It was the simplest of observations. I'd never heard it made, but it crystalized for me yet another facet of America's dysfunctional relationship to food.
I was listening to a podcast of "This American Life," maybe the greatest show on radio, one from the archives called "Americans In Paris," and featuring still another American treasure, David Sedaris.
One of the Americans interviewed by the show's host, Ira Glass, noted the joy with which the French eat and said, "Americans treat their food like medicine."
Exactly! We eat what's "good" for us. We avoid what's "bad" for us without really knowing what is good or bad for us. We eat probiotic food, such as yogurt with active cultures because it may be good for our gut flora. We avoid gluten because that's what's trending now. Yes, trending, unless you've got celiac, which is horrible and I'm sorry. Though, in fairness, Jane Brody reports in the Times today about growing evidence of actual "sensitivity."
I believe that we would all be healthier and happier if we didn't try to eat "good for you food," and just ate what pleased us and made us feel good after we ate it. That's really all there is to it, that and actually cooking the food. I repeat the words of the cynical market research guy who, when pressed by Michael Pollan to give him some hopeful advice on how America might change its diet, said, "Here's a diet for you. Cook your own food. Eat anything you want as long as you cook it yourself."
Wise words, and one the joyous, food-loving French embrace.
So herewith, my recipe for weekday coq au vin. Eat and enjoy.
Coq au Vin
- 4 chicken leg quarters
- 4 ounces bacon strips, cut into ½-inch pieces
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 4 garlic cloves, smashed with the side of a knife
- Kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 carrot
- 8 shallots, peeled
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ pound white mushrooms, quartered
- 1½ cups red wine
- 2 tablespoons honey
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C. Place the chicken legs on a large baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 325°F/165°C.
- While the chicken is roasting put the bacon, onion, and garlic in a large ovenproof frying pan, Dutch oven, or other heavy oven-safe pot. The cooking vessel should be large enough to hold the chicken legs snugly in one layer. Add two 3-finger pinches of salt and enough water to just cover the ingredients. Cook over high heat until the water has cooked off, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring, until the onion has begun to caramelize, about 5 minutes more. Sprinkle the flour over the onion and bacon and stir to distribute it.
- Nestle the chicken skin-side down into the onion mixture in one layer. Tuck the carrot into the pan, followed by the shallots, bay leaves, and mushrooms. (The mushrooms can rest on top if there's not enough room in the pan; they'll cook down.) Add the wine and honey and season with pepper. Add enough water to reach three-fourths of the way up the chicken. Bring to a full simmer over high heat. Slide the pan, uncovered, into the oven.
- Cook the chicken for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from oven, turn the chicken pieces skin-side up, and stir the ingredients to make sure that they cook evenly. Taste the sauce; add salt if it needs more. Continue to cook until the chicken is tender, about 20 minutes more. Remove the pan from the oven. Just the skin of the chicken should be above the liquid.
- If serving the chicken immediately, turn on the broiler or grill. Broil/grill the chicken until the skin is crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove and discard the carrot and bay leaves. Serve the chicken and sauce in pasta bowls and garnish as desired.
If you liked this post, take a look at these links:
- My past posts on Pan-Fried Chicken Thighs and How to Brine Chicken (Quick Brine Recipe).
- Here is a list of classic French dishes and their recipes from Saveur magazine.
- This recipe was featured in Ruhlman's Twenty; check out my upcoming book, Roast.
- The history, origins, and variations of coq au vin.
© 2014 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2014 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.