We had dinner at Augustus last week and the Plat du jour was Coq au Vin.
The French love cooking in Wine. I love cooking in Wine. I remember distinctly my very first attempt a Cordon Bleu recipe when I was about 11 which involved marinating a leg of lamb with whole garlic cloves, herbs and red wine for an entire day before cooking.
I used to visit it every couple of hours and spoon the marinade over the top lovingly, unsure of what magnificent magical transformations were taking place, but being very certain that they were.
Actually the jury is out as to whether lamb is improved by marinating in this manner, but to me that dish is a Proustian ambrosiac memory.
When the Coq au Vin arrived it was a beautiful luscious dish, golden serous skin covered meltingly juicy meat. The onions, mushrooms and gravy had clearly all been having one hell of a party in the oven and were keen to share their conviviality with me.
Such was the joy to be had from this meal I practically bolted from the restaurant directly to the Larousse Gastronomique, texting friends to invite them for dinner as I went, anxious to see if I could recreate the mastery.
The Larousse has a great deal to say on most topics, and Coq au Vin is no exception. Solemnly, reverently it discusses the merits of no fewer than 5 variations on the recipe. I proceeded with the following.
1 whole chicken boned into 6 pieces or 2 large chicken breasts, 4 drumsticks and 2 thighs-bone in (skin optional)
6 slices of back bacon
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
150 grams of mushrooms
6-8 small onions
2-3 Tablespoons of brandy
1 large sprig each of thyme and rosemary
2-3 Bay leaves to form a Bouquet Garni
50 grams butter
50 grams flour
Combine to make a smooth paste
Bone the chicken. If you don’t know how this video will take you through it. How to debone a chicken
In a large heavy based casserole heat the butter and oil gently, then add the onions and caramelise slowly. Add the bacon and garlic and continue to cook until golden. Add the chicken pieces and mushrooms. Saute, covered, on a brisk heat until everything is golden. You will need to rearrange the chicken pieces periodically to achieve this.
When all the chicken pieces are golden (and this is the BEST bit), pour brandy over the chicken et al and ignite! When the flames have burnt out, pour over the wine add the bouquet garni and pop the lid back on. Continue to cook over a brisk heat for an hour and a quarter.
Remove the chicken to a plate and rest. Remove the Bouquet Garni. Thicken the sauce in the pan with the beurre manie.
Place the chicken pieces on a bed of mashed potatoes or celeriac veloute and pour over the sauce. Or for an extra decadent attempt to counteract the excellent cholesterol lowering effects of all that wine, serve the chicken with its sauce, beside a glistening dish of Potatoes Anna.