Coq au Vermouth

Excuse me, where is the umbrella?

I spent two years in French class during high school, and that is pretty much all I remember how to ask—“excusez-moi, où est le parapluie?” I suppose it is a question that would have been essential had I become a world traveler (I didn’t), and in fact it was a common question asked among my fellow French club members when we took our senior trip to Quebec City, Canada—they don’t speak much English there, in case you didn’t know. It rained the entire three-day weekend, but it was still a glorious visit to a city rich with history and speckled with exquisite, copper-roofed buildings.

Spanish would undoubtedly have been a more useful class for me, given the increase of Spanish-speaking people in the U.S. since I graduated all those years ago. But there was something sooo sexy about the French spoken word, and well, my best friend signed up for French so I did, too. Our teacher was cool and we got to choose our own names for the class, which was good because there wasn’t a name on the list that was a literal translation for Terrie. My friend Debbie became Christine, pronounced CREE-steen, my friend Christine became Danielle and yours truly selected the name Jacqueline, which was fun to say—zhah-KLEEN, like the French fashion designer who steals Nigel’s dream job in The Devil Wears Prada.

French class was always lively, and we were encouraged to play up the accent and the nasal sound as much as possible. We went through round after round of language exercises, covering the French words for common places, including the bookstore (la librairie) and the library (la bibliothèque) and reciting all the various tenses of the verb words, and for every kind of individual and group instance. For example: for the verb “go,” we would cycle through the French words that meant, “I go, you go, he goes, she goes, we go and they go.” Round and round we went, and after all that repetitious recitation, all I remember how to say is “where is the umbrella?”

Anyway, for me, there is still a lot of mystery and intrigue associated with the French language, and I learned during my short time working in the Pinch of Thyme catering kitchen that if you want people to swoon over food, call it something French! As luck would have it, I do at least remember some of the French words for certain foods, including poulet (chicken), champignons (mushrooms) and carottes (carrots, obviously). I was excited to find this recipe in my most recent digital edition of Imbibe magazine because I have used splashes of vermouth in a few dishes and found it more complex and vibrant than wine, which would traditionally be used for braising chicken in the classic coq au vin. But this recipe was more than a splash, it was a generous amount in a very French-technique kind of recipe.

I could not resist turning this into a Sunday Supper meal, with a side of buttered red bliss potatoes and sauteed spinach, and it was—how shall I say—très délicieux!

This dish was rich and succulent, exactly as it should be. The chicken thighs remained tender and moist.

A word or few about vermouth…

I have known about vermouth for decades, but it has only been the past couple of years that I have become more closely acquainted with it, and today I almost always have a bottle open in the fridge for an end-of-day gin martini. Vermouth is a fortified wine, which means other alcohol has been added to grapes during fermentation, and that results in higher alcohol by volume than typical wine. Any variety of botanical ingredients are thrown into the process as well, including herbs, bitter ingredients, bark, roots and spices. Vermouth may be red or white, dry or sweet or really sweet, depending on its origin and method, and it is commonly used as an ingredient for classic cocktails, including martinis and Manhattans. Vermouth, on its own, is also a popular apéritif (pre-dinner drink) in Spain, Italy, France and my house.

In a literal French-to-English translation, coq au vermouth would demand use of a rooster, but it is not every day that you’d find such a creature in your local market. Large hen thighs is what I used for the recipe, and it was tender, flavorful and oh so fancy. Don’t be intimidated, though, because despite all of the foreign language I’ve been throwing around, this was a very simple dish to make. All you need is a cast iron skillet, chicken thighs, bacon, mushrooms and mirepoix—oops, another French word that is simply a mix of carrots, onions and celery. All that, plus a decent amount of dry white vermouth. Don’t worry, vermouth is easy to find, wherever you might buy wine. To keep the recipe true to its origin, choose a brand from France. I used Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry, dry, in the green bottle. 😊

This is one of my go-to vermouth brands for Gibson cocktails:
2 oz. dry gin, 1/2 oz. dry vermouth, shaken or stirred with ice, strained into a cocktail glass and served with a pickled pearl onion.

