Comforting recipe for Ravens fans

Words can't comfort Baltimore football fans, but maybe cooking, serving and eating this Julia Child winter classic will

January 29, 2012|Dan Rodricks

To Baltimoreans by residence or in spirit, to Baltimoreans in need of comfort — that is, anyone with a corpuscle of love for the Ravens — I offer what works for me during any winter of discontent: coq au vin.

The Super Bowl is a week away, and most of us will watch it, wondering what might have been had Billy Cundiff … or Lee Evans ... but never mind that.

There are no comforting words for what happened last Sunday and what will happen next Sunday: our New England nemesis versus the New York franchise the Ravens trounced in the big game 11 long years ago.

So let's try the coq au vin.

Let me be clear: This is neither tailgate food nor a dish that requires a varsity letter in culinary arts. It just requires time, care and strict adherence to Julia Child's recipe (available in detail online and in "The French Chef Cookbook," published by Knopf).

Coq au vin not only fills you up on a winter day, but it warms the soul, from the first moment of preparation to the final sopping of sauce with baguette.

So you'll need three pounds of chicken; skinless thighs will do just fine. You'll need four ounces of slab bacon (I find it at Lexington Market); olive oil; some cognac; some red wine (a Burgundy or Chianti); no-salt chicken stock; a can of tomato paste; three cloves of minced garlic; a bay leaf; some thyme; a half-pound of mushrooms, quartered if large; 24 of those small, white onions most people only serve at Thanksgiving; three tablespoons of flour; two tablespoons of butter, and fresh parsley.

The first time I tried this recipe, I was amused/amazed at one of Julia Child's first instructions: Cook the bacon in olive oil and butter. I had to read that twice; it sounded scary. But one must always have faith in J.C.

Cut the bacon into rectangles and blanch them in some water; let the pieces cool and dry. Then, with two tablespoons of olive oil and a dab of butter in a large pan, cook the bacon slowly over moderate heat. Once the bacon is lightly brown, remove it to a dish.

Now, the Childs recipe says: "Dry chicken thoroughly in a towel. Brown on all sides in the hot fat. Season with salt and pepper. Return bacon to the pan, cover pan, and cook slowly for 10 minutes, turning chicken once."

Then, some real excitement: Pour a quarter-cup of cognac in the pan and ignite the chicken with a match. Since you'll rarely do such a daring thing, gather onlookers and suggest they bring cameras. Make sure they stand a safe distance from the stove.

Be fearless, as Julia was: "Shake pan back and forth for several seconds until flame subsides."

After this, I remove all ingredients to a big pot, careful not to waste a single drop of the liquid. I place the browned chicken in the pot, then add three cups of red wine and just enough stock to cover the chicken. Stir in a tablespoon of tomato paste, the garlic, one-quarter teaspoon of thyme and the bay leaf.

Is this sounding comforting yet?

Simmer the whole thing for about a half-hour or until the chicken is tender. Salt and pepper to taste.

While that's going on, drop the onions in boiling water for about a minute. Drain them, then shave off the ends and peel carefully. Julia suggests piercing "a deep cross in the root end with a small knife to keep the onions whole" while sauteeing them in hot oil in a frying pan until lightly brown. Add some water and cover the pan; simmer until the onions are tender.

Then, separately, brown the mushrooms in butter and oil.

When the chicken is done, remove it from the sauce. Add a roux you've made from flour and butter. Then add the onions and mushrooms. After a few minutes, pour that sauce over the chicken in a large casserole or return the chicken to the sauce for final reheating and — the best part — serving.

A loaf of bread, a glass of the same wine you used to make the coq au vin, maybe a salad — by then you are completely comforted and can watch the Super Bowl in peace. This has been a public service message from this columnist and The Baltimore Sun.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM. His email is dan.rodricks@baltsun.com.

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