When Jeff and I entertain a large group (which I define as anything more than dinner for 6), I plan a menu where most of the cooking is done ahead so we can enjoy our company. We still want the food to be delicious and memorable, we just don’t want to spend time in the kitchen doing last minute things like chopping, sautéing or flambéing (not that we flambé much!). Trust me, you don’t want to be in the kitchen with Jeff when he’s under the gun to get food on the table. You know Gordon Ramsey? Well, take out the swear words and you get the picture.
We recently hosted or first murder mystery party. I’ve wanted to do one for years and in celebration of a dear friend’s birthday we took the dive into new entertaining territory. I picked a game theme–Wine & Murder Mystery—that all of our guests could relate to and didn’t require difficult costumes because the party was a bit last minute. As the host and hostess of the game, Jeff was Ralph Rottengrape and I was Tiny Bubbles. The game was a hoot and a half and everyone got into their characters and laughed and joked all night. Fair warning, the hosts shouldn’t imbibe much because the game rules and process are a bit complicated and require someone to keep their wits! If not to solve the mystery, to finish the game!
Since we knew the game would require our mostly undivided attention we settled on a simple menu of Chicken Coq Au Vin served over fresh pappele pasta with an artichoke salad. (The other guests brought appetizers and desert.) Coq au Vin is a classic French dish and one of the easiest, but as always I wanted to find a recipe that elevated the culinary experience a few notches. This recipe comes from Cook’s Illustrated, and the secret to its robust flavor is reducing the red wine with herbs before adding it to the cooking process. The reduction sauce enhances and deepens the flavor of the dish. Not only was the savory stew full bodied and delicious, we made it the day before. The day of the party I prepped the salad and got the water ready for the pasta. By the time we were knee deep into the trying to figure out who killed Lenny, all we had to do was gently reheat the coq au vin and serve our guests.
Coq Au Vin
1 bottle fruity, smooth, medium-bodied Pinot Noir
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
10 sprigs fresh parsley leaves
2 tbls. fresh parsley leaves, minced
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
4 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces
2 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat and cut in half crosswise
5 tbls. unsalted butter
24 frozen pearl onions, thawed, drained, and patted dry (about 1 cup)
8 ounces brown mushrooms, stems trimmed, halved if small and quartered if large
2 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1 tbls. tomato paste
2 tbls. all-purpose flour
Bring all but 1 tablespoon wine (reserve for later use), broth, parsley sprigs, thyme, and bay to simmer in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until reduced to 3 cups, about 25 minutes. Discard herbs. Meanwhile, cook bacon in large Dutch oven over medium heat until browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper-towel-lined plate. Reserve 2 tablespoons fat in small bowl; discard remaining fat.
Lightly season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon reserved bacon fat in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add half of chicken in single layer and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to plate and repeat with remaining chicken and 1 tablespoon bacon fat. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in now-empty Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When foaming subsides, add pearl onions and mushrooms; cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomato paste and flour; cook, stirring frequently, until well combined, about 1 minute. Add reduced wine mixture, scraping bottom of pot with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits; add 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Return chicken, any accumulated juices, and reserved bacon to pot; increase heat to high and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover pot, and simmer until chicken is tender, about 25 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking time.
Using slotted spoon, transfer chicken to large bowl; tent with foil to keep warm. Increase heat to medium-high and simmer sauce until thick and glossy and measures 3 cups, about 5 minutes. Off heat, stir in remaining 2 tablespoons butter and reserved 1 tablespoon wine. Season to taste with salt. Return chicken to pot and top with minced parsley.
Tips and Tidbits
Frozen pearl onions are the best invention EVER! It saves at least 30 minutes of tedious (and frustrating) prep time and are prefect for a stew like coq au vin where everything cooks together for a while. We are normally fresh freaks, but having tried these onions, we are complete converts.