Our family doesn't drink alcohol so the only time I cook with wine is after hosting a dinner party. I used leftover Cabernet Sauvignon wine and prepared coq au vin (chicken in wine sauce) for the occasion, except that instead of whole chickens I adapted the recipe with 9 pounds of chicken breasts.
The sauce was fairly standard; I used pearl onions, garlic, button mushrooms, turkey bacon, red wine, Cognac brandy, a bit of flour as the thickening agent and the authentic, standard bouquet garni used in classic French dishes. The secret in this coq au vin sauce lies in the dark chocolate that's added once the dish is cooked.
Servings: 6 servings
9 pounds chicken breasts, halved
4 teaspoons papaya paste (see tips)
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
1 bouquet garni
6 ounces turkey bacon, diced
4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
½ pound frozen pearl onions
1 tablespoon black peppercorns, coarsely crushed
4 cups Cabernet Sauvignon (or any dry red wine)
¼ cup Cognac brandy
2¼ cups chicken stock, (or 16-ounce can)
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 cups button mushrooms, thickly sliced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 squares Lindt 90% dark chocolate
3 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
Marinating the chicken:
Wash and pat dry the meat. Remove and discard the skin. Combine the chicken pieces, garlic, black pepper, red wine, papaya paste and bouquet garni. Season with black pepper. Toss well. Place the chicken in a large bowl or a sealable zip-top bag. Drizzle with about 2 tablespoons of oil. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 10 hours or overnight.
The following day...
Preheat the slow cooker (set on low mode, cook time "1 hour").
Place the bacon in boiling water and cook for 2 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade. Pat the meat dry using paper towels.
In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, heat about 2 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the remaining garlic and boiled bacon. Cook on high heat until slightly golden. Pan-sear each side of the chicken for about 1-½ minutes (a total of about 9 minutes) until nicely browned. Add the warm Cognac liqueur. Immediately light the alcohol and allow to cook until all the flames disappear. It's not as scary as it seems (see tips)!
Quickly transfer the chicken to a platter. At this point the meat isn't cooked completely; it will finish cooking in the wine.
Add the chicken pieces to the slow cooker (you could also use the same heavy-bottom pan). Season with salt. Add the marinade liquid, bouquet garni and chicken stock to the pan. Bring to a boil (make sure it reaches a full boil) for about 2-3 minutes; add 1 tablespoon of butter. Cover the slow cooker with a lid and let simmer for about 1 hour.
In the same heavy-botttomed pan, melt the remaining butter over medium-low; you don't want it to burn (the butter should be hot and golden) and add the flour. Keep stirring manually with a whisk for approximately 2-3 minutes. The flour should absorb the butter and form a paste. Add about 1 cup of warm water. Once the sauce is homogeneous, add some of the liquid from the slow cooker and increase the heat and continue cooking, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low. Transfer the pearl onions to the sauce. Bring the dish back to a boil. Add the sautéed button mushrooms and flat-leaf parsley. Stir well.
Once the dish is ready, melt the chocolate into the sauce. Adjust seasoning with more salt and black pepper (if necessary).
How to make a bouquet garni: The traditional bouquet garni is composed of a sprig of thyme (I used lemon thyme), 1 bay leaf (torn in half), 1 small portion of leek (only the green part), a few flat-leaf parsley stems and a small stalk of celery. Gather all the ingredients in a large teabag or in a square of cheesecloth and tie it with some twine. You can use it to flavor sauces and broths.
The large teabag used for the bouquet garni can be found at Daiso, the Japanese version of a 99-cent store. They cost $1.50 for 40 tea bags.
Papaya is a great meat tenderizer. This was Baji, Lulu's late grandma's secret for tender and moist meat. This is not an authentic ingredient for coq au vin but I think it makes a difference and provides a tender meat. Peel a green papaya. Grind the cubed papaya with seeds in a mini food processor; place about 2 teaspoons of papaya paste per slot in an ice-cube tray and freeze them. Transfer the ice-cubes into sealable plastic bags and place back in the freezer. I think it's the best way to keep the same flavor without getting freezer burn. I store them exactly the same as I would extra pesto.
The roux (butter, flour and stock mixture) thickens the gravy and is an important step toward the end of cooking.
I'm a wimp when it comes to flaming alcohol. If you have long hair like me, put it in a bun! You have to act quickly and have good reflexes. Once you add the alcohol to the pan, don't delay the lighting. You don't want the food to absorb the raw alcohol and retain a strong alcohol flavor. Another important thing is that alcohol's boiling point is 175°F (much lower than water); if you boil liqueur, you won't be able to flame it and it will just burn off the alcohol from the liqueur.