Friday, June 29, 2012

Coq au Vin as never seen before...

Coq Au Vin  in essence is an ordinary French chicken stew, but if you choose your ingredients wisely, there is nothing ordinary about this dish. In fact, it is hard to imagine that a few mushrooms, some countryside bacon or lardons, a delicious red wine and  a couple of handfuls of herbs, can become such a flavorsome stew.
The "coq" in Coq Au Vin refers to an old rooster or bird that is traditionally used, because the bones of an older bird, yields such fragrant stock. I am not going to lie to you, honestly, I do not have the time to hunt for "older birds", but I do use Elgin free-range chicken and have never been disappointed, so for me it was the obvious choice. So although in the eye of a coq au vin purist, I may have compromised by not using an older bird, there are other steps in the recipe that I think are as important and you should not skip or alter them. I know that I swore to never make another after the glorious Meraai se Paai which featured here not so long ago, but this is not a pie.....rather an Under Cover Coq a vin! Here goes....

Coq au vin

serves 4


250 gr streaky bacon - diced
8 chicken pieces( I prefer thighs) - with skin and bone

olive oil
salt and pepper
100 ml brandy
1 large onion chopped
1 or two leeks - chopped
1 stalk celery - chopped
2 cloves garlic - chopped
 2 T flour
2 T tomato paste
2 cups red wine
2 cups chicken stock
a few sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
250 gr button mushrooms
250 gr baby onions - peeled, but kept whole
fresh parsley for serving

Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper.  Heat some olive oil in a cast iron pot and  fry the bacon until brown and caramelized. Quickly also brown the little onions in that same pot, remove and keep one side. Remove the bacon from the pot. Add some more olive oil if necessary and brown the chicken pieces on both sides. Remove the chicken from the pot. Preserve about two tablespoons of the oil from the pot. You should now have a thickish brown layer of "flavor" in the bottom of the pot, this is crucial to the flavor of the final dish. De-glaze your pot with the brandy and when all the alcohol has evaporated, add the red wine, chopped onion, celery, leeks, garlic, tomato paste and stock to the pot. Now add the chicken and bacon and make sure each piece of chicken is submerged in the liquid. Turn the heat down and simmer for about 40-45 minutes. Remove the chicken from the liquid and keep warm. Now add the mushrooms and baby onions to the pot and cook for about 10 minutes  until the onions are soft and the sauce has reduced somewhat. Mix the preserve fat from the pot with the flour and stir this roux into the sauce, but do it in  spoonfuls as you do not want the sauce to be too thick and gluey......
Return the chicken to the pot and allow to just cook through. Serve on buttered noodles or with chucks of crusty bread.
In this case I chose to cover my coq au vin with a blanket of buttery phyllo layers. It adds a lovely crunch to the pie, but also it looks very pretty when served.

Cook's Notes - For the phyllo, simply use three layers of pastry, butter them lavishly with melted butter and lay on top of the coq au vin. Bake for 10 minutes in a pre-heated oven until pastry is golden in color.

More delicious Chicken Recipes...

Saturday, March 5, 2011

There is major confusion about this difference between shrimp and prawns. Fact is, it is really not the same thing, however confusion arises when we hear Americans refer to prawns as "shrimp".Physically they look very similar but there is one sure way to tell them apart.
On a culinary level, many people distinguish between shrimp and prawns on the basis of size. “Prawns” are considered to be larger, while shrimp are smaller. There is a little more to it than just this..... 

Shrimp and prawns are in different suborders, indicating key biological differences between the two. Prawns are in the suborder Dendobranchiata, while shrimp are classified as Pleocyemata.You can read more about the differences here, but here in South Africa  the prawns that you may find at the fishmonger include tiger, deep water, bay, and king prawns.  
Most of the farmed prawns on the market originate from South-east Asia, while wild-caught prawns may come from a number of countries including Mozambique, Madagascar as well as India. Prawns are on the Orange list of  WWF SASSI list.
This is starting to sound like a biology lesson so let's talk about food, ok with you? Prawns are relatively cheap these days, I remember a few years back, prawns were considered to be a luxury item on grocery lists, but these days you can get  about 2 kg (about 4 pounds) for just over R100. I know it is not the biggest prawns, but a little goes a long way and I find that it can change a dish from ordinary to something really special and festive. So next time when you visit your fishmonger, grab a box, pop it in the freezer and you can  add a few to your favorite paella, soups, salads and pasta recipes.
Last week I was approached by two ladies asking if will I be willing to teach them how to cook fish, Apparently their husbands like fish and they cannot cook it properly. Honestly, I think fish is the easiest thing to cook, but most people make one fatal mistake and that  is to fiddle too much with the fish and to overcook it. I have learned through experience, that the less is more when it comes to fish.

Whenever I visit my fishmonger and they have fresh hake, I always get some. Fresh, flaky fillets of hake pan fried to perfection and served with only lemon and butter is hard to beat.   Well at least that is what I thought. I topped the fish with a rather deconstructed Avocado Ritz and  this ordinary meal changed into something really, really special. 

Pan Fried Hake with Avocado Ritz 
serves 4 people


4 fillets of fresh hake or any other line fish available
juice and zest of 1 lemon
100gr melted butter
2 ripe avocados 
12-16 prawns  - depending on their size
½ cup good quality mayonnaise 
2 tbsp cream
1½ tbsp tomato sauce
1 tbsp brandy
a pinch of cayenne pepper


Fish - For the fish you have two options. You can pan fry it in a little butter or sometimes I  place it under the grill in the oven and baste it with lemon juice and butter until it is cooked. You choose the method that works for you. Just remember when you pan fry fish, you always start with skin side down.

Prawns - Here you also have two options. One is to pan fry them in a little butter until they are completely pink. I cook my prawns in a little water with lemon juice. I mean really a little water, so that they almost steam. When they are completely pink, they are cooked and ready for use!

Pink Sauce - Mix the mayonnaise, cream, tomato sauce, brandy and cayenne pepper  and keep until needed.

Avocado - Peel the avocado, cut in a fan like style and drizzle with lemon juice.

Now when all your ingredients are cooked and prepared, just assemble individual portions on your most beautiful plates.

 Here are a few other ways of using prawns in ordinary dishes transforming them into something really special.
I hope you like them.

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