A meal inspired by coq au vin

CAPTION 01: Photo by Lynda Balslev for Tastefood
CAPTION 01: Photo by Lynda Balslev for Tastefood

A fragrant concoction of chicken, red wine and vegetables braising in the oven is just what the winter ordered.

This recipe is inspired by coq au vin, a traditional country French dish. The origin of coq au vin (which translates to "rooster cooked in wine") is steeped in frugality, embracing a slow cook to tenderize an old rooster or retired hen. The resulting fragrant stew was (and is) deliciously heady in aromatics and wine and a comforting salve in the cold weather season.

For those of us craving a similar ambient dinner at our home (which is sadly not a stone farmhouse nestled in the rolling hills of Burgundy, where we spend our days growing our own ingredients), we must rely on more modern and accessible interpretations to realize our steamy vessel of coq au vin.

The recipe below will help in a pinch. It is not authentic and comes with the required disclaimers and taglines, such as "inspired by," "shortcut" and "easy." For instance, in place of a rooster, substitute a chicken, which is not only more practical in terms of accessibility, but also in cooking time: Chickens are more tender and require less time to cook. Also, instead of purchasing a whole bird and breaking it down into parts, purchase the chicken pieces -- chicken thighs, specifically. When you use similar pieces or cuts of the bird, they will cook evenly. Chicken thighs have more flavor than white meat, and their cooking times are more forgiving without drying out.

To any traditionalists out there, please accept my apologies for this inspired, easy shortcut. You might thank me, though, on a busy weeknight when a cozy family dinner needs to be on the table in an hour.

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Coq au vin-Inspired Chicken Thighs

Active time: 30 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

Yield: Serves 4-6

6 to 8 bone-in chicken thighs, with skin

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

8 shallots, peeled, halved crosswise

12 ounces cremini mushrooms, thickly sliced

1 large carrot, thickly sliced

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 cups dry red wine

1½ cups chicken stock

2 to 3 thyme sprigs (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Season the chicken thighs on all sides with salt and black pepper.

Heat the oil in a large and deep ovenproof skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. In batches, without crowding the pan, add the chicken, skin-side down. Brown the skin, about 5 minutes, then flip the chicken and cook just long enough to color the meat, 1 to 2 minutes more. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining chicken.

Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from the pan. Add the shallots and mushrooms and season with salt and black pepper. Saute until the vegetables begin to brown at the edges, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the carrots and garlic and saute until the carrots are bright in color, 2 to 3 minutes more. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 15 to 30 seconds, stirring to blend and coat the ingredients.

Pour in the wine and deglaze the pan, stirring up any brown bits, then add the stock and thyme. Nestle the chicken in the pan, skin-side up, making sure that the chicken skin is not submerged in the liquid. Transfer to the oven and cook, uncovered, until the chicken is golden brown and cooked through, 30 to 40 minutes, depending on size. (A meat thermometer inserted in the center of the thighs, without touching the bone, should register at least 165 degrees.)

Remove the pan from the oven. Transfer the chicken to a plate with a slotted spoon or tongs. Add the balsamic vinegar, brown sugar and ½ teaspoon salt to the pan. Simmer on the cooktop for 2 to 3 minutes to blend the flavors and taste for seasoning.

Serve the chicken in shallow bowls with the sauce.

Lynda Balslev is an award-winning writer, cookbook author, and recipe developer based in northern California. Visit TasteFood at TasteFoodblog.com.

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