Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Taste Of France

Good evening everyone! Welcome back to Out Of The Culinary. Tonight was my night in the kitchen - and tonight I decided to get bold. Last week, for my birthday, Maggie gave me The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook This (not so) little cookbook holds over 600 recipes and features every dish they have made during the first 10 years of the PBS television show. For those not familiar with America's Test Kitchen, they test recipes dozens of times, until the find the perfect combination of flavors, cooking time and ingredients. They don't publish a recipe in their magazine (Cook's Illustrated) unless it's perfect and they don't feature a recipe on TV unless it's absolutely perfect.

So, needless to say, I found a few recipes that I want to try in this cookbook. The first of those recipes is one that I had never even heard of until I discovered it in the cookbook, (but further research has shown it's actually a well traveled recipe). My recipe tonight is a French recipe - called 'Coq Au Vin' which, while it sounds fancy is really only - 'Chicken With Wine'. It sounds more eloquent in French, which is why I imagine the name has stuck around so long.

I wasn't content on ONE French recipe tonight, however. I decided to tackle two. My second recipe takes inspiration from a French culinary school technique called gastrique (a reduction of acidic liquid with sugar that accompanies dishes made with fruit). Once again, don't let the French naming convince you this recipe is overly fancy - in plain English - 'Fruit salad covered with a vinegar and wine reduction'.

Tonight's recipes are some of the most complicated that we've tried on the blog yet. However, they are not impossible. There are a lot of steps, and a few more ingredients than usual, but hang with us and you'll figure it all out, just like we did.

The Recipe: Coq Au Vin
Original Recipe Found In:  The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook

What You'll Need:

6 Oz. Thick Cut Bacon (Chopped)
2 Lbs Bone In, Skin On Chicken Pieces (Your choice, breast, thighs or drumsticks - we chose thighs)
8 Oz. Frozen Pearl Onions
10 Oz. White Mushrooms
2 Garlic Cloves (Minced)
1 Tbs. Tomato Paste
3 Tbs. All Purpose Flour
1 Bottle Red Wine (Cheap one!)
2 1/2 Cups Low Sodium Chicken Broth
1/4 Tsp. Dried Thyme
2 Bay Leaves
2 Tbs. Unsalted Butter
2 Tbs. Fresh Parsley (1/2 tsp. dried)
-Serve with egg noodles.

The Recipe: Strawberries and Grapes with Balsamic and Red Wine Reduction
Original Recipe Found In: The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook

What You'll Need:

3/4 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
1/4 Cup Dry Red Wine
1/4 Cup Sugar
1 Tbs. Lemon Zest
1 Tbs. Lemon Juice
1/4 Tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 Quart Strawberries
9 Oz. Red Grapes (about 2 cups)

It's easiest to begin with the fruit salad side dish, since you can keep in the the refrigerator for up to 4 hours.

Begin by simmering the vinegar, wine, sugar and a pinch of salt in a small sauce pan over high heat until the mixture becomes syrupy. This takes around 15 minutes. Next, remove the pan from the heat and add the lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla extract and steep (AKA, allow to rest) for about 1 minute. This allows all the flavors to blend together nicely. Next, strain the sauce to remove any large impurities.

After you add the sugar, the powerful smell diminishes 

Now, don't allow the smell to throw you off here - and this will smell (at first) the combination of 3/4 cup vinegar and red wine makes for one potent - cough inducing - smelly pot. Once the lemon juice and vanilla are added, the smell fades - I promise.

This recipe also called for two whole cloves, which are dried flower buds of an Indonesian tree, and a fairly common spice around the world. Except in Des Moines, apparently, where we couldn't track any down. I'm sure Penzey's in Clive (a Des Moines suburb) carried the fragrant ingredient, but our early research showed that this particular item commanded saffron like prices. (Yikes!) We opted to simply skip the cloves in this recipe. If you do feel adventurous, or already have some cloves - add them with the lemon zest and lemon juice and allow them to steep for a full minute. Then strain them out.

Hull and halve your strawberries, and combine them in a medium bowl with the grapes. Pour your warm sauce over the fruit and toss until everything is well coated. You can serve this fruit salad at room temperature or you can cover it with plastic wrap and store it for up to 4 hours in the refrigerator before serving. Since we have another multi-step recipe to make tonight, I opted to make this first and store it away for later.

Halve your strawberries 

And pluck off the grapes 

Now, it's time to turn your attention to the main dish.

