I always enjoyed being in the kitchen growing up but never got to experiment much. I’d cook the most around holidays but had to keep it simple so everyone would enjoy. When I finally started living on my own, I learned how expensive food truly was as I tried to experiment in the kitchen. I began searching for cuisines that were cheap yet filling and delicious. I recalled the chefs of my youth — Ina Garten, Emeril Lagasse and Rachael Ray. 

Those were my original introductions to food. I watched their shows religiously — wishing I had the “smell-a-vision” Lagasse spoke of, planning my trip to the Italian countryside, where I could get the $40 a day delicacies Ray boasted of.  Lagasse was Cajun like myself, so I related to his food a lot. Cajun food is heavily influenced by French and Italian settlers; you’ll find delicious duck, savory broths and the “holy trinity” in Cajun cuisine — celery, peppers and onions.

Knowing Cajun food is simple, uses cheap ingredients and produces a lot, I decided to cook my way through a French cookbook. This wasn’t any French cookbook though; this was Julia Child’s French Cookbook. 

I feel like the legendary chef and I would have been friends; we both believed in making amazing food with simple ingredients and knew a good plate of food can change any mood. Every week I tried a new recipe, each more delicious than the last. Then I got to her coq au vin. For the uninitiated, coq au vin is chicken parts braised in wine, with brandy, onions, carrots, mushrooms and bacon. The final dish produces juicy and flavorful chicken with an herbaceous sauce. Anytime I made the recipe, the apartment smelled warm and inviting. 

With a bottle of Two Buck Chuck and some ingredients, you can make this plentiful meal. I started cooking it for my friends during gaming sessions and, eventually, it became my go-to family meal anytime it was my turn to host.  If you are a vegetarian, forgo the bacon and sliced mushrooms, and replace the chicken with large portobello mushrooms, which you can cook until tender for a nice meatless alternative. Serve on a bed of rice, mashed potatoes or creamy cauliflower polenta. Don’t forget the sauce; it mops up nicely into a spongy piece of bread!

Coq Au Vin Blanc

Cook time: 45 minutes

Prep time: 30 minutes 

Servings: 4-6 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4-6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs. You can also use chicken parts (drumsticks, chicken quarters, etc.) but cook time may vary.
  • Salt and  ground pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour 
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 slices bacon, chopped into ½-inch pieces
  • 8 ounces cremini or baby bella mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 6  cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 4 shallots, peeled and quartered, or one large onion, chopped
  • 1 ½ cups white wine (I used a Charles Shaw pinot grigio)
  • 2 fresh thyme sprigs 
  • 1  fresh rosemary spring 
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • Fresh parsley for garnish

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Season chicken with salt and pepper and dredge with flour on both sides. Shake excess off and set aside.
  2. Heat a large Dutch oven or deep skillet with the olive oil over medium to medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook until almost crisp, 5 to 10 minutes (you can drain excess fat, but reserve at least 2 tablespoons).
  3. Add mushrooms, celery, carrots, garlic and shallots (or onions) and continue cooking. Stir often until bacon is crisp and mushrooms are browned about 5 to 10 minutes.
  4. Sear the chicken. See below for two different ways to do this — either in one pot or in batches.
  5. Transfer chicken to a plate before adding the cream. Add cream to pan and stir. 
  6. Boil until mixture is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Return chicken to pan.
  7. Garnish with parsley; serve with cauliflower polenta, mashed potatoes, rice or even egg noodles; and enjoy with the remainder of your white wine. 

SEARING THE CHICKEN: TWO WAYS TO COOK

ONE POT

  • Push the vegetables and bacon to the side of the pan. 
  • Add chicken skin-side down to the empty side of the pan (or to an empty pan), and cook until golden brown, about 4-6 minutes per side. Be sure to slightly press on the chicken to ensure contact with the skillet.
  • Add wine, thyme and rosemary. Sip some wine.
  • Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low; be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan. 
  • Simmer until chicken is cooked through and mixture has reduced and is saucy, 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Return to Step 5.

BATCH COOKING 

  • If you do not have a large enough pan, feel free to remove vegetables and set them aside while you brown the chicken. 
  • You may need to add a little more oil to the pan if you do this. Wait until that oil heats up, then add chicken skin-side down. Cook until golden brown 4-6 minutes per side.
  • Remove chicken from large skillet. Add vegetables back in.
  • Add wine, thyme and rosemary. Sip some wine.
  • Scrape the bottom and return chicken to skillet, skin-side up. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a low simmer. 
  • Simmer until chicken is cooked through and mixture has reduced and is saucy, about 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Return to Step 5.