Coq au Vin

Coq au Vin

I love this kind of food.  You know the one, where everything goes into a pan and then just sits in the oven for a while.  There is something about a one pot dish that just makes me smile every time, and this is no exception.

Now I realise that Coq au Vin is one of those recipes that is popular, and therefore there are many versions around.  For me, it’s all about simplicity.

Which is good because that’s probably all I can muster at the moment.  It seems, unbeknownst to anyone, that this week has been voted the ‘if you don’t know at least three people who have birthday’s, you’ve not lived’ week.  Catchy eh?  And very true.

So, I have spent the week, making, buying, wrapping and visiting in a truly hamster on a wheel approach with the occasional element being missed out – we still have to deliver our nephew’s birthday present.  Very enjoyable if not slightly bewildering after a while.

But this evening we are at liberty to make our own fun, hence the Coq au Vin in the oven, with jacket potatoes snuggling up beside them, a bottle of Cotes du Rhone Village opened and ‘breathing’, and my informal wear (otherwise known as pyjamas) most definitely, on.  I am going nowhere.

And, for those of you who are the slightest bit interested, here is how I do it.

Get a large bowl, add some flour, salt and pepper and coat a few chicken thighs in the flour.  Some people use legs, but I prefer the taste of the meat on the thigh. (As I reread this, I’m thinking, ‘Ooo, err, one for the ladies there… ‘ I can only apologise for any misplaced innuendo)

Cook on a low heat for about ten minutes turning once, in a swig of vegetable oil and a generous knob of butter which has been melted in a pan.

Take out and leave on a plate.  Replace with shallots, garlic and streaky, or normal if that’s all you have, bacon which has been cut into smallish pieces.

After a while add two tablespoonfuls of tomato puree, a chicken stock cube, some boiling water, 3/4 bottle of red wine – saving yourself a generous glassful in order to ‘quality control’ – a few sprigs of fresh thyme (teaspoonful of dried if you don’t have fresh) and the chicken thighs.

Bring to the boil then place in the oven, gas mark 5 for around an hour then add some button mushrooms. I like to use the chestnut ones if they’re around, but it really is a personal taste thing.  Leave the mushrooms to enjoy the company of the other items in the pan, for around 20 minutes.  Then bring out of the oven.

Now, there are a couple of things that I should probably point out at the risk of teaching my grandmother to suck eggs.

Firstly, cook in the oven with a lid on.  And secondly, when you take the Coq au Vin out of the oven, let it sit for 5 – 10 minutes on its own.  I know that’s my ‘couple of things’ spot taken up, but there is just one more thing that I think is worth pointing out.  This can also be cooked on the hob.  Both ways taste just as delicious.

I like to serve it with jacket potatoes as the wee boy just cannot get enough of them.  It is also delicious with a crusty loaf.  Either way, it’s wonderful, and will leave you feeling completely satiated.

Perfect Sunday food.

Baked Chicken and Rice

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There is something very satisfying about putting a whole load of things in a dish and popping it in the over to discover, about forty minutes later that not only is it all cooked, but the alchemy of the food blends so beautifully together that you have something very gratifying to eat.  And so it is with baked chicken and rice.

Here’s how I do it.

Grease a dish with a little butter.  Add rice, chopped chicken pieces, red and yellow pepper, sultanas, nuts, chicken stock, salt and pepper.

Put it in the oven, gas mark 5.

Make a cup of tea.

Wait.

Look in the oven after around twenty minutes as it might need a bit of a stir.  My oven tends to cook things round the outside of the dish quicker than in the middle, so I give it a gentle swirl and sometimes add some more hot water.

Twenty minutes or so later, take out of the oven and serve.

It’s a little bit like savoury rice, but the sultanas add a touch of sweetness that I find irresistible.  Of course, you could, should the feeling take you, just bake the rice with the peppers etc and cook the chicken separately.  Either way, the results are always enjoyable.

And, as a little aside, it looks beautiful.

Chicken Stock

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Now I don’t know about you, but I have a passion, some may say obsession, for using up and transforming food.   And I have to say there is very little that beats the satisfaction you feel when making a chicken stock.  It’s versatility has no limits, and if you want to intensify the flavour, you just allow the liquid to steam off.

So, this is how I do it.  Firstly, find a pan that is solid and happy to have heat underneath it for a long time.  I have a cast iron pan, which I think is perfect for stocks, but anything with a heavy bottom will be fine.  I then throw the chicken carcass and any other chicken bits that have not been devoured, into the pan.  Next I chop up a couple of onions into quarters, skins on.  Skins on?  Well, they add flavour and to be honest, you are going to sieve the whole lot eventually.

I also add celery sticks, and carrots.  Once again chopped with as little effort as you wish.  I’m not sure that chopping improves the flavour but I have style issues, and I think it looks better and therefore makes me feel as though I know what I’m doing.

