Delicious Reading: A 'Zen of Slow Cooking' take on Julia Child's Coq au Vin

Monday, June 9, 2014

When my oldest daughter, Eva, was 3 years old, I read her "The Little Red Hen" one night before bed. As I finished the story of the chicken who gets no help growing, harvesting, milling or baking, so she chooses to eat the bread all herself instead of sharing, Eva hugged me and said, "I'm glad you're not like that, Mommy." I asked her what she meant and she replied, "You cook and then say 'Supper's ready! Come on, everybody!'"

When I related this story to my friend, Tom Harte, he told Eva, "I think The Little Red Hen needs to get introduced to Coq au Vin!" I then explained "rooster with wine" to my preschooler, whose favorite form of chicken at the time was nugget-shaped.

This memory came back to me as I pondered finding a recipe for this month's column. As so often happens in the kitchen, innovation is born out of necessity -- I had veered from my usual brand of red wine to drink with dinner, and after one glass, discovered I wasn't particularly fond of it. I wondered if Coq au Vin would be the best way to use that wine up. After all, I hadn't introduced The Little Red Hen or Eva to Coq au Vin after all these years.

Back when the movie "Julie & Julia" came out, I was inspired to prepare some of Julia Child's recipes, but the spine of my copy of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" is barely creased. As well as Julia lays everything out, and as excited as I was to create the dishes I learned how to pronounce in high school French, too many of the recipes required too much time and too many ingredients.

But, in this most recent attempt, I discovered "The Zen of Slow Cooking" (www.thezenofslowcooking.com). Meg Barnhart and Jean McKay began this site in 2012 with the intention of helping to "create success in the kitchen by simple, straightforward, whole food recipes prepared in 20 minutes or less."

Their very first post was a reinvention of the classic Julia Child recipe for Coq au Vin. The tweaks are minimal. Rather than sautéing and simmering for 30 minutes before transferring the dish to the oven while I make the sauce, I quickly browned the chicken, put it in the slow cooker and then made the sauce in the same pan and poured it on top. I was able to move on to other morning preparations and head to the university to teach my summer class, knowing that when I returned, my kitchen would smell amazing.

I know my husband was wary as I began serving dinner. He named my attempts at cooking with wine early in our marriage "booze pasta," and was afraid I was at it again. But the Coq au Vin was rich, flavorful and not a bit booze-y. The kids even ate it happily!

So, I will be back to try more of the "Zen of Slow Cooking" recipes. They have everything from classics like pot roast to exotic curries. Once peaches are in season, I can't wait to try their peach cobbler with buttery oatmeal salted pecan topping (yes, made in the slow cooker). I hope Julia -- if not The Little Red Hen -- approves.

Slow Cooker Coq au Vin

Ingredients:

2 1/2 to 3 pounds skinless chicken thighs and legs

1/3 cup flour

Salt and pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 slices lean bacon, cut into 1-inch strips

12 baby onions (24 pearl), peeled and left whole

1/2 pound button mushrooms, sliced

1/4 cup cognac

1 3/4 cup red wine

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 large sprig thyme (or a generous 1/2 teaspoon dried)

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 bay leaf

Fresh parsley, chopped

Directions:

Place the chicken, flour, salt and pepper in a gallon-size Ziploc bag and shake well, ensuring the chicken is liberally coated with the mixture.

In a skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil on medium high and add the chicken pieces. Brown the chicken for 2 minutes on either side until it turns a lightly golden color. Stir the remainder of the flour from the bag into the browned chicken and transfer to your slow cooker.

In the same skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and saute the bacon, onions and mushrooms for 4 minutes, stirring regularly, until glazed and shiny. Drain any excess fat from the skillet and transfer the mixture into your slow cooker.

Stir the cognac, wine, tomato paste, garlic, thyme, oregano and bay leaf into the chicken mixture.

Cook on low for 7 or 8 hours or high for 3 1/2 or 4 hours.


About Brooke

Brooke Clubbs is a Jackson mom of three, a freelance writer and a communications instructor.