As if we need an excuse
It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Saturday 18th February is marked in bright red pen on our hypothetical dinner party calendar and we should most definitely think of it as more than an opportunity to drown our sorrows in a bottle of Beaujolais. Wine has been part of our social fabric for centuries, it plays a prominent part in religion and transcends culture. We bond over wine, we drink and eat and form strong relationships with the people around us, and that is reason enough for it to be celebrated. So, here’s to you wine, and here’s to you helping us embrace food, love and life.
“Full bodied, filling, utterly heart-warming and a one of the best crowd pleasers there is.”
I’m sure we don’t need to sell it to you, but if there ever was an opportunity to have a proper dinner party (you know, a three-courser) it would be this. Great company, great food and all the wine you can get your hands on… as if we need an excuse. So, what’s on the menu? For us there is only one choice, and that must be the world famous French dish Coq au Vin. I mean come on, it’s got an entire bottle of wine in it, and that isn’t including what you drink with it. Coq au Vin is relatively straight forward. It’s a provincial stew of chicken, mushrooms, onions, bacon, lots and lots of garlic, and of course wine. It’s full bodied, filling, utterly heart-warming and one of the best crowd pleasers there is.
This dish celebrates the beauty of a lovely red wine. It can be rather rich, so if you want to go the whole hen with three courses we would choose something relatively light on either side. A light pear, walnut and blue cheese salad will keep things fresh and tummies not too full for the main event. A salad such as this would pair nicely with a fruity but crisp, fresh white wine such as a Chenin Blanc; we recommend the 2016 Percheron Chenin Blanc Voignier, priced at a reasonable £7.50 a bottle. This South African wine compliments a salad dish quite nicely, and even makes a nice and easy mid-week drink (not that there will be any left by the end of the night of course…) You can purchase this little find from Cork of the North, in Sale.
The main course needs to be paired with a heavy bodied red. It’s a good idea to match the wine you cook with the wine you drink. For example, if you used a Pinot Noir like we did, then you can’t go wrong if you drink that with it too. However, we decided to drink a lovely Claret from Aldi, believe it or not. It was shockingly cheap (£4.99) and completely delicious. Whatever you choose, French is always best with a dish like this.
If you have room for dessert stick to something like Tart Tartin, or something with fresh fruit. Click here for our go to recipe. You can drink this with a dessert wine if you like. They tend to be ridiculously expensive (and subsequently totally delicious) but so worth it. Tokaij is an excellent choice; it is heavenly, and goes perfectly with a fruity dessert like Tart Tartin; so worth a try. Luckily, Waitrose do little bottles for £12.50 which are perfect for a little tipple to end your meal.
“A good wine glass instantly makes you seem like you know what you are talking about, it’s rather stylish to fancy yourself as a sommelier these days.”
Let’s stick to the French theme with the music; the soundtrack to the fantastic French language film Amalie (2001) is a great listen, if not cheerfully stereotypical. If you are after something a bit more placid then the music of Carla Bruni might be more up your boulevard. You may have heard her music on many film soundtracks. It is folky, silky-smooth and poetic and ideal for a chilled night around the dinner table. You might recognise her name, she was the first lady of France for four years, married to former French president Nicholas Sarkozy, true story.
The look you should aim for is rustic; serve the chicken on the table in the casserole dish you cooked it in and don’t do anything too fancy. This is the kind of laid back dish which is best to share and let your guests help themselves to. You don’t have to get fussy with your table arrangements, it should be relaxed, and you’ll be glad for it later as you get gradually more and more pissed. The only thing we would recommend buying is nice wine glasses. We picked up a pack of six glasses from Home Sense for £10, which was a complete bargain considering their quality. At risk of sounding like a giant ponce, it makes a difference when it comes to wine, and they do look gorgeous on your table too. A good wine glass instantly makes you seem like you know what you are talking about, it’s rather stylish to fancy yourself as a sommelier these days.
Coq au Vin
(WARNING: if you want to do it properly it takes 24 hours)
For the wine stock
1 bottle of full bodied red wine
(We used Pinot Noir but a nice Merlot would work just as well)
2 tbsp. red current jelly
1 red onion, quartered
2 sticks celery, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic, bashed and skin left on
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
For the stew
6 skin on chicken thighs
100g smoked pancetta, diced
50g plain flour
25g unsalted butter
Half a punnet of button mushrooms
Four banana shallots, roughly chopped
3 tbsp. brandy
3 sprigs fresh thyme
Handful of fresh curly leaf parsley
Olive oil, salt, black pepper
Serve with mash or boiled potatoes, green veg and crusty bread for soaking up the sauce.
Start by making the wine stock. Put all the stock ingredients in a large sauce pan and put it over a medium heat. Bring it to the boil, and allow the liquid to reduce by a third. Take if off the heat and allow to cool completely. Add the chicken thighs to the stock and leave to marinate over night in the fridge. Trust us it’s worth it.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
When the chicken has marinated take it from the fridge and leave the stock to one side. In a heavy-based casserole pot, fry the pancetta in a little olive oil until crisp. Take it out and leave it to one side and fry the mushrooms and shallots and remove. Dust the chicken heavily in the flour before melting the butter in the pan and frying the chicken skin side down. Brown the chicken for ten minutes. Season it to taste.
Once the chicken is nice and crisp, add the pancetta, shallots and mushrooms. Add three table spoons of brandy and turn the heat right up so everything gets hot and bubbles. Take a long match and flambé the brandy. This burns off the taste of the harsh alcohol and leaves the dish with the complex brandy flavours. This shouldn’t go badly if you don’t put too much brandy in, but if you aren’t comfortable with fire you can boil it down on high for 5 minutes as well. It is an amazing way to show off, though, we don’t judge.
Turn the heat off and add the wine stock and a few sprigs of fresh thyme. Mix it all together and stick it in the oven at 180 degrees for two hours. Serve with mash or boiled potatoes, green veg and crusty bread with lashings of butter, to soak up all the wine-y goodness.
Hail be to Bacchus! Let’s get those corks popping and glasses glugging and celebrate National Wine Drinking Day in style.
See you next Thursday.