Monday, September 6, 2010

Discovering the Elements of Coq au Vin

I learned about mirepoix while visiting my Tita Paz in Cincinnati one summer. At the tender age of 8, I got such a kick out of saying this "fancy" French word which she explained meant the combination of onions, celery and carrots. I guess she saw that I had an interest for the kitchen as early as then. So from being her spectator and just watching her prepare meals for us, I quickly becoming her sous-chef for the summer. And boy did I prepare lots of mirepoix for her that year! Now that I think about it, she is surely one of my earliest cooking mentors.

Fast forward to Mother's Day back in 2001. I was still living in San Francisco and decided to treat my dear mother out to lunch at a French bistro in Yountville, Bistro Jeanty. It was then that she first introduced to one of the most basic French dishes: Coq au Vin. Immediately I fell in love with it. I loved how the chicken was so tender, infused with the red wine and all the yummy flavours coming from the herbs and guess what? The mirepoix! This is when I put two and two together, the little element I learned about at 8 years old turns out to be the basis of most French cooking. Similar to how the combination of garlic, onion and tomato is the basis of Filipino cooking.  Note taken: guisado to Filipino food = mirepoix to French food. 

This I can say is when I began to explore cooking French inspired dishes more and more. For some reason however, Coq au Vin was one of those that intimidated me for a while. I guess it was because from that time at Bistro Jeanty I started to order it a lot when eating out, and back then there were just some restaurant dishes that I was afraid to cook myself. I'm glad that is not the case anymore because really, Coq au Vin is a stew so it really is simple to do. 

This recipe may not be authentic or completely true to the classical French ways but it was satisfying, delicious and tasted like Coq au Vin to me. The method was definitely simpler than Julia Child's recipe, which I do want to try next time. 

6 chicken pieces (I used thighs and breasts with bone and skin on)
1 T olive oil
1 T butter
2 strips of bacon cut into lardons
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 T cognac
4 T flour
about 15 pearl onions
1-2 cups mushrooms, sliced
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 a bottle of red wine (should be Bordeaux but I just had Shiraz)
bouquet garni:
-3 sprigs of thyme
-a sprig of parsley
-3 bay leaves

Season chicken lightly with salt and pepper. In an oven-proof casserole, heat olive oil and butter and brown the chicken pieces on all sides. Remove chicken from pan and bacon lardons to render the fat. If there is too much fat for your taste, drain some of it and add the mirepoix, season and brown. Once the mirepoix has browned, add the chicken back into the pan and pour in the brandy to deglaze. Bring a lit match close to the liquid to flambe. Swirl the pan around until the flame is gone. Pour in the red wine and chicken stock, add the bouquet garni and pearl onions, bring to a boil. Bring down to a simmer, add the sliced mushrooms and keep simmering for 30 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Transfer the casserole to a 170C oven and continue cooking for one and a half hours.

Remove the bouquet garni and serve hot with scalloped potatoes, mashed potatoes or buttered noodles. 

I truly had a moment making this meal. As I was prepping my mirepoix and putting all the elements of the dish together, I was smiling, thinking of my mom and my aunt. Who knew that those individual moments of discovering food in Ohio and California would lead to me cooking up a dinner that would put a huge smile on our faces down here in Sydney? The back story made the meal that much more enjoyable for me. And it made for good dinner conversation with Mr. P too.


  1. Tanti was over with the boys tonight and she left with this on my computer for me to see. How sweet it is, how good it feels, to read what you said. I remember that time in my life. You were always so masipag so willing to help and learn. It was so much fun, and this recipe, so yummy!!! I will make it and think of you. Tita Paz

  2. Yes, I really remember hanging out in your kitchen, practicing my knife skills and browning the mirepoix for steaks and stews. I'm glad this made you feel good Tita Paz. I hope you enjoy the coq au vin. I know you'll want to skim off the fat after cooking, which I did too. hehe!