Love has a way of lurking in unexpected places, where we least expect to find it.
So, too, does chocolate.
Take coq au vin, that classic stew of chicken simmered in red wine. Leave it to the Bay Area’s baker extraordinaire Alice Medrich to create a version that adds unsweetened chocolate.
It’s from her cookbook, “Seriously Bitter Sweet” (Artisan), of which I received a review copy. It’s the new paperback edition of her 2003 book, “Bitter Sweet.”
The little bit of chocolate adds a subtle earthiness and meatiness, as well as body to the sauce.
The chicken needs to marinate for at least a day in a mixture of red wine, onions, carrots, garlic and herbs. I like to use merlot, because that varietal often has a chocolate note to it.
This dish does take a little time and effort to make. But isn’t that worth it for the one you love?
The chicken braises for 90 minutes before pearl onions and sauteed mushrooms are added. The chocolate is added at the end. Ladle the stew over the traditional accompaniment of buttered egg noodles for a comforting dish with an edge of sophistication.
If you’re giving the gift of chocolate this Valentine’s Day, why not do so in this most surprising way?
Coq (Or Lapin) Au Vin
1 1/2 bottles drinkable red wine (such as merlot, zinfandel or Rioja)
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 large carrots, sliced
8 garlic cloves, chopped
4 sprigs Italian parsley, plus chopped parsley for garnish
4 sprigs thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
2 large chickens (each 3 1/2 to 4 pounds) or 3 rabbits (each 2 1/2 to 3 pounds), each cut into 8 serving pieces
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
About 1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound small button mushrooms, rinsed and patted dry, stems removed and reserved
1/2 cup cognac or other brandy
3 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 pounds pearl onions (about 4 1/2 cups), blanched briefly in boiling water for easier peeling
1/2 ounce unsweetened chocolate or 1 1/2 tablespoons premium unsweetened natural cocoa powder
Freshly ground black pepper
At least 1 day or up to 3 days before you plan to serve, marinated the chicken. In a medium nonreactive saucepan, combine wine, onions, carrots, garlic, parsley sprigs, thyme, and bay leaves. To evaporate the alcohol, bring it to a simmer and cook until the marinade no longer smells harsh or tastes of alcohol, 3 to 5 minutes. (You can hasten the evaporation by carefully igniting the surface of the simmering wine with a long match or wooden skewer. If you can’t get it to ignite, it’s OK to give up.) Remove from the heat and let cool completely.
Divide the chicken pieces between two large zipper-lock freezer bags. Add half the cooled marinade (with its vegetables and herbs) to each. Press to expel the air and seal the bags. Place the bags in a large bowl (in case of leakage) and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours, turning them from time to time.
One day before serving, if possible, remove the chicken pieces from the marinade and set aside. Strain the marinade into a large saucepan, and reserve the vegetables. Bring the marinade to a simmer over low heat. Let barely simmer for about 5 minutes, to allow the proteins to rise and coagulate on the surface. Set a large strainer lined with a paper towel over a bowl. Without stirring or disturbing the marinade more than necessary, ladle it gently into the strainer. Discard the coagulated scum in the towel and reserve the strained liquid.
Dry the chicken pieces with paper towels. Sprinkle with the salt and dust with flour. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over high heat. When the oil is very hot but not smoking, brown the chicken pieces a few at a time, transferring them to a bowl as they brown. Then brown the reserved vegetables and the mushroom stems in the oil remaining in the skillet.
Pour brandy over the vegetables and scrape up the brown crusty bits from the bottom of the pan. When the brandy has nearly evaporated, scrape the mixture into a large heavy pot or Dutch oven (set the skillet aside). Add the strained marinade, chicken stock, and chicken pieces. Cover and simmer until chicken is tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
While the chicken is cooking, add a little more oil to the skillet. Saute the onions until golden brown and tender. Scrape them into a bowl. Saute the mushroom caps and add them to the onions. Set aside.
When the chicken is tender, scrape off any marinated vegetables from the pieces and transfer the chicken to the bowl with the mushrooms and onions. Strain the sauce into a bowl, pressing lightly on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible, then discard the vegetables. Skim as much from the sauce as you can. Return the sauce to the pot and simmer until it is reduced to 4 cups. If you are serving the chicken within a short time, skip the next paragraph.
If you are working ahead, cover and refrigerate the chicken. Pour the sauce into a separate container, cover, and refrigerate for as long as overnight. When ready to continue the recipe, remove and discard the congealed fat from the top of the sauce, and reheat the sauce in the Dutch oven.
To serve, combine the chocolate or cocoa and a couple of spoonfuls of the heated sauce in a cup and stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Scrape the chocolate mixture into the pot. Add the chicken, onions, and mushrooms and heat through (this takes longer, of course, if the chicken was refrigerated; I sometimes warm it slightly in the microwave before adding it to the sauce.) Taste and correct the salt, and add a few grinds of pepper to taste. Serve with egg noodles and a generous handful of chopped parsley.
— From “Seriously Bitter Sweet” by Alice Medrich
More Recipes with Unexpected Chocolate: Braised Beef Cheeks with Chocolate