Ask Chef Phyllis:
I don’t doubt that people write to you about what festive meals to serve during the holidays, but my question is what to serve in between and after those costly feasts? That’s when I’m so burned out. Do you have any suggestions for crock pot meals, top–of–the–stove meals, or even simple, quick chicken meals that are cooked in the oven? One of my favorites is coq au vin, but is there an easier version, especially one with economic chicken drumsticks and thighs?
—Louisa Finney Murphy, Massapequa Park, NY
Whether it’s the holidays or not, planning and cooking meals is a real challenge for most of us. And you’re right, the stress of holiday cooking is exhausting. But here’s an easy, quick recipe that will help you put a meal on the table without spending too much time in the kitchen.
If you have to leave the house, using a crock pot or slow cooker is ideal. Unlike slow cooking in a conventional oven, which requires some supervision, a self-regulating crock pot or slow cooker is hands-free.
(As a side note, preparing soups in the crock pot is a great way to utilize your leftovers for winter hearty meals. Hours of slow cooking helps turn leftover meat and fresh or frozen vegetables into a rich, satisfying meal. But that’s another post.)
Let’s get back to our quick and easy coq au vin. Traditionally speaking, it’s just a “coq,” a tough, old, gamey bird or rooster, stewed in a pot with pearl onions, bacon, lots of mushrooms, and that nearly full bottle of red wine that’s waiting to be finished off. However, modern recipes ignore the earlier roots of coq, calling instead for a whole larger chicken (not a fryer) that’s been cut into pieces. Of course, you should choose the parts you like best, but know that chicken drumsticks and thighs have more skin, bone, and fat than the breast meat, so they make the final dish richer and juicier.
Coq Au Vin
This is an easy, nontraditional, one-pot recipe adapted from Cook’s Soups & Stews, Winter Fare 2009. It takes about one hour.
6 slices thick-cut, nitrate-free bacon (or 9 slices regular cut bacon), cut into pieces
4 lbs. cut up chicken (split breasts, drumsticks, and thighs)
2 extra thighs and 2 extra legs (optional but recommended)
Sea salt and black pepper
1 lb. assorted mushrooms (white button or Italian brown crimini), wiped clean and quartered.
2–3 cups frozen pearl onions, thawed
2 tablespoons tomato paste (I use the convenient individual packets)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bottle medium-bodied red wine (about 3 cups)
2½ cups homemade chicken stock
1 teaspoon each fresh thyme and Italian parsley OR ¼ teaspoon each dried
2–3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons butter, chilled
Italian parsley, lightly chopped (for garnish)
Special equipment: 6-quart slow cooker or large, oven-safe Dutch oven (the following directions are for a Dutch oven)
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Heat Dutch oven on stovetop to medium high. Add bacon and cook until almost crisp, about 5–7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a plate.
- Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Brown half the chicken pieces in the bacon fat, about 5–8 minutes per side. Remove first batch to a plate and continue with the other pieces.
- Add mushrooms and pearl onions, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomato paste, scraping up any browned bits.
- Add wine, stock, herbs, and garlic. Stir well, then nestle the browned chicken pieces and any accumulated juices back into the pot. Add the cooked bacon back into the Dutch oven.
- Cover pot and place in preheated oven. Bake for about 1–1½ hours, then test chicken with a thermometer (chicken thighs are fully cooked at 155–160°F).
- Transfer chicken to a serving platter. Cover to keep warm.
- Place Dutch oven on stove top. Reduce sauce by about half, approximately 15 minutes.
- Turn off heat before adding butter to sauce. (Butter gives the red wine reduction a unique richness and gloss.) Stir well.
- Pour sauce over the chicken. Garnish with parsley and serve.
Chef’s note: I’m not sure my taste buds could appreciate the gamier flavor of a coq—even if I were agreeable to the 5–6 hours cook time necessary for tenderizing a tougher bird or rooster. My choice would be a whole 4-lb. fryer chicken cut into pieces, along with extra thighs and legs.
This is a one dish wonder, Louisa. It keeps its authenticity with flavorful, economical cuts of chicken in far less time. I hope it will become one of your go-to dishes at any time of the year. Enjoy!
Image from iStock/radu984.