These brisk spring days can be really confusing for a cook. On the one hand, we're psyched for salads and iced coffee, but then there are days, like a few Wednesdays ago, when it's pouring rain and you're freezing. Enter my Coq au Vin (chicken stewed in wine).
On that chilly day, I happened to have enough ingredients to pass for a classic Coq au Vin — chicken thighs, dried porcini mushrooms, a red onion, pancetta, and red wine. What I didn't have was time.
Is it the French name that makes people, myself included, think the dish is going to take all day? It won't. Though some time is usually taken up doing things like blanching the bacon, skimming the fat, and reducing the sauce, I pushed things a bit. In just over thirty minutes, dinner was served. Much of that time is when the dish is simmering, so you can set the table, start a load of laundry, read a New Yorker article, or just stare into space.
Imagine: Coq au Vin could be your new weeknight go-to meal.
It is possible to make this dish with any part of the chicken; I like the thighs because they are succulent and nestle into a pot nicely. If you have fresh mushrooms and want to make a super-classic version of the dish, add them to the sauce before reducing, just as the recipe is written for the dried mushrooms. Pearl onions are what you'll usually find in Coq au Vin, but they require a few extra steps, so for something equally tasty and not nearly as laborious, use any standard onion or a few shallots.
Coq au Vin is usually served over wide egg noodles, but I like it with a few hunks of baguette and good butter. Roasted potatoes also make a good side dish.
Weeknight Coq au Vin
6 to 8 large (about 3 pounds) chicken thighs, skin on
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup (about 1 ounce) dried wild mushrooms
1/2 cup (about 4 ounces) 1/2-inch cubed pancetta or bacon
1 large red or yellow onion, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
2 medium carrots, cut into large bite-size pieces
5 large cloves garlic, peeled and gently smashed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 cups dry, fruity red wine (zinfandel, burgundy)
1 cup chicken stock
2 bay leaves
4 whole sprigs fresh thyme
6 to 8 whole sprigs fresh parsley, to garnish
Lightly sprinkle the chicken thighs on all sides with salt and pepper. Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and pour enough boiling water over to just cover.
Over medium heat in a 4- to 6-quart (large enough to accommodate the chicken) deep skillet or Dutch oven with a lid, brown the pancetta, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the onions and cook another minute, until onions begin to soften. Turn the heat up to medium-high, add the chicken, skin side down, and cook, turning the pieces as they brown on each side. Drain off any excess fat.
Add the carrots, crushed garlic, tomato paste, wine, chicken stock, bay leaves, and thyme. Lower the heat so that the liquid just barely simmers. Cover and cook about 20 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and an instant-read thermometer reads 165°F.
Transfer the chicken pieces to a serving platter. Skim any excess fat off the top of the liquid. Remove the mushrooms from their soaking liquid and add them to the pot. Pour the mushroom liquid through a fine sieve or cheese cloth (to remove any grit) and into the pot. Turn the heat up to high and boil the mixture until the sauce is reduced by a third to a half, depending on how much time you have. Remove the bay leaves and thyme.
A few minutes before serving, put the chicken pieces back into the sauce to re-heat. Serve each chicken thigh topped with a ladle of sauce and garnished with chopped parsley leaves or a whole parsley sprig.