• Coq Au Vin

    From The Joys of Cooking: A Love Story
    by Judith Newton

    “There is communion of more than our bodies when bread is broke and wine drunk.” M.F.K. Fisher, Gastronomical Me

    October 2005, I am meeting my daughter, Anna, in London where she is taking such dreamy courses as “The British Museum,” “Shakespeare,” and “Contemporary Drama” at Berkeley’s campus abroad. We are to find each other outside the Tube stop at Leicester Square and, as I exit the station, I look around. When she left home in August she’d been wearing her uniform of jeans, polo shirt, sweatshirt, and sneakers. But all I see is the back of a young woman with curly brown hair, a long black skirt, boots, a stylish, close-fitting, brown, suede jacket. Anna? I wonder.

    “Anna?” I call. She turns around. It is her–her long golden earrings almost grazing the tops of her shoulders.

    “Mom!” We enter into an extended hug.

    “So good to see you, Bunny!”

    “Good to see you too, Mom.”

    “You look great. You’ve changed your style.”

    “Yes,” she blushes a little, “it’s London.”

    “Listen, Mom, come meet my flat-mates.” We can get on the Tube here and get off at Holborn and then walk. It’s close.”

    She guides me into the Tube stop, shows me where to buy a ticket and then insert it, takes my arm and draws me toward the tunnel for trains going north. She seems to know every stop on every line, and she’s only been here two months.

    “How did the dinner go?” I ask, as we sway on the Tube.

    She’d e-mailed me three weeks before to get a recipe for coq au vin. I sent her the recipe from Bistro Jeanty because the cocoa in it gives the dish a nice, full flavor. When she left, she hadn’t cared for coq au vin or, indeed, almost anything French I’d ever made. Since childhood she’d been a pasta and butter, spaghetti and meat sauce sort of girl.

    “The coq turned out great,” she says “but when I tried to light the cognac, it wouldn’t burn and I had to fish one of the matches out of the pot.” Ever since the coq au vin she’s been chief cook in her apartment, where and her mates have begun to give regular dinner parties for their friends–tagliatella with porcini mushrooms and white wine and cream sauce, marinated salmon served on a bed of thinly sliced potatoes, latkes, untold dozens of cookies, even apple and pecan pies. Anna explains that since the apartment has no rolling pin, she’s been using a bottle of gin covered in plastic wrap to make the crust. Then she bakes the pies in shallow bowls because the flat lacks proper tins. One of her roommates has begun to call her “Mama.”

    After a week of dinners and plays with Anna, Mark and I travel to Paris for a few days. (Mark is the man I’ve been seeing for over a year.) Since Anna and her friend Cally will be visiting Paris for the weekend, we are to meet with Anna one last time. On Saturday Mark and I walk toward the “Young and Happy Hostel” on Rue Mouffetard, one of the oldest, most narrow streets in Paris. It is a hive of shops and outdoor markets, with orange, green, and blue awnings, mounds of oranges and lemons, boxes of dusky grapes, mountains of peppers–red, green, and yellow. The flower stand is a meadow of white, pink, and lavendar blossoms. The smells of chocolate, pastry, and cheese marry each other in the crowded street, and the hum of shoppers all but drowns out the distant sound of Vespas. We pass a man sitting quietly at a table, watching the crowd, and there she is, quite unexpectedly, walking down the street in our direction.



    “Amazing, here you are on the streets of Paris!” Suddenly, Paris really does feel like the most exciting city in the world and also, somehow, like home.

    “I know!” she says. We hug again.

    “You know, Mom, I need some boots.” She shows me the soles of the pitiful, run-down pair she is wearing, and so we go into a nearby shop. She cooly surveys the stock and picks out a pair of black, European-looking boots with a fashionable flat heel. Afterward, we find Cally at the hostel and walk to a bistro on an even smaller lane–white cloths and rose placemats on the tables, the smell of roasting lamb filling the air.

    We sit outside, and since the menu is in French, I begin to translate for Anna and her friend.

    “’Gigot De Pre-Sale Roti’–that’s roast leg of lamb.”

    “Mom, you speak French?” She is astounded by my seeming cultural capital.

    “No, Bun, I’ve cooked through Julia Child, and I can read a menu.” She and her roommate order mozzarella and tomato salad and steak frites. Mark wants goat cheese salad and cassoulet. I go for the escargot and lamb. “Want to try a snail,” I ask when they come, sizzling in their pan. The taste is garlic, parsley, shallots, European butter, something sweet. She makes a little face, looks doubtful.


    She bites off the tiniest piece she can.


    She pops the rest of the escargot into her mouth.

    I look at her and try to take her in. She is nineteen. She has long arched brows and large blue eyes. She is lovely, and, somehow, she has arrived. The girl in sweatshirts and sneakers who barely touched my Boeuf a la Bourguignonne is now wearing little jackets and Euro boots; she is cooking coq au vin and eating escargot. I can’t help feeling some secret pleasure in these changes, but I understand “It’s London.” Her very distance from me has freed her for this transformation.

    Bistro Jeanty’s Coq au Vin
    (Adapted from the San Francisco Chronicle)

    Be sure to marinate the chicken overnight and use that cocoa! Although leftovers are good, I find the Coq is best the day it is made. (Bistro Jeanty is a charming French bistro in Yountville—for when you can’t get to France and don’t want to cook.)

    Serves 8.

    2 large yellow onions, peeled and diced
    3 shallots, peeled and diced
    8 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
    3 sprigs parsley
    2 bay leaves
    5 branches thyme
    1 1/2 bottles good quality Merlot or Zinfandel
    2 large chickens (3 ½ or 4 pounds each) cut up
    Salt to taste
    Freshly ground black pepper to taste
    ½ c. olive oil
    2 T flour
    ½ c. cognac
    2 c. chicken stock (canned is ok)
    1 ½ T unsweetened cocoa powder
    6 oz. sliced apple-wood-smoked bacon, diced
    1 basket pearl onions, blanched and peeled
    1 lb. button mushrooms, quartered
    2 T. chopped parsley for garnish

    1. Place onions, shallots, garlic, parsley sprigs, bay leaves, thyme and wine in a large non-reactive bowl. Add chicken and stir to mix. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours.
    2. Remove chicken from the wine marinade; reserve the marinade. Dry the chicken with paper towels and season generously with salt and pepper.
    3. Heat oil in large, heavy casserole over high heat. Add chicken in batches to the pan. Brown chicken well on all sides. Remove pieces when browned and set aside.
    4. Add flour to casserole and cook, stirring constantly for 2 minutes.
    5. Return chicken to casserole, stir and add cognac. Remove casserole from heat and carefully ignite the cognac. Let flames die out.
    6. Add marinade to casserole and bring to a boil over high heat, scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add chicken stock, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until chicken is tender, 1 to 1 ½ hours.
    7. Remove chicken from casserole and set aside. Strain sauce through a sieve. Discard the solids and return sauce to the casserole.
    8. Put cocoa in small bowl; add ½ c sauce, whisk until smooth. Add the cocoa mixture to the casserole, turn heat to high, boil until sauce is reduced to about 4 cups.
    9. When the sauce is reduced, lower heat to medium, and return chicken to casserole to heat through.
    10. Meanwhile sauté bacon in large skillet. As it begins to brown, add the pearl onions and then the mushrooms. Let the mix cook about 10 minutes until lightly colored.
    11. Remove mixture from skillet with slotted spoon, leaving fat in the skillet. Add solids to chicken. Stir to combine, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

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