As we head into the middle of December and the colder nights start to draw in, I think it’s a good excuse to cook some illustrious dishes that have become true French classics.
Esteemed, time-honoured recipes that have stood the test time and that are still as relevant today as they ever were. Classics like Tournados Rossini, Cassoulet, Boeuf Bourguignon or a simple coq au vin. I actually believe that coq au vin is the ultimate in classic comfort food. It’s a fairly quick and easy chicken recipe to cook at home for all the family. It embodies the true spirit of French cuisine – a delicious rustic dish that gathers everyone around the table to enjoy hearty food and a good glass of red wine. The classic version of the dish calls for red wine, specifically Burgundy, but different areas of France have their own versions; for example, coq au vin jaune (Jura), coq au Riesling (Alsace), and coq au Champagne.
While the recipe is simple, there are a few tricks that can take your coq au vin to the next level. Marinating the chicken in the wine overnight helps to impregnate the meat with more flavour. Choose a wine that you would be happy to drink—you can use a cheap one, but better, richer-flavoured wines will add more to the finished dish.
Traditionally, this recipe was made with older roosters that had outstayed their welcome on the farm and needed long, slow cooking to become even remotely edible but my recipe calls for a an organic or free-range chicken, hopefully corn-fed and full of flavour. Should you prefer a richer, more powerful sauce, drain it through a colander and, on a high heat, boil the sauce until it has reduced by one third. It should have acquired more body and become a rich, deeper colour. Then pour the sauce back over the chicken and vegetables.
Coq au vin continues to inspire respect and delight gourmets but braising a chicken at low temperatures can never be done in a hurry. Cooking temperatures should be just high enough to kill micro organisms, yet not so high that the meat toughens. So take your time and be patient. In a world where instant gratification is sought and often encouraged, lingering over a saucepan in a warm kitchen, as you gently add a few more vegetables or aromatic herbs has its benefits. You will also be richly rewarded with tender, succulent chicken, deep flavours and some amazing aromas that are guaranteed to restore good humour on a dark day.
Coq Au Vin
· A large organic or free-range chicken, jointed into 8-10 pieces
· 150g pancetta or un-smoked bacon, diced
· 30g butter
· 1 tbsp tomato puree
· 2 medium onions, finely chopped
· 1 large carrot, diced
· 2 celery sticks
· 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
· 2 tbsp flour
· 2 tbsp cognac or brandy
· a bottle of red wine (full bodied cabernet sauvignon or syrah)
· 4 or 5 small sprigs of thyme
· 300ml chicken stock
· 3 bay leaves
· 200g small button mushrooms
· 2 tbsp chopped parsley
Bring the red wine to the boil and reduce it by a third, to remove the alcohol and concentrate the colour and flavour. Leave to cool. Place the chicken pieces in a bowl and pour the cooled red wine over them.
Cover with cling film, refrigerate and leave to marinate for 24 hours.
Drain the chicken, keeping the wine for the sauce, and pat dry with kitchen paper.
In a large heavy bottomed saucepan, fry the bacon over a medium heat until crisp.
Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Coat the chicken pieces in seasoned flour and brown in the pan until golden brown on both sides. Add garlic, onions, mushrooms, carrots and tomato puree. Sauté for 2 minutes to soften. Pour the cognac into a small glass.
Remove pan from heat, pour in cognac, put pan back on the flame. Flambé by lighting a long match and holding it just above the pot and light the fumes. The brandy will catch fire and the flames will burn out within 1 minute. When the flames die down, gradually stir in the wine and the chicken stock. When the wine is well blended, add the herbs. Cover and simmer slowly for 1 hour. Remove the lid and skim off the fat and impurities from the surface. Continue to simmer for 15 minutes to allow the sauce to reduce and thicken. Add the chopped parsley, bacon, season to taste and serve.
Tournedos Rossini is a classic French steak dish, named after 19th century composer Gioachino Rossini. There seems to be some debate about weather it was created by French master chef Marie-Antoine Carême or by Savoy Hotel chef Auguste Escoffier…either way it’s an absolute showstopper of a dish!
· 4 Fillet Steaks
· 4 slices of Foie Gras, 1cm thick
· 1 dessertspoon chopped Truffle
· 50ml Cognac
· 150ml Madeira
· 150ml dark veal or beef stock
· 4 bunches of leaf Spinach
· 20 Button Onions
· 100g butter
· 1 teaspoon chopped Thyme
Sauté the button onions in 50g butter with the thyme until golden. Add 50mls Madeira and glaze in the oven until tender and caramelised. Place a heavy-bottomed pan over a high flame, heat two tablespoons of vegetable oil, and season the steaks and fry until sealed and golden brown in colour on both sides. Place in a hot oven and cook for 3-4 minutes. This will cook the steaks rare to medium rare, depending on their thickness. During this time, wilt the spinach in 50g butter, drain and reserve warm
Remove the steaks from the pan, place the steaks aside to rest and add the Cognac.
Reduce to a glaze. Repeat with the Madeira; add the truffle, veal stock and season to taste.
At the last minute, season the foie gras and pan-fry in am hot, heavy-bottomed frying pan for one minute each side.
Drain on kitchen towel. Place the spinach in the centre of the plates; place the beef fillet and foie gras on top. Garnish with the baby onions and pour the sauce over the top. Serve immediately.