We had guests over for dinner this past Sunday. Craig runs an Antiques business in San Jose and we have known him for years – his old location on San Carlos Avenue was only blocks from our home in Hanchett Park. His partner Travis lives here in SF, just a few blocks from us. They split time between here and the South Bay. I had talked with Craig about going down to his new place in Campbell, but it transpired that they were going to be here instead so I said we’d have them over for dinner. Which then left me with the conundrum of what to cook.
At least with Craig and Travis I didn’t have to worry about gay food phobias – you know, the ‘I don’t eat fat or anything with sugar or refined carbs’ bunch. Not because they aren’t health conscious, but Travis is a gourmet chef and they are used to the ‘everything in moderation’ approach to meals. When we made the plans the weather was dreary and cool, so I thought I wanted something that would be hearty and would take the edge of the chilly dampness of a Queeristan evening. I love doing casseroles (who doesn’t?) and I searched around for a promising Coq au Vin recipe.I always check Epicurious as well as Foodnetwork and then do a google to see what else looks interesting. But just between the first two sites I usually end up with at least a dozen alternate recipes to consider. Epicurious often has reviews that can add insight and help me select recipes I will like.
Coq au Vin of course is a classic recipe, so one doesn’t want to fool around too much – unless you’re creating something inspired by but not Coq au Vin. In my search I read enough recipes to get a feel for what ingredients and methods were more or less common at all. What differed most was in the preparation of the mushrooms and pearl onions and the roux. Basically, whether they would be sauteed in butter separately and the roux prepared or alternately whether they would be sauteed in the bacon and chicken drippings. I also had to consider the chicken. Classically the dish is prepared when the rooster gets too old – so the bird is on the skinny side, but tough and in need of slow cooking. Today I can get a free-range bird but it’s still going to be meatier – and especially it will be breast-heavy if I went with a whole chicken (as all the recipes call for). I’ve also been told that even the birds that are ‘free-range’ are not necessarily raised strutting around a pen and pecking for food. They can be raised in cages but the cages are opened a certain amount of time per day. What I’ve heard is that since the birds are used to the cages, they end up not going out for exercise anyway – but they can still be labelled free-range. I opted for a mix of organic bone-in thighs and legs and boneless-skinless thighs, purchased at Whole Foods.
I used Emeril Legasse’s recipe as my basis and changed little – basically just not using chicken breasts, only the dark meat parts – and I used a mix of crimini, shiitake and oyster mushrooms rather than just crimini. It was a hit! I served it with lemon parsely green beans, and roasted potatoes.