Cocoa Van

Ever since I was a little girl and heard about “cocoa van” on an episode of Bewitched, I was fascinated with the exotic-sounding dish (well one of many mentioned from those TV shows of that period). I determined inwardly that I would one day make all the “fancy” dishes women of that period made for their families for dinner. Perhaps this is where my intrigue of cooking began… (I always knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home-wife/mom.)

From an early age, watching these shows put me in awe of these seemingly fabulous women and the seemingly fabulous way they took care of their homes and families. Nevermind the fact that they were all fabricated on a typewriter somewhere… Ha! (Today we have Instagram for all that!) I was in awe and inspired. I can’t boast that I fully live up the imaginary, TV-forged ideal of the “perfect” wife and mother, but the idea inspires me daily to give as much as I can of my time and talents to my own home, husband, and friends.

Most days, we enjoy your typical dinner favorites, however I enjoy the occasional special dinner. This past week was so rainy and cold, so it was one of those instances that begged for a soul-warming dish. I seriously love winter and cold weather, but this week begged for something to cut right through the heart of the chill. This week begged for coq au vin atop mounds of hot, fluffy rice.

Traditionally made with an old rooster, coq au vin (chicken cooked in a winey gravy) is some serious French comfort food (you can find others here). Nowadays, it’s made with younger chicken and often there’s more chicken broth used in the gravy to mask a cheaper wine with a limited bouquet. Nevertheless, the dish is as soothing and roasty-toasty as anything else.

Using the Joy of Cooking recipe (Julia Child has an excellent one as well, but called for more complicated ingredients than I had on hand spur of the moment), I simply seasoned chicken thighs with a little S&P (salt & pepper) and browned them (skin on!) in the residual bacon fat left from the lardon. After a quick browning, I removed the chicken to a covered plate and threw in two-thirds of a mirepoix to the seasoned pot. After they were softened, the whole pot was dusted in flour to mix with the bacon and chicken fats. The roux is then imbued with red wine (Joy gives suggestions for using white as an alternate as well), chicken broth/stock (I used a mushroomy homemade chicken broth to compliment the mushrooms in the rest of the dish), tomato paste, and earthy herbs. The chicken is returned to the hot tub to bubble along for a bit.

While the pot is going, I sautéed cippoline onions (Joy calls for pearl onions, but I chose cippoline for their tender sweetness) in butter and added mushrooms when the onions were tender. When the chicken was cooked through, I removed each piece to a plate with a bed of rice already awaiting it and stirred the mushrooms and onions into the gravy. Once the mixture is sufficiently married, the chicken is cloaked in a layer of gravy and adorned with a dusting of fresh, chopped parsley.

It may not have been Julia Child, but it was delicious and fought the chill all the way to the core and it was a little more elevated than your average comfort food. The Mr isn’t a huge fan of French cuisine, but he gave it rave reviews (and ate all the leftovers)! What are some of your favorite “fancier” comfort foods?

Currently Reading: Saveur magazine, December 2015

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