As far as seasoning is concerned salt, whole peppercorns and a couple of bay leaves are all I usually add, although I have been known to occasionally include chillies, as chicken stock with a kick is great for soups.  Cover the whole lot with water and pop the lid on.

Now then, the next bit is the key to chicken stock success.  Put on the hob, bring to the boil and simmer.  For at least six hours.

I’m actually quite keen on simmering the stock for eight hours, often starting it off in the evening, turning it off when I go to bed, and then finishing it off the following morning or evening.   I’m not sure it makes much difference, but as it’s a third of a day this, once again, gives me pleasure and reassurance.  I’ve often wondered how people worked out optimum timings for such things.  I guess it’s trial and error.

Anyway, once the stock has cooled, but not gone cold, sieve.  If you leave it until it’s gone completely cold, the liquid turns into a jelly like substance (something to do with the meat fats) and it sticks to all the stuff that’s in there.  Pour into pots.  When the stock has gone completely cold, you can, if you wish, scrape off any excess fat. My personal opinion is that the fat from meat in a stock truly enhances the flavour of whatever you may be cooking but I am aware that for whatever reason, not everyone shares this opinion.

As to the type of container required, I have varying sizes of plastic pots in the freezer with stock in them, but that’s only because I have plastic pots in various sizes.

And that’s it.  Job done.  Just to add a final thought.  I guarantee the next time you cook a meal that requires chicken stock, and you take your own home made one out of the freezer, you will do so with a rather beautiful, self satisfied grin.

Cooking Chicken

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There are very few cooking pots that stand out in a crowd for their innovative design and practical supremacy.  There are perfect pieces of pottery, and classic pieces of cookware.  It is rare to find a wonderful combination of the two.

Enter the Chicken Brick.

This beautiful piece of culinary design was created by David Queensbury for Habitat 50 years ago, and as far as I’m concerned, is one of their most successful pieces in their short, but colourful history.  It is one of my favourite cooking pots.  Or to be more precise, terracotta cooking pots.

And here’s how it works.  The pot acts as a culinary kiln, and because it is terracotta and therefore porous, it allows the heat to drift through it very nicely so that the chicken and its accompanying orchestra of vegetables, cook away in their own juices, thus creating a perfectly succulent bird every time.  And if you’re worried that the chicken may look a little anaemic having had no direct heat onto it’s skin, don’t. It manages to come out with a very healthy tan.

I always tend to put onions and carrots as a cushion for the chicken to sit on top sprinkled with salt and pepper, but to be honest, it is just as delicious without added vegetables, and it is absolutely up to you what you pop in there.  I add a little boiled water into the base before putting in the oven, to make sure I don’t have a minor panic attack as to whether there will be enough gravy or not.  You can never have enough gravy in my book.  Anyway.  I then put the brick on the shelf nearest the middle of a pre heated oven.  Gas mark 5.  There is a rule of minutes per weight for every meat, but as with everything oven based in my home, I have to adjust according to the outside influences.  Therefore, I tend to just use a thermometer.

So why is this so fabulous then eh?  Well, there are a few reasons.  Firstly, the chicken always tastes succulent and gorgeous which is a bonus as chicken, although texturally satisfying, is quite a bland meat if it doesn’t have a great support act.  I find that the sweetness of the carrots and onions imbibe the chicken enough to add flavour, but without overpowering it.  As a slight diversion, I have found that this combination makes beef, cooked in the chicken brick, taste wonderful as well. Secondly, the stock that I use for the gravy has a taste that I find hard to replicate through any other formula, and finally the pot itself has a quirk and style to it that is unbeatable.  If you like that kind of thing.  Which I do.

There are a couple of very, very minor downsides to the Chicken Brick.  The first one is that it takes up quite a bit of space if you don’t have other pots or dishes of the same shape.  Luckily I do.  But if you didn’t, you would probably have to either buy some oval dishes, or accept the fact that the brick needs it’s own space.  And secondly, it doesn’t take kindly to letting go of washing up liquid, so wash wisely.  But hey, these are blips on an otherwise perfect piece of innovative culinary design.

And so to dinner.  As it’s Sunday, I am opting for a traditional Sunday affair.  Chicken, sage and onion stuffing, roast potatoes, and steamed mini sweetcorn, long stemmed broccoli, sugar snap peas and mange tout, all covered in gravy.  Delicious.

As a final thought, if you like the idea of using a Chicken Brick but are a little concerned about spending money on something you feel you may regret, why not find someone who owns one and ask to borrow it?

Mine will be free from this evening, if anyone’s interested.

 

 

One small step

 

 

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Today Nigella tweets this:  Supper for a mere 24: slow-cooked lamb stew; pasta with cream, gruyere and nutmeg; peas braised with shallots

I, on the other hand, have managed to cook a chicken, boil new potatoes, and cut orange and yellow peppers.  For 3.

On the upside, I learnt recently that if you soak a chicken in salted water for 24 hours, which let’s be honest, is not the most interesting meat in the world, it becomes much more succulent.   One small step…