followed the recipe mostly traditionally – flouring the chicken and browning it in the pancetta juices, followed by the shallots, and then covering with the wine and a bit of stock. Soon I discovered there was no way the carrots were going to fit with the mushrooms and the meat so they got roasted separately with some garlic and honey. After a good few taste tests it seemed the sauce needed a lot of adjusting. I removed the chicken after 2 hours of cooking and reduced it whilst skimming. The flavour still seemed to be lacking so I added another good half a bottle of red and continued to reduce. This helped a lot.

        A few mentions of rhubarb had spread across the dinner table in the past so I decided to use it this week for dessert. A classic choice was to make a crumble. What I love about crumble is how easy it is to produce and what general happy reactions people give when they eat it. Rubbing the butter with the flour is always a nice time to zone out, gaining a few moments of stillness while the crumbs form and fall into the bowl. I cooked the rhubarb with plenty of sugar (there never seems to be too much when it comes to the bitterness of rhubarb) as well as the juice and zest of two oranges. Ground almonds and a bit of toasted muesli went in to the topping and this got layered thickly on top. I made a crème anglaise to accompany which was quite honestly devoured.
        It was a quiet evening, a small amount of 6 around the table and the fire going in the background. The frosty night sedated us all so we sat and relaxed in true form. For the first time in a while bowls of leftovers were piled in to the fridge at the end, my concept of portioning once again off the mark. Still, it was good to know that coq au vin found its way back into my kitchen. As I’m sure it will again too.

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