My culinary awakening took place in my year abroad in France. Although I was a poor student, Europe presented me with rich food and eating adventures from Norway to Greece. When I returned to the U.S., I brought my European exploits and my more refined palate to the kitchen. I cooked my way through hundreds of recipes, experimented on family and friends, and wore out my copies of From Julia Child’s Kitchen and Mastering The Art of French Cooking I and II. As Julia Powell stated in her clever book Julie and Julia, “I didn’t understand for a long time, but what attracted me to Mastering the Art of French Cooking was the deeply buried aroma of hope and discovery of fulfillment in it. I thought I was using the book to learn to cook French food, but really I was learning to sniff out the secret doors of possibility.”
Fall fever is here. What is behind those secret doors of possibility? Some people think football. I am thinking about the possibilities of the fresh and colorful bounty of seasonal vegetables available at the farmers market and how to transform them into fall comfort food. The first hints of the season make me crave hearty, one-pot meals and rustic dishes of salty, tender meats and root vegetables soaking in dark, rich and flavorful sauces. Voila! Coq au vin. Julia Child’s coq au vin to be more exact. Nothing else will satisfy my palate and the craving for this complex but simple earthy dish.
I pull out my battered and worn copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. My treasured cookbook falls open to the stained and dog-eared worn pages to the perfect centerpiece for a fall farm to table feast. Coq au vin, a classic French dish from Burgundy, traditionally made with chicken, mushrooms, onions, bacon and herbs cooked in a hearty red wine sauce. The best part about the cooking experience is that you get to practice your flaming or flambé technique. There is something very exciting about dousing the chicken with cognac, torching it and watching the blue flame leap out of the pot and then slowly die down to a fragrant simmer. Try not to singe your eyebrows or lashes. Yes, this can really happen! Now you get to sit back and enjoy the tantalizing aromas as the ingredients intermingle to create your own masterpiece of French cooking. Coq au vin is like so many of our Cajun and Creole traditional pot foods. The flavors only get better as they have time to steep.
Julia Child suggests serving the coq au vin with rice or potatoes (something to soak up the luscious sauce) and a touch of green. I like the heartiness of root vegetables as an accompaniment particularly after they are roasted. Think carrots, parsnips and sweet potatoes.
I can picture it now. The perfect fragrant coq au vin served outside under twinkling lights at dusk, just as the sun goes down and the day turns from warm to heavenly. Can you smell the aroma of hope and feel the warmth of this, the ultimate comfort food? Now, pour a glass of your favorite red wine and enjoy. “Santé!”
For more recipes and blog posts from Jan, please visit SophisticatedWoman.com/foodies-friends.