Begin by cutting up five slices of thick cut bacon into smaller sections (approximately 1/2 inch pieces) Place your chopped up bacon into a dutch oven or if you lack a dutch oven (as we do) simply use a large pot. Allow the bacon to crisp up for about 5 to 7 minutes. When the pieces are nice and crispy, transfer them to a paper towel lined plate. (Leave the grease in the pan!)

Next, lightly season your chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Place them into the pot and allow the skin to get nice in crispy. Cooking for about 5 minutes per side achieves this nicely. As all of your chicken is cooking (you may have to cook the chicken in shifts, if you do, simply set the cooked chicken aside while you add the uncooked chicken) chop up your onions and mince your garlic. If you have whole mushrooms, halve those as well.

Browning up nicely

Onions and mushrooms, chopped and ready to go

Once your chicken has finished cooking, evaluate the grease in the bottom of the pot. You want a light layer of grease and oils. If you are starting to accumulate a lot of excess fat, skim off the extra until you have just a thin layer of oil on the bottom of the pan. Alternatively, if you have next to nothing in the bottom of your pot - add a tablespoon of vegetable oil.

Next, add you onions and mushrooms. Allow these to get nice and golden brown (about 10 minutes) before adding your garlic and tomato paste. Stir in the garlic and tomato paste until everything is mixed well. Allow them to simmer until they are fragrant - and you will know when that happens. This wonderful aroma of tomatoes and garlic will rise up from the pot - it's almost intoxicating. For those of you who are more time oriented, less 'scent' oriented, cookers - this should take about 30 seconds.

Now, stir in your flour - mixing well until everything is blended. Allow this mixture to simmer for another minute. Add your chicken broth, wine (yes - the WHOLE bottle) along with your thyme, rosemary and bay leaves. Mix everything together and bring it up to a simmer.

Add the flour

And the broth

Next, the wine

Finally, all the spices

Finally, nestle in your cuts of chicken. Space them out evenly throughout the pot if you have the room. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to medium low. Allow them to simmer for about 40 minutes. This all depends on the pieces of chicken you are using. If you are using chicken breasts, it should take around 20 to 30 minutes. If you are using thighs or drumsticks, increase the cooking time to about 40 minutes to one hour. The best indicator, however, is temperature. Chicken breasts are done at 160 degrees while thighs and drumsticks are done at 170 to 175 degrees.

During this cooking time, you will want to start another pot of water boiling for your egg noodles. Check the bag for cooking instructions and start cooking your noodles when there is roughly that much time remaining on your chicken.

Once your chicken has reached the right temperature, remove them from the pot and set in your serving dish. Tent the dish with aluminum foil. You chicken should have an amazing purple or deep red color to it. (It peels off when you remove the skin - no worries if you don't want to eat purple food!)

Return the pot to medium heat and allow the remaining sauce to thicken. This should take another 20 minutes or so. After this time, remove the pot from heat - remove the bay leaves and whisk in the butter. I poured my sauce through a strainer to skin off some of the fat -(I simply added the vegetables back to the sauce after straining!) You should end up with about 2 cups of liquid after everything is said and done. Finally, simply pour the finished sauce over your chicken, sprinkle the bacon pieces on top and serve atop egg noodles!

The Results:

In a word...


In a lot of words - Oh my goodness! The flavors in tonight's recipes are unparalleled. The chicken packs a deep, rich flavor that is almost hard to describe. The first flavor that hits your tongue is a rush of chicken. Not just plain old 'regular' chicken though - amazing, deep POWERFUL chicken flavor. Next, you tongue is graced with the rich flavor combination of red wine, onion and mushrooms. All of these flavors blend into a fantastic symphony for your tongue. There might be something to this whole "French cuisine is the finest in the world" thing.

The fruit salad was no slouch either. While it started of very smelly, it ended up being slightly sweet and extremely delicious. The sauce complimented the natural flavors of the strawberries and grapes and acted as a great 'bridge' between the two. It's light enough that it doesn't overpower the fruit, but it's presence is certainly tasted in the dish.

In the end, both recipes have entered our top five recipes from this blog. That's right TWO top five recipes in one night. I know this blog is going up late (you can see now why it is - these are fairly intensive recipes - plus when you don't get home from work until 6:30...) but it was absolutely worth the wait.

If you're brave enough, this recipe is certainly worth taking a shot at. I'm even more excited now to try my NEXT French recipe (coming on Thursday).

That's all we have for you tonight. Maggie takes over the kitchen tomorrow, and the blog should be up earlier as well. Be sure to check in tomorrow evening to see what Maggie is up to - until then,


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