every meat-eating cook should know their way around a chicken. more specifically, everyone should know how to braise a chicken. now don't get me wrong here, I like roast chicken, and fried chicken will always hold a special place in my heart, but more often than not, if I am going to eat chicken, it's going to be braised. there is something magical that happens when you braise food. It's not just the chicken that takes center stage here, it's anything and everything that you put in this dish. all the flavors seem to combine for a great end product, but still stand out enough that you are able to taste all the great components of this cooking method.
for the sake of time, we'll focus specifically on a braised chicken dish called Coq au Vin . Traditionally, it's a rooster braised in wine. I didn't have a rooster. but I did have a chicken.and wine. and that's where we begin.
To do this dish (and any other braised dish, which are numerous in almost every cuisine) justice, you really need to pick up a dutch oven. if you are squeamish about dropping hundreds of clams (which is understandable) on one of these, might i suggest this as an introductory dutch oven. Lodge makes great stuff and with proper care, it will last indefinitely. having a dutch oven with a tight fitting lid is necessary for this process because nothing else heats as evenly and seals in steam that in return, ends up basting your food so you don't have to. ok, now that that is out of the way, back to the rooster...
first of all, we need to break this bird down into manageable pieces. how do we do that, you ask? instead of trying to explain it in words, i made a rough video of how to cut up a chicken. check it here.
note: this method is for braising. It's a rough berakdown and I didn't remove any bones because I wanted maximum flavor, and bones=flavor.
If you have braised something before, there is no big surprise here (hack up a chicken, brown it, throw it in a pot with half a bottle of wine, some root veg, stock, herbs, and salt and peps. put in 300F oven for a couple of hours, sit back and wait for this boozed up hot tub of love to work it's magic.)
on the other hand, if you are new to the braising world, and "boozed up hot tubs of love" have only led to illegitimate children and regret, don't worry, I'll be as thorough as I can:
Coq au Vin:
1 whole chicken, butchered by you, backs reserved to make stock (see above video)
4 slices very thick bacon or side pork (lardon) sliced into 1/2 inch strips
1/2 bottle red wine (preferably a burgundy, but can be substituted as you like)
14 oz chicken stock (hopefully made from the hacked up back pieces, hooray!)
4 carrots, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 stalks celery, small dice
2 med onions, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
herbs de provence, for seasoning chicken (if not available can be substituted with a mix of dried thyme, rosemary, sage, and savory
1 bag (10 oz.) pearl onions
8 oz button mushrooms
heat oven to 300F
season the cut up chicken pieces with salt and pepper and herbs de provence, set aside. brown the bacon/sidepork, in a dutch oven over med heat. remove pork. you want to end up with a couple good tablespoons of bacon fat here, so if you have too much, pour a little off, not enough? you could add some olive oil, or better yet, add some bacon extract (leftover bacon/pancetta/prosciutto drippings that you keep in a can in your fridge...you do this right? I thought so:). next, brown the seasoned chicken pieces in the dutch oven over med heat until golden (3-4 minutes per side). remove from pan and set aside. now, add your carrots, celery, onions, garlic, salt and pepper, another healthy dose of herbs de provence. saute for 5-6 minutes, scraping up the fond (browned tasty bits) from the bottom of the pan. add a good slug of brandy to the mix (take your pan off the flame for this!!) and ignite with one of those aim n flame thingys. a word of caution here: brandy flames can sometimes get out of hand. While I do enjoy kitchen pyrotechnics as much as the next person, I also enjoy having eyebrows...and un-scarred genitals. So, the key here is to anticipate a big flame and cope accordingly. once the flame dies down and extinguishes, add the stock and wine. now, rest your chicken on top of the veg pile. place in oven, covered, for 2.5 hours. Sometime in that next 2.5 hours, you need to get your pearl onions and mushrooms ready. the mushrooms are easy, just trim them up and cut them into pieces you wouldn't mind sticking in your bacon trap. the onions are a little fussier, but really worth the prep time. what you need to do here is par boil these little guys, which simply means to cook them halfway through in boiling water. soooo, fill a pot with salt water and your pearl onions (skin and all), and bring to a boil. let boil for 2 minutes, and then drain and rinse under cold water until cool enough to handle. now, make a small cut off of each end and peel or squeeze the little onion out of its jacket. prep each of them and set aside with the mushrooms. Still here? good. we're almost done, promise. After 2.5 or so hours, remove pot from oven and if your chicken is falling-off-the-bone tender, then remove it and all the veggies with a slotted spoon to a large bowl (if not, then, just wait a bit longer, you do have half of a bottle of wine just sitting there, so...there's always that.). strain your sauce and put in a sauce pot over med heat. Now, while that's heating make a roux (lets say 2tbs flour, 2 tbs butter--melt butter first, then whisk in flour) and add to the sauce, whisking until smooth, and continue to heat until it's as thick as you like. once you get to this stage, add the veg, chicken,bacon pieces (if there are any left!) and sauce back into the dutch oven and place over warm heat. ok, now is the last step. heat a saute pan with some generous drizzles of olive oil over med-high heat until the oil starts to shimmer. now, add your mushrooms and pearl onions and saute those little treats of wonder until they are golden and delicious (see first pic for golden, delicious, visual). remember that brandy trick? if you didn't burn your house down (or your face up) doing it the last time, then repeat it here for an extra flavor burst. once the brandy cooks off, add the onions and mushrooms to the rest of the dish and serve. I like it just with crusty bread. you could do some mashed tates, or snips or something. or noodles. but it's good enough to eat alone (equally good if you are with somebody, but you might have to share...)
DISH recommends: global meat axe of doom. this thing is like a hammer. I use it mostly to cut up chickens and the occasional, unsuspecting squash. seems like a lot of clams, but I think it's worth it if you are going to make your own stocks.