Got a multi-day Coq au Vin simmering away in the Le Creuset? Need a quick amuse bouche to wow your guests while you’re putting the finishing touches on the wine-soaked coq? Do I ever have the perfect little niblet for you. Brace yourselves, I’m rolling around in the quince paste again, people. I can’t get enough of the stuff ever since we had a bountiful quince harvest here in Washington State last month and I made a batch of paste large enough to feed Tiger Woods’ bevy of buxom blondies. It really couldn’t be easier to make; just slice some quince, toss it in a pot with water and sugar, and let a hot burner and nature take its course. After an hour or so you’ll have a thick, creamy paste that you can spread on everything from toast points to tater tots. Well, not really tater tots, I just liked the alliteration, you know my weakness. Sub the tater tots for taleggio and we’ll all be happy in one big alliterative, tasty bubble of quincey ooze.
In all seriousness, quince is the new caviar in some social circles, and these little babies will tide your guests over right nice. Three ingredient appetizers are often spectacular, I think it’s that whole rule of thirds thing. Just slice some manchego cheese, slather it in a smear of quince paste, dollop a Marcona almond on top and prepare for closed-mouth ooohing and aaaahing from your happy hostees.
Then you can move on to the coq au vin. I’m not going to bore you with the details of my tweaked and polished recipe, mainly because I’ve done it so many times I just add by feel rather than measure and I’m not sure I’d be able to write it down. Suffice it to say that using a nice burgundy is elemental, as is home-smoked bacon. The most important part is to hunt down a good butcher that will source you a nice big cock. Please get your minds out of the gutter, folks- that’s cock as in rooster, not as in Ron Jeremy. You see, cocks are tougher and generally older when butchered than their Holly-Go-Lightly chicky counterparts, and in the case of coq au vin, this is a very good thing. Look at it this way: you wouldn’t braise for days a hunky tenderloin filet, right? No, you’d opt for something with a bit more grit and sinew like chuck or rump. Same thing with fowl- since coq au vin is slow and low, it’s nice to have some texture to break down, i.e. a dandy rooster.
The final cornerstone of my coq au vin is sweet and sour cipolline. Cipolline are those tiny gorgeous little onions you often see at farmer’s markets this time of year. Chain grocery stores tend to package them up in mesh bundles, call them pearl onions, and charge an arm and a leg for them, but avoid this form factor if you can. I have always had much better luck with the fresher, loose ones found at the market. To peel them, cross the tops with a paring knife, blanch them, cool them and pop the onions out of their skins. To caramelize them all sweet and sour like, grab a frying pan and some patience. Toss in some red wine, red wine vinegar, honey, hoisin sauce, and butter, and get it nice and toasty. Once you have a good mix, drop in the cipolline and swirl them about. Pop a lid on it, turn the flame down, down, down, and give it a half hour to develop flavors. Remove the lid, turn it up and stir constantly for the final five minutes to develop a nice caramel crust on the outside of your onions. Add this good stuff to your now-tender old rooster and serve the whole mess over homemade egg noodles and just try to tell me you are not in foodie heaven.
One final note: For the next five days I will be participating in the United Way’s Hunger Action Week challenge. What this means for me and my family is that we have $18 per day to spend on breakfast, lunch and dinner. This amount is determined based on the monetary value of aid we would receive if we were using food stamps as a family of three. I am a self-proclaimed excessivist, so this will be pretty tough. Watch this space to hear how I’m managing to feed my brood on 18 bucks each day, and if you’re interested in taking the challenge along with me you can sign up here.