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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Sunday, July 21

Gapers Block

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Maybe this has never happened to you, but I recently found myself with an open bottle of wine that was still significantly full but which I didn't want to drink. It's an admittedly rare occurrence, so I had to think about a solution because I knew I couldn't let it go to waste.

Then I woke up this Sunday morning to frigidly cold temperatures that left me with no desire to leave the house. And while I knew I wanted great food to feed myself and maybe a few other friends, I knew I didn't want to spend the day cooking. So as I set about cleaning my apartment, I found myself thinking of wonderful dinners I've made for friends in the past. And this is when I remembered a wonderful pot of coq au vin (chicken with wine) I'd made a few years back. It was a crowd-pleaser. Delicious, hearty without being heavy, rich in flavor ...and a day-long cooking project.

I busted out the books and the Internet and looked for a version I could make from what I had on hand in my slow cooker. Unlike most dishes I make in the slow cooker, this isn't a dump in lots of ingredients, cover and cook kind of deal. There is a decent amount of work on the stovetop that is required to make this dish taste right. And unfortunately, it's stovetop work that just can't be skipped, either. The browning of the chicken in a skillet before stewing is what really brings the flavors together. And making the thickened sauce can only be completed on the stovetop.

Since this is a French recipe, it traditionally calls for cooking ingredients in butter and bacon fat. Combine this with the fat from the chicken skin and you've got a dish that won't be appearing in Healthy Cooking anytime soon. But if you replace the butter with olive oil you can eliminate a lot of the fat without reducing too much flavor. And I suppose you could skip the bacon as well, or maybe use turkey bacon, but I find the flavor lacking without real bacon.

Coq au Vin for the crockpot 3-4 pounds whole fryer chicken cut into parts, or 3-4 pounds of chicken with bones (they add a lot of flavor)
4 slices of bacon cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons of butter or olive oil
1/2 cup of flour
1 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of ground pepper
1 cup of chicken broth
2 cups of dry red wine
2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
2 cloves of garlic
Bouquet garni*
2 stalks of celery, trimmed and cut into 2-inch chunks
2 carrots washed and cut into 2-inch chunks
1 medium onion sliced thinly

*Bouquet garni is made of 3-4 stalks of fresh thyme, 2-3 bay leaves You can either tie these together with a bit of cotton string or you can put them into a piece of cheesecloth, or you can just insert them loose and pick them out before serving.

In a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until it just starts to turn crispy and remove it from the skillet. Whether you cut apart your own chicken or use pre-cut pieces, rinse it under running water and pat them dry with a paper towel. Mix the flour, salt and pepper in a wide bowl and dredge the chicken pieces. Place the chicken skin side down in the skillet and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side. You want the chicken to be honey colored without getting too dark. You're adding flavor in this step, not trying to cook the chicken through. If there is too much in the skillet it will steam instead of browning — if necessary, do the browning in batches. As the chicken browns, place it in the bottom of a slow cooker** set to low. Once all of the chicken is in the cooker, add the broth, wine, garlic and mustard. Tuck the bouquet garni into the middle of the chicken. If the chicken isn't covered with liquid, add more wine, broth or water to cover. Sprinkle the carrots and celery over the top and then layer the onion slices on top of this. Cover and let cook on low for 4-6 hours or cook on high for 2-3 hours.

Put a large splash of wine into the skillet and turn heat to high. Cook quickly for a minute while scraping the bottom of the pan to remove any stuck-on bits. Pour this into a bowl and refrigerate. Once the chicken seems to be coming away from the bone very easily, remove the chicken and vegetables from the cooker and place into a serving bowl. Discard the bouquet garni and cover the bowl to keep warm. Return the contents from the bowl in the refrigerator to the skillet and heat over medium heat. Add a tablespoon of flour and stir constantly. If you don't get a paste, add more flour as needed until a thick paste is formed. Scoop half a cup or so of the liquid from the slow cooker into the skillet and whisk constantly to remove lumps. Continue with another scoop, whisking to remove lumps and repeat until the liquid from the slow cooker is stirred into the skillet. Increase heat to high and boil while whisking frequently until the liquid is reduced by about half and is glossy and thickened. If the chicken seems cold, place it in the skillet and cook for a minute or two on each side to increase the temperature. Once the pieces are warmed, serve with mashed potatoes, hearty bread, green beans and a salad with a mustard-vinegar dressing.

**Alternatively, you could cook this in a dutch oven or casserole dish in your oven at 325 degrees for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

While some people think it is a sin to drink wine, I think it's a sin to waste it. Thankfully the French have been dealing with this situation for hundreds of years, so they have several warm and hearty dishes to keep you from sinning.

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