Coq au Vin with Garlic Mashed Potatoes...a study of the classics

Coq au vin (rooster in red wine)

The schooling I had as a child must have influenced our decision to search for alternative ways of schooling in today's world.  I didn't quite realize this when we first decided to try homeschooling, but I can see now that there were many influences from my school years that swayed me to think differently about how our own kids would be educated.

Academy of the Sacred Heart, Grand Coteau, Louisiana

Being that the school was founded by French nuns, the french language and culture was built into our curriculum from day one.

I loved learning about everything french.  I was naturally attracted to languages.  I was naturally attracted to cultures...and with that comes...FOOD of other cultures! Naturally!

A few weeks ago, I had the occasion to return to my school.  I relished the quiet time  spent roaming the charming grounds.  A whirlwind of eight years of  memories swirled around in my mind.

It is amazing how much this school, deep in the countryside of southern Louisiana, remains unchanged by time.  I've lived far from the south since graduating and this was my second trip returning to my school.  

I could hear a gaggle of girls running up the little country road that brings students deep into the countryside, just as we used to do, running freely in between classes and enjoying the outdoors.

One of the memories that most stood out was of  my french teacher, Madame Simon.  She adored cooking and talking about french food.  Once, she decided that as a class, we were going to learn how to make the french classic "Coq au Vin".

Coq au vin is a classic french dish of chicken and red wine.  I would imagine it could be the equivalent of our beef stew as it is prepared similarly.

"Coq au Vin".  Just the name alone impelled my imagination to run a little wild and tantalized my senses.  We gathered in our school kitchen.  She had all of the ingredients ready for us.  On the list of ingredients was "red wine".  We crooned over this extravagant ingredient, "Red wine...How utterly sophisticated..."

I still recall the aroma of the onions and mushrooms, herbs and chicken all bubbling together.  The headiness of the red wine flavor was spectacular.  I had never tasted a dish so richly flavorful.  The memory of that day etched forever on my taste buds.  

The bulbous mushrooms, the tiny orbs of pearl onions, the crispness of the chicken skin all melded together in a richly scented red wine sauce that certainly left a culinary mark on my twelve year old self.

It's amusing how these first "tastes" in life leave such impressions.  Many of the dishes that I am attracted to have strong memories that pull me back to the time and place enjoyed.

Time. Place. Scents. Tastes.  Many are created from food experiences that are plated on a scrumptious series of life's dining experiences.

The beauty of the oak trees, with their lush manes of moss swaying in the breeze, painted a landscape of memories in my mind.   The old craggy barns, dappled horses, and mournful cows created bucolic backdrops for our long school days.  

So, too, memories of foods like coq au vin, dark molasses on thick cornbread, and tart kumquats plucked off  trees inbetween classes, write tasteful menus of savory experiences throughout life.

Oak Alley - Where graduation ceremonies are held

Coq au Vin just isn't quite complete, however, without its complement ~ mashed potatoes.

So, we roasted a head of garlic until the house was filled with its pungent aroma.  An ample handful of shredded Asiago cheese was gently folded into the steaming potatoes and ...

Voila.  Bon Appetit.  
Coq au Vin and Creamy Mashed Potatoes

Or~ a melding of memories so wonderfully  and richly experienced.

Classic Coq Au Vin (from 2002 Bon Appétit)
(4-6 servings)

Marinating Chicken:
1 750-ml bottle French Burgundy or California Pinot Noir
1 large onion, sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 large carrot, peeled, sliced
1 large garlic clove, peeled, flattened
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 6-pound roasting chicken, backbone removed, cut into 8 pieces

Combine wine, onion, celery, carrot, garlic, and peppercorns in a large pot.  Bring to boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer 5 minutes.  Cool completely, mix in oil.  Place chicken pieces in large glass bowl.  Pour wine mixture over chicken;  stir to coat.  Cover and refrigerate at least 1 day and up to 2 days, turning chicken occasionally.

Cooking Chicken:
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 ounces thick-cut bacon slices, cut crosswise into strips
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 large shallots, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
4 large fresh thyme sprigs
4 large fresh parsley sprigs
2 small bay leaves
2 cups low-salt chicken broth

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1 pound assorted fresh wild mushrooms
20 1-inch diamater pearl onions, or boiling onions, peeled

Using tongs, transfer chicken pieces from marinade to paper towels to drain, pat dry.  Strain marinade;  reserve vegetables and liquid separately.

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat.  Add bacon and sauté until crisp and brown.  Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to small bowl.

Add chicken, skin side down, to drippings in pot.  Sauté until brown, about 8 minutes per side.  Transfer chicken to a large bowl.

Add vegetables reserved from marinade to pot.  Sauté until brown, about 10 minutes.  Mix in flour;  stir 2 minutes.  Gradually whisk in reserved marinade liquid.  Bring to boil, whisking frequently.

Cook until sauce thickens, whisking occasionally, about 2 minutes.

Mix in shallots, garlic, herb sprigs, and bay leaves, then broth.

Return chicken to pot, arranging skin side up.Bring to simmer; reduce heat to medium-low.  Cover pot and simmer chicken 30 minutes.  Using tongs, turn chicken over.  Cover and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes longer.

Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat.  Add mushrooms, sauté until tender; about 8 minutes.  Transfer mushrooms to plate.  Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in same skillet.  Add onions and sauté until beginning to brown, about 8 minutes.  Transfer onions to plate alongside mushrooms;  reserve skillet.

Using tongs, transfer chicken to plate.  Strain sauce from pot into reserved skillet, pressing on solids in strainer to extract all sauce.  Discard solids.  

Bring sauce to simmer, scraping up browned bits.  Return sauce to pot.  Add onions to pot and bring to simmer over medium heat.  Cover and cook until onions are almost tender, about 8 minutes.  Add mushrooms and bacon.  Simmer uncovered until onions are very tender and sauce is slightly reduced, about 12 minutes.

Tilt pot and spoon off excess fat from top of sauce.  Season sauce with salt and pepper.  Return chicken to sauce. (Can be made 1 day ahead)

Arrange chicken on large rimmed platter.  Spoon sauce and vegetables over.  Sprinkle with parsley.

Garlic and Asiago Cheese Mashed Potatoes:
(4-6 servings)

4 medium to large russet potatoes (about 3 pounds/1.35 kg total), peeled and each cut into 8 equal pieces
11 tablespoons/150 g salted butter, room temperature
1 cup/235 ml whole milk
1 whole roasted garlic head
1 cup shredded asiago cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the potatoes in a pot of boiling salted water and cook for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.  Strain the potatoes in a colander and allow them to steam dry in the colander for 5 minutes. 

Working in batches, press the potatoes and butter through a potato ricer and into the same pot.  Mix in the milk to form a smooth and fluffy consistency.  Using a mortar and pestle, or the back of a fork, mash the garlic into a paste. 
Stir the garlic paste into the potatoes. 

Fold in the shredded Asiago cheese.  Season the potatoes to taste with salt and pepper. Cover the potatoes and keep them warm.

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