Inspired by Coq au Vermouth – Imbibe Magazine

Ingredients

3 slices bacon, cut into thin pieces

4 large, free-range chicken thighs (bone-in and skin-on)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 medium onion, sliced or diced

2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into thick diagonal slices

2 stalks celery, cleaned, ribs removed and diced

3 cloves garlic, smashed and sliced

About 1 cup cremini mushrooms, cleaned and cut into quarters

1/2 cup dry vermouth (extra dry would be fine, also)

1/4 cup low-sodium vegetable broth

2 fresh sprigs of thyme

2 Tbsp. cold butter

Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon


Instructions

Let’s run through it in pictures first, and if you keep scrolling, you’ll find the instructions spelled out (in English), and I’ll also include a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.


  1. Place a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Season the chicken thighs liberally with salt and pepper. Cook the bacon until the fat is rendered and the edges begin to crisp. Transfer the pieces to a paper-towel lined dish, keeping all the bacon grease in the skillet. Arrange the chicken thighs, skin side down, into the skillet. Cook them until the skin is crispy and golden, then turn the pieces and cook the other side about two minutes.
  2. Transfer the thighs to a plate and cover loosely with foil to keep them warm. Add the mirepoix (carrots, onions and celery) to the fond (pan drippings) in the skillet. Cook over medium heat until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the garlic and mushrooms, tossing with the other vegetables until slightly browned. Pour in the vermouth and vegetable broth, and simmer for about two minutes.
  3. Return the chicken thighs to the skillet, skin side up. Sprinkle the bacon pieces over the top and lay the whole thyme sprigs in a criss-cross fashion over the combination. Reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet tightly and simmer about 30 minutes.
  4. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs. Transfer the chicken thighs to a plate. Add the cold butter and lemon juice to the simmered vegetable mixture and stir until it is a rich, luscious sauce. Just before plating, place the thighs, skin side down, into the skillet to drench them in the sauce. Plate the chicken, then spoon the simmered vegetable mixture (a.k.a. mélange) over the thighs.
I love when an elegant dish is this simple!


French Onion Soup

Leave it to the French to take a mountain of sliced onions, a bit of broth and a few Provencal herbs and transform them into a heavenly, melt-in-your-mouth soup. The dismal weather that has become something of a default around here this winter has had me in the soup mood, and this one is astonishingly simple—from ingredients to technique.

One thing that sets French onion soup apart from others is the amount of time spent simply preparing the onions. You can use a mandolin or processor to make quick work of slicing them, but there isn’t much you can do to speed up the cooking. In a Dutch oven on the stovetop, it can take up to two hours to properly caramelize the onions—that is, to draw out their moisture and let all the natural sugars burst forth. If you work too quickly, you’ll have sautéed onions, but they won’t have the luxurious sweetness that is a signature of French onion soup. One way to get this done with minimal fussing is to use a slow cooker, set on the lowest setting. Another is to caramelize them in the oven, allowing a low-and-slow transformation, perhaps even overnight. The extra effort and preparation time has landed this soup in the Sunday Supper category here on Comfort du Jour, but I promise—however you approach the whole onion caramelization thing, it is well worth the wait.

If you’re the make-it-all-yourself type, feel free to slow roast some beef soup bones and make your own stock, too. I had a momentary lapse of reason and tried this myself, but mainly ended up with a bucket full of tallow and two sinks completely filled with dirty pots and bowls. As far as I can tell, a good quality store-bought stock is a gift from heaven, so that’s what I used. Make it vegetarian with a good vegetable stock or combine the two as I did for wonderful layers of flavor.

The final touches on top of French onion soup are toasted baguette or bread slices and melty shredded Gruyere cheese. Yes, it’s a luscious bowl of classic French comfort food that is guaranteed to warm you up in these final weeks of winter.

The melty cheese on top makes this soup even more satisfying!

Ingredients

4 pounds sweet onions, sliced

1 stick unsalted butter

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence seasoning* (see notes)

1 bulb roasted garlic

1/2 cup dry wine (red or white, for deglazing the pot)

8 cups (2 quarts) low-sodium broth or stock (beef, vegetable or combo)

Crusty French bread slices (toasted, for serving)

Shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese (about 2 Tbsp. per serving)

*Notes

Herbes de Provence is a blend of seasonings native to the Provencal region of France, and the brand I use includes thyme, rosemary, garlic, lemon peel and lavender. The combination of this seasoning is aromatic and typically used somewhat sparingly, but it is such a central flavor to French onion soup, I’ve used a good amount in this large batch. As always, take note of the salt content of any seasoning blend you use so that you can adjust the overall salt accordingly.

