Saturday, June 30, 2007

Coq au vin

Maybe it was the Elle Magazine "your eating habits reveal your personality" quiz I took this morning. Or maybe it was the stack of Bon Appetit magazines that I dragged over from the US four years ago and finally decided to go through and sort out this week, to recover a shelf in the baby's room. Or, most likely, I was simply grumpy that my end-of-pregnancy appetite was growing and the scales were threatening to tip beyond my self-imposed 12 kilos limit. Whatever the cause, I was feeling hungry and combative when I finally dragged myself off the couch to prepare the apricot tart that would be my contribution to dinner this evening.

I'm blessed with a husband who enjoys cooking and does it well. Since I've been pregnant, he's been taking over more and more of the cooking with absolutely no prompting, and since he takes care of most of the shopping, I just have to sit back and, as we say in the family, mettre les pieds sous la table: put my feet under the table.

Today he came back from the market with a rooster, and announced that the menu for tonight would be coq au vin. He's a traditionalist and, like many French, has rules for all things culinary. Duck breast goes with sautéed potatoes, mushrooms or green beans, point, for example. He believes, with much reason, that American cooks complicate things too much, and wind up disguising ingredients with overly complicated recipes. His personal approach to cooking is to buy quality and improvise, and he rarely follows a recipe to the letter.

Usually, the results are excellent, but I sometimes feel -- though I'll rarely admit it to him -- that his cuisine would benefit from a bit more method. Maybe I'm just being a snob, proud that I've mastered crème patissière and béchamel sauce. My husband is much less interested in technique. I rolled out my chilled, homemade pie crust to make my tart, carefully placed the fresh apricot halves in the center, and went looking for a little extra something to add. I found a jar of slivered almonds. My husband made a face.

"You're not adding that, it doesn't need it! Stick with what you did last time."

I glanced over at the coq au vin on the stove, which he'd turned up to a rapid boil.

"What are you doing to that poor coq?" I asked.

"I'm reducing the sauce."

"Yeah, and that way you'll reduce it to a layer of fat and layer of wine broth. Didn't you make a roux before adding the wine?"

What followed was a less-than-polite discussion about our differing culinary philosophies. What was wrong with my tart? He was cramping my creativity. What was wrong with his coq au vin? I'd never complained before, and now I was implying it was tasteless, worthless.

We finally understood each other, and I ended up apologizing: I should give more credit to the chef. Meanwhile, I skimmed off the fat at the top of the pot, put it in a saucepan, and proceeded to thicken up a portion of the sauce with a bit of flour and dump it back in with the rest. The resulting dish was exceptional, I'll have to admit, with subtly seasoned meat that fell off the bone, tender carrots and onions and yes, a nicely thickened sauce. The whole was much more to my husband's credit than mine, of course.

My tart wasn't bad, but in deference to my husband's French taste, I felt I'd gone a bit too easy on the sugar. Although he may have been right about the almonds. The crust, on the other hand, was perfect, even if I do say so myself.

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