Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Maine Christmas Dinner Party

Tonight, I'm hosting my first grown-up dinner party. It something I've dreamed of for years, imagining all the fun ways I would decorate the table (I'd be my very own Martha Stewart) and all of the delicious things I would cook. There would be a lot of laughing and a lot of wine. It would be memorable. In reality, the only laughing I've been doing is out of nervousness and wine has been there to help smooth that out. I am excited, but somehow feel as though it's going to turn into Mr. Bean's New Year Party, with a bunch of chairs (complete with newspaper party hats on the seats) all facing each other in the middle of the room. Running out of hors d'ouvres would force me to grab twigs from outside and dip them in honey. If you've ever seen the episode, you know what I mean.

BUT I have hope. And wine. And a delicious meal to serve from a cookbook that I've fallen head over heels for. Jason and I did a test run earlier in the week to ensure that we could pull it off, and pull it off we did. Now we just need to do the same times three. (That means dinner for six, if you're keeping count.)

First, a little background: Coq au Vin, in short, is chicken in a red wine sauce. Traditionally it is made with rooster (coq au vin = rooster in wine). Working at winery, I was at somewhat of an advantage in that I've gotten pretty personal with some amazing wines. In fact, we're on a first-name basis. This recipe calls for a fruity, dry red and I am using Cellardoor Winery's Monti al Mare, a smooth, chianti-style, medium-body red. It offers up some wonderful flavors without being overpowering. So without further ado, here it is, the recipe for the main course of my grown-up, not-too-serious holiday dinner party:

Coq au Vin

from Long Nights and Log Fires

10 oz. shallots

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

6 large skinless, boneless chicken breasts

3 tablespoons olive oil

5 oz. cubed pancetta or chopped thick-cut bacon

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1/4 cup brandy

3 fresh thyme sprigs

1 fresh or dried bay leaf

1 750-ml bottle dry, fruity red wine

9 oz. small button mushrooms

1 tablespoon butter, softened (optional)

3 tablespoons chopped flatleaf parsley

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

a large, lidded skillet

Cut the shallots into even-sized pieces, leaving the small ones whole and halving or quartering the others.

Put 2 tablespoons flour in a shallow dish and season it with salt and pepper. Dip the chicken breasts in the flour and coat both sides. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large lidded skillet. Add the chicken and fry for 2-3 minutes on each side until lightly browned (you may need to do this in several batches).

Remove the chicken from the pan, discard the oil and wipe the pan with paper towels. Return the pan to the heat and pour in the remaining oil. Add the pancetta and the shallots and fry until lightly browned. Stir in the garlic, then return the chicken to the pan. Put the brandy in a small saucepan and heat it until almost at a boil. Set it alight with a long kitchen match and carefully pour it over the chicken. Let the flames die down, then add the thyme and bay leaf and pour in enough wine to just cover the chicken. Bring back to simmering point, then reduce the heat, half cover the pan, and simmer very gently for 45 minutes. (If you're making this dish ahead of time, take the pan off the heat after 30 minutes, let cool and refrigerate overnight.) Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook for another 10-15 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the pan, set aside and keep it warm. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the shallots, pancetta cubes, and mushrooms out of the pan and keep them warm. Increase the heat under the pan and let the sauce simmer until it has reduced by half. If the sauce needs thickening, mash 1 tablespoon soft butter with 1 tablespoon flour to give a smooth paste, then add it bit by bit to the sauce, whisking well after each addition, until the sauce is smooth and glossy.

Return the shallots, pancetta, and mushrooms to the pan. Season to taste. To serve, cut each chicken breast into 4 slices and arrange them on warmed serving plates. Spoon a generous amount of sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Wish me luck!

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