Saturday, April 26, 2014

Coq au Vin ~ Julia Child's Classic

Chicken in red wine with onions, mushrooms and bacon is how Julia described her "Coq au Vin" in Volume One, of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It literally means 'cock in wine', and I would guess an old rooster is what they originally used for this dish in France, as the method would render the tough bird edible and full of flavor.

Julian's 40th Anniversary Edition Double Volume
of Julia Child's most famous work.
In her introduction she says it can be "made with either white or red wine, but the red is more characteristic. In France, it is usually accompanied only by parsley potatoes." So today I'm again making this dish but this time I will prepare it in a crock-pot (slow cooker). I've provided you with Julia's classic version if you are a purist, but I don't think Julia would mind me using a crock-pot. In her later works she often adapted recipes to use new tools and techniques that had become available. In fact, on several television programs she made hers in an electric skillet.

Julian's Coq au Vin from a Crock-Pot
As you can see, I'm serving it over buttered egg noodles as that is how I had it the first time in France. I much prefer it this way as the flavorful sauce and smaller bits of chicken are blended with the noodles on the plate. I don't want to waste a drop of that great flavor!

Julia made the recipe as part of her original series on Public Television (the full video of the program is free at the link and worth the watch), and as recently as in 1995 when she was on ABC's Good Morning America. Julia modified the recipe over time. The below version is the one she provided for her 1995 appearance, and I provide you with this as she apparently thought it was better than her original. Images from her original book version are below. I've made both and they render a similar result, but I do prefer fresh or canned tomatoes over the small amount of paste she used originally.

Julia's 1995 Recipe for Coq au Van

1/2 cup lardons
 (4 ounces - 1 by 1/4-inch strips of blanched slab bacon or salt pork-see note)
2 1/2 to 3 pounds frying chicken parts
2 tbs. butter
1 tbs. olive oil (or good cooking oil)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 or 2 large cloves of garlic, pureed
1 imported bay leaf
1/4 tsp or so thyme
1 large ripe red unpeeled tomato, chopped, (or 1/3 cup canned Italian plum tomatoes)
3 cups young red wine (Zinfandel, Macon or Chianti type)
1 cup chicken stock (or more)
Beurre manie, for the sauce (1 1/2 tbs. each flour softened butter blended to a paste)
Fresh parsley sprigs (or chopped parsley)
1/3 cup good brandy (optional)
12 to 16 small brown-braised white onions
3 cups fresh mushrooms, trimmed, quartered and sautéed

Cooking Directions
Browning and simmering the chicken. Before browning the chicken, sauté the blanched bacon or salt pork and remove to a side dish, leaving the fat in the pan. Brown the chicken in the pork fat, adding a little olive oil, if needed. Flame the chicken with the brandy, if you wish -- it does give its own special flavor, besides being fun to do. Then proceed to simmer the chicken in the wine, stock, tomatoes and seasoning as directed in the master recipe.

Finishing the dish. Strain, degrease, and finish the sauce, also as described. Strew the braised onions and sautéed mushrooms over the chicken, baste with the sauce, and simmer a few minutes, basting, to rewarm the chicken and to blend flavors.

Special note: To blanch bacon or salt pork: When you use bacon or salt pork in cooking, you want to remove its salt as well as its smoky flavor, which would permeate the rest of the food. To do so, you blanch it -- meaning, you drop it into a saucepan of cold water to cover it by 2 to 3 inches, bring it to the boil, and simmer 5 to 8 minutes; the drain, refresh in cold water, and pat dry in paper towels.

Julia's Original Recipe from the
 40th Anniversary Reprint
Click to Enlarge or Print
Julian's 2014 Coq au Vin 
in a Crock-Pot
For my latest version of this dish, I finished it in a Crock-Pot (slow cooker). As she instructs in the original, I browned the cut-up bacon in a deep skillet. Then I removed the bacon and drained all but about 1 tablespoon of the fat. In the remaining bacon fat I browned the seasoned chicken. I skipped the Cognac and flaming, and moved the chicken into the slow cooker. 

In the drippings that remained in the skillet, I sauteed a small chopped onion, carrot and celery stalk for about five minutes. I then added the garlic and crushed tomatoes and sauteed for another five minutes. I then added 3 cups of red wine and simmered for another five minutes. Finally I added the chicken stock, thyme, bay leaf and cooked bacon and then poured this mixture over the chicken in the crock-pot.

In the Crock-Pot ready for Stewing
I turned the slow cooker to high (which is equivalent to about 300F degrees.) I let it cook for three hours, which was perhaps a bit too long, as some of the chicken fell off the bone. Check it at two hours and see if it is ready to serve. After the first hour of cooking, add the white or golden pearl onions.