Instructions

I’ll walk you through it, and you’ll find written instructions below, plus a link to download the recipe for your files. 🙂

  1. Slice onions about 1/4” thick, preferably from stem to root ends, rather than into rings. For this recipe, I think it’s helpful to have the onion pieces generally the same size, and the top-to-bottom slicing will help you achieve that.
  2. Place a heavy Dutch oven over low heat, and melt the stick of butter in it. Add the onions at the same time as the butter if you’d like. But if you are using a slow cooker, melt the butter first, then toss the onions thoroughly to coat before cooking on low setting. Season with salt and pepper. Stir the onions around in the pot, and resist the urge to turn up the heat. Proper caramelization is important for this recipe, and it’s a long, slow process. Happily, you don’t have to stand over it constantly; as long as you stir the onions occasionally, it’s fine.
  3. After an hour or so, start watching for signs of browning on the bottom of the pot. This is a sign that the onions are caramelizing and once it begins, it proceeds more quickly. Stir more frequently from this point, but do not increase the heat.
  4. When caramelization is complete, the onion mixture will begin to look like it’s frying rather than simmering—this is because the moisture content has fully dissipated. Add the herbs de Provence, roasted garlic, salt and pepper.
  5. Pour the wine into the pot, and use your utensil to scrape up any browned bits that have stuck to the pot. The acidity of the wine will dissolve those tasty bits back into the onion mixture.
  6. Add the stock, bring to low boil and then reduce to simmer, covered, for a couple of hours.
  7. Serve the soup in warm bowls or crocks, place the toasted bread on top, then scatter shredded Gruyere or Swiss over the bread. If your bowls are broiler-safe, put them on a baking sheet and broil just long enough to make the cheese gooey. Alternatively, you could put the bowls in the microwave for about 30 seconds, or go high-tech with a kitchen torch and brûlée the cheese into blissful melty goodness.
I want to plunge a spoon right through this screen and into that cheese!

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Duck a l’Orange

So we were watching Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay” recently, and when the visiting chef issued the challenge for his signature dish, duck a l’orange, my husband, Les, looked at me and laid down a challenge of his own.

“You should make that for Christmas dinner.”

There was no typical playful talk, such as “you probably wouldn’t try to make that, would you?” Nope, this time, it was a matter-of-fact statement that activated every fear and insecurity about my kitchen skills, though it’s tough to explain why. I’ve cooked duck before and it turned out great. As recently as Valentine’s Day 2020, just as the COVID crisis began percolating across the world, I served seared duck breast with a cherry-Pinot Noir sauce that turned out so delicious. What was the big deal about duck breast this time? I cannot explain it.

Les knew that I had a package of duck breast in the freezer, and I do love a challenge, so I took the bait. I researched the origins of duck a l’orange and examined interpretations by numerous chefs I respect, and though I felt relatively confident headed into preparation on Christmas Day, I still had trouble with it for one simple reason—poor planning. I’ll spare you the dramatic, embarrassing highlights (there was some panicked yelling involved; pretend you’re hearing a censor’s beep right now) in favor of one important piece of advice: get your ducks in a row (pun intended) before you start cooking the duck breast. Rendering the fat off the duck is essential for crispy skin with tender, perfectly medium-rare meat. And it moves fast.

This recipe is not complicated, and the ingredients are simple. But once you begin cooking the duck, it demands your full attention. Have the side dishes, the sauce, the wine, music, table settings—all of it—ready in advance and this dish will work out fine. It was fancy in a classic kind of way, delicious and totally worth the trouble!

The Serendipity wine was a perfect complement to this dish. Read more about it at the end of the post.

Recipe adapted from this one by Martha Stewart

Ingredients

2 pieces boneless duck breast, patted dry

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup cane sugar

2 Tbsp. orange muscat champagne vinegar* (see notes)

2 oranges, juiced, plus the zest of one of the oranges*

1 medium shallot, minced*

3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth

1 Tbsp. salted butter, cold from the fridge


*Notes

The orange muscat champagne vinegar is a Trader Joe’s product, but you may substitute any other variety of citrus-infused vinegar or a regular cider or white vinegar. The main thing is acidity, so substitute what you have on hand, but don’t use anything overly sweet.

