Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ruhlman's "Weeknight" Coq au Vin

Ruhlman's Weeknight Coq au Vin

You know, I've always been a fan of Michael Ruhlman's books and blogging, but I haven't really made many of his recipes. I mean, sure, he taught me how to make a real quiche but otherwise I mainly think of him as yelling at people to make stock and being a charcuterie hero... and with Ratio I almost thought he had abandoned recipes in their entirety. But apparently recipes are not dead, as the principles of cooking in Ruhlman's Twenty are illustrated with one hundred of them... which may make this book more accessible to the beginning cook.

The dish you see pictured above is "Weeknight Coq au Vin" and it appears in the "Water" chapter. Yes, that's right, he has an entire chapter (and a handful of recipes) dedicated to the wonders of water. But you know what? I think he's right on with this: water is a very important element in cooking but it's obviously not one we often think of, and understanding how it works seems a good way to become better in the kitchen. In this particular case, water is used to tenderize the bacon and extract flavors from both it and the onions and garlic. What's clever about this is that in the Julia Child method of making Coq au Vin you turn regular bacon into lardons by blanching it, which neutralizes the smokiness... and added hassle that might not seem worth it... but Ruhlman achieves this, along with extracting sugars from the onions to help them caramelize, all in one step with the creative usage of water.

The other clever part of this recipe is another simple addition... and that is finishing the chicken under the broiler to crisp up the skin. Weak and flabby skin is the bane of any braise of chicken parts, but for whatever reason you seldom see recipes that try to mitigate it. It's a nice touch and it makes leftovers much more appealing, as you only have to put one leg per diner under the broiler... and if somebody wants a second serving, it's only 3 minutes to the table.

The one complaint I do have is the assertion that this dish can be prepared in an hour. Maybe if you have a sous chef who has all your mise en place all set up and the oven preheated when you walk in the door... but otherwise I'd say plan on an hour and a half if you are super efficient but I'd expect closer to two. Admittedly this kind of time underestimation is de rigueur in cookbooks... and I guess you just have to know the times are always ridiculous, but I can't help it... it's still a pet peeve. I feel like unrealistic times end up discouraging aspiring cooks who try a recipe expecting to get dinner on the table by 7, but are still slaving in the kitchen and fending off a hungry family at 8:30. I mean, how is that fun? Doesn't that push you to the side of "let's just get takeout"? Why not itemize the times and show where people who aren't as good in the kitchen where it's likely to take longer? Maybe that means less people will try cooking it on a weeknight, but I think it also means fewer frustrated cooks... which is a net positive in my view.

I also think the sauce needs to be defatted if you care about presentation. Maybe the bacon I used was especially fatty, but the sauce was swimming in it at the end... still very tasty, but I recommend letting it cool or a fat separator if you are trying to make an impression.

All in all, however, I thought it was a very good recipe. The flavors are great and it's easy to follow. You can find it here.