Julian's Coq au Vin ala Crock-Pot
Ready to Serve
 If you haven't made this stewed chicken recipe, you will want to add it to your cooking repertoire. It's easy to make and is very flavorful. Great over buttered noodles and will become a family favorite.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Balsamic Beef Pot Roast ~ In a Crock-pot?

I was skeptical when a friend insisted this was the best way to make a beef pot roast. As you may know, I have always made the classic Yankee pot roast in the traditional manner, which begins with browning the beef in a hot Dutch oven where it remains during slow roasting in the oven. But after my sister indicated that she often made beef roast and even beef stew without browning and sealing the meat first, I was curious if this method would actually work and result in something as good as the traditional braise.

Julian's Balsamic Beef Pot Roast
To my pleasant surprise, the results were quite good. The flavors are enhanced by the balsamic based sauce, but they are subtle and not overpowering. I suspect the dark sauce also takes care of the browning I was concerned about. You will note in the photos that the meat appears to be much more browned on the top and sides, just as if it had been prepared by searing it in a hot pan first.

I've made this several times now and it works equally well in a crock-pot (slow cooker) or a Dutch Oven/roasting pan with lid. Neither require any pre-browning or searing. Everything goes in raw for this recipe. You can decide which you prefer based on 1) the size of your meal and available device and 2) the amount of time you have for cooking.

Crockpot vs. Black Roasting Pan
Slow cookers vary somewhat in temperature, but generally the "low" setting is about 200F degrees and the "high" setting is about 300F degrees.  A U.S. standard oven can be set more precisely for temperature.

I tend to make my version of this with potatoes, carrots and optionally mushrooms and cabbage. When I'm using the cabbage I must use my large roasting pan, as not even my Dutch Oven is big enough. If I'm making this for shredded beef, for which this recipe works well, the crock-pot is my go-to favorite, as it is if I'm just making dinner for two. I know some people prefer to put everything in the for cooking at one time, and you can do this. But as you'll see below, I prefer the vegetables to be added half way through cooking to retain flavor and shape.

American beef pot roast cut is my favorite for this recipe, although certainly an English pot roast cut would work equally well.  I've also used other cuts of beef that are typically tough and require long slow cooking.

3-5 pound boneless beef roast

1 cup beef broth
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey or brown sugar
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 pound baby carrots
2 pounds red potatoes, cut in half
12 ounces white button mushrooms
1 small head cabbage


Place the roast into your slow cooker, Dutch Oven or roasting pan.

Stir together the remaining ingredients to make the sauce. Wash and prepare the optional vegetables if using. Pour the sauce over the beef and roast as noted below. Cover with lid. Set the vegetables aside for addition later as noted below.

Option 1: Crock-pot on Low Setting (8-10 hours)
On a low setting, the slow cooker will retain most all of the moisture as compared to other techniques. If you have all day, this is a good option. Half way through cooking, add the optional vegetables (after about 4 hours).  Check the vegetables and meat for tenderness at 8 hours. When tender remove meat and vegetables from the slow cooker. The remaining sauce will likely be high in fat. Remove the fat using a gravy separator or fat mop. Thicken to use as gravy or save for another use.

Option 2: Crock-pot on High Setting (4-5 hours)
On the high setting, the slow cooker will evaporate some liquid during cooking, although not as much as the typical oven/roasting pan. After about two hours, add the optional vegetables if using. If not, make sure to check the roast about half way through and again in the last hour, to see if additional liquid is necessary. At least one inch of liquid should always remain in the bottom of the crock-pot. Add water or beef broth as necessary. Check the vegetables and meat for tenderness at 4 hours. When tender remove meat and vegetables from the slow cooker. The remaining sauce will likely be high in fat. Remove the fat using a gravy separator or fat mop. Thicken to use as gravy or save for another use.

Option 3: Oven: Set to 350F degrees (3-4 hours)
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. After about two hours, add the optional vegetables if using. Check the roast hourly, to see if additional liquid is necessary. At least one inch of liquid should always remain in the bottom of Dutch Oven or roasting pan. Add water or beef broth as necessary. Check the vegetables and meat for tenderness at 3 hours. When tender remove meat and vegetables from the pan. The remaining sauce will likely be high in fat. Remove the fat using a gravy separator or fat mop. Thicken to use as gravy or save for another use.