Because the zest is used in the recipe, I highly recommend using organically-grown oranges. I used the juice of one regular navel orange, plus the juice and zest of one organic blood orange. Martha’s recipe calls for orange segments also, but I omitted them.

Shallot is recommended for this recipe, but if you do not have them, substitute finely minced sweet or red onion. Do not confuse shallots with scallions, which are green onions. The shape and flavor of the two are distinctly different.


Instructions

The recipe that inspired me listed only four steps in total, but what’s “easy” for Martha Stewart deserves a second look by the rest of us! I’ve broken it down into more specific tasks, to help you be fully prepared for the fast pace of the recipe. First, prep the duck and make the sauce.

  1. Using a very sharp knife, score the fatty side of the duck breast, making diagonal cuts about 1/2” apart over the entire surface of fat. Be careful not to cut into the flesh, as this will lead to overcooking the meat. Season both sides of the breast pieces with salt and pepper and set them aside while you make the sauce.
  2. In a glass measuring cup, combine vinegar, shallot, orange juice, orange zest and chicken broth.
  3. In a medium, heavy-bottomed sauce pot, cook sugar over medium heat until it becomes a dark amber color. Use a silicone spatula or scraper to move sugar to the middle of the pan as it begins to melt. Do not stir the melting sugar.
  4. When sugar is fully melted and deep amber in color, carefully pour in juice-broth mixture. This will sputter and pop quite a bit. Whisk mixture until it’s evenly blended, and reduce heat to low, simmering about 20 minutes until sauce is reduced to 2/3 cup volume. Give it a quick twist of black pepper, then set the pan aside for quick re-warming later.

Cooking the duck breast

  1. Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. When skillet is warm (not hot), add duck breast, fat side-down and leave it alone for at least five minutes. This allows time for some of the fat to render from the duck breast. Use tongs to hold the duck breasts in place, while tilting the skillet to drain the duck fat off into another skillet or bowl and continue searing until the duck skin is crispy and golden brown, about 10 minutes total. (I used the drained-off duck fat to fry the smashed fingerling potatoes we served with dinner, but I recommend that you have a kitchen assistant to do that. Les handled the potato frying task, in addition to his expert photography of the cooking process.)
  2. When the fat is mostly rendered and duck skin is super crispy, turn the breast pieces over to cook the meat side for about 5 minutes. Internal temperature of the duck breast should be about 130° F for medium rare. Allow breast pieces to rest 8 to 10 minutes on a cutting board.
  3. While the duck breasts rest, place saucepan over medium heat to warm the orange sauce again. When mixture begins to steam and simmer at the edges, remove from heat and immediately add cold butter, swirling it with a fork to blend it into the sauce.
  4. Slice duck breasts into 1/2″ pieces. Fan slices of duck onto serving plates, spoon sauce over the slices and serve.

We served the duck a l’orange with pan-fried fingerling potatoes. Boil the potatoes until fork-tender, then cool slightly and gently smash, or flatten, them with the bottom of a skillet or pan. Set them aside until you’re ready to crisp them for serving. Heat extra duck fat or butter over medium-high heat. Fry smashed potatoes in fat until golden brown and crispy. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve.

Your eyes do not deceive—the wine we served with the duck a l’orange also has an orange hue. I’ve been curious about these orange-colored wines for at least a year, but did not find one until I visited the website for Grovedale Winery in northeastern Pennsylvania. The wine, called Serendipity, is made from Frontenac Gris grapes. Contrary to its appearance, it does not taste like oranges, though the winery suggests there are notes of candied orange peel on the finish. I found it similar in style and flavor to a dry Riesling, and I cannot describe how perfectly it paired with the duck a l’orange. Grovedale also uses this interesting grape for a late harvest dessert wine, which I purchased and cannot wait to experience. We will be ordering more of this, for sure!


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One more thing…

You may be wondering if I’m a paid endorser for the products I spotlight on Comfort du Jour, and the answer is “no.” I do not receive money or products for my recommendations, and what that means for you is that you can trust me to give an honest opinion. If something changes, I will update my disclosures. Either way, I will only stand behind services and products I believe in. Fair enough? 😀