Julian's Balsamic Pot Roast with Cabbage, Potatoes and Carrots

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Blackberry Crumble

I've had a few requests for this recipe so today I'll make the classic version. You'll find I've made this on several other posts in other versions, including one on the grill with an almond cookie topping. You can also use blueberries or raspberries, or any combination (but not strawberries). Really these are easy and fast to make and I never follow any recipe. You too will come to improvise as every rendition is equally good.

Topping the Blackberry Mixture
Blackberries have made a come back in the stores and Valli Produce, where I often shop, has them for 88 cents a pint. I select about 1 1/4 pints per serving. These nicely fill my medium sized ramekins shown above, although you can as easily make this in a baking dish (8 inch square or similar oval). I always top them with vanilla ice cream at serving time, but I have friends that prefer whipped cream and even simply milk/cream poured over the top. What's not to love about any variety.

Ingredients (Serves 6)
8 pints fresh blackberries
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup butter, direct from refrigerator, cut into small pieces
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch of salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, optional

Wash the berries and drain. Gently stir with the flour and sugar. Set aside.

In medium bowl, mix together the topping ingredients except for the nuts coating the butter pieces very well.  Using a hard bladed (not wire) pastry blender/knife, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it forms small pieces. You can also pulse in a food processor if you prefer. Stir in the chopped walnuts if using. If using whole walnuts as I often have on hand, simply use the pastry blender to chop the walnuts right into the topping mixture until they are at the size you prefer.

Pastry Knife
Spray the baking dish(es) with food release and preheat your oven to 350F degrees.  Fill the dish(es) with the berries and top with the crumb topping. Sprinkle with a little cinnamon. If using individual ramekins, place on a baking sheet. Bake for 45-60 minutes, until bubbling. Remove and let cool. Serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream, whipped cream or cream/milk.

Blackberry Crumble Fresh from the Oven

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Creamed Chicken on Biscuits ~ Poaching Chicken Breast

This is a dish you don't see much anymore, although I do not know why. It is very good, satisfying, liked by all and easy to make. I used a can of Campbell's Cream of Chicken soup to make the sauce fast, flavorful and a sure thing every time.  You could of course, simply make a cream sauce of your own if you prefer. I do use fresh chicken, but canned also works well.

Julian's Creamed Chicken on Biscuits
I'm serving the creamed chicken above on 7-Up Biscuits which I posted last week. They go perfect with this meal, as does a side of green beans. The sauce begins by cooking onion and celery together until just tender. Some people add peas and carrots, but I do not as then it feels to me more like chicken pot pie. When I make this dish I prefer it to be more distinctive and perhaps like a warm chicken salad. Give it a try. I'm sure it will become a regular in your cooking line up. You can even use ready to bake or pre-made biscuits, if you prefer.

Ingredients (Serves 4-6)
Shredding the Chicken
1- 1 1/2 pounds chicken breast meat
3-4 quarts room temperature water
12/ cup soy sauce
1/4 cup salt (yes, that's a quarter cup)
2 tablespoons sugar
6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
~ or a similar amount of canned chicken white meat

1 small onion
1 rib celery
2 tablespoons oil
salt and pepper
1 can Campbell's condensed Cream of Chicken Soup
1/2 - 1 cup milk, half and half or cream

If you are using the fresh chicken, you must first poach the chicken. To do this place the chicken in a pot in a single layer elevating the chicken on a steamer basked to ensure that the meat will not contact the bottom of the pot. Cover with the water. Let sit 30 minutes. Heat, stirring occasionally, until about 175F degrees or just the occasional bubble appears (simmering). Don't rapid boil the chicken as it will become tough. Once it reaches the simmering point, turn off heat. Remove from burner, cover and let sit for 20-25 minutes and the meat is 160F degrees at the center. Remove chicken from broth, cover with foil and let rest 5 minutes. Store chicken until ready for use or continue below. Note: this chicken poaching technique, which I got from Cooks Illustrated, works every time you need a poached breast, even if you wish to serve it as a dinner entree. Just make a little sauce of some type and you have a low-fat, flavorful (not dry) dinner.

Poach the Chicken, Do Not Boil
Shred the chicken using two forks or drain the canned chicken of extra liquid.  Chop the celery and onion. Saute over medium heat in a skillet with oil. Cook for about 7-10 minutes until just becoming tender. Add 3/4 of the canned soup and stir in. Add 1/2 cup of milk and stir. Add more milk as necessary to reach the desired consistency. Stir in the shredded chicken gently. Add more milk if necessary to reach a creamy consistency. Spoon over toast or biscuits, garnish with fresh ground pepper and serve.

Julian's Chicken on 7-Up Biscuits - Serve with a fork!