One of my favorite aspects of French country cooking is the ability to seamlessly adapt recipes to incorporate pretty much any fresh fruit and vegetable that you like. Take a galette, for example. It’s a classic dessert made with pastry dough and a fruit of your choice. You could use apples, pears, berries – whatever your heart desires, because the simple fact is that with a touch of sugar, any fruit would bake beautifully on a buttery round of pastry. In the case of this coq au vin, I was able to incorporate the delectable quince I picked up at my local farmer’s market and make this dish feel like it had always been made with this seemingly “exotic” fruit.
In all honesty, the idea to use the quince in a stew was not French-inspired. My Persian heritage actually gave me the idea. Every fall, when quince is ripe and ready to be eaten, my mom makes a stew with chicken, quince, and potatoes. It’s so incredibly delicious, and for some people, that may be hard to imagine. If you’ve ever tried to eat a raw quince, I’m looking at you. It’s pretty much inedible. It smells lovely, like perfume or a delicate flower. The fact is, however, it’s extremely tart, comparable to a very tart granny smith apple with none of the sweetness to balance it out. But when you cook quince until it’s fork-tender and rosy pink, live I’ve done in this coq au vin, it’s a sweet fruit that is just such a wonderful addition.
The best way to cook quince into a savory meal is to cook it in chicken broth or wine. And it’s this cooking method that inspired me to make a coq au vin with it. Coq au vin is chicken cooked in wine (and chicken broth, but the broth isn’t mentioned in the title). The chicken is usually accompanied by carrots, mushrooms, and pearl onions. Like any good French stew, it’s started with a bit of lardons (bacon or pancetta here in the States), whose fat is rendered for browning the chicken with and providing the stew with much flavor. Onions, garlic, dry red wine, a splash of brandy, and sprigs of thyme also provide the stew with much of its titillating flavor.
Like the carrots, the quince’s sweet notes are drawn out as it’s cooked, simultaneously absorbing the mouthwatering flavors of the stew. Quince are generally hard fruits, very similar to apples, however, they should be slightly tender when squeezed. Their perfumed aroma should be apparent and their skin should reveal just the slightest bit of fuzz, otherwise the fruit is not yet ripe for enjoying. When quince cooks, it turns a rosy pink color. Here, the wine dyes the quince regardless, so using a fork to check whether the quince has turned tender is your best indication of whether the fruit is cooked. I usually serve my coq au vin with creamy mashed potatoes, but it would be just as yummy with a thick, crusty piece of country bread, which can be used as a dipping crouton in the stew’s broth. The best part of this meal is that it’s simple enough to make for yourself, and yet it’s impressive enough for a dinner party with friends. Someone pass the wine, please!
- 1.25 lbs (3 pieces) chicken thighs, with skin
- 2 oz. diced pancetta (or diced bacon)
- salt and pepper for seasoning
- 1/4 lb. thick carrots, diagonally cut into about 1-inch pieces
- 1/2 an onion, diced
- 1 small garlic clove, minced
- 2 tbsp brandy
- 3/4 c dry red wine
- 1/2 c chicken stock
- 1 small bunch of thyme sprigs (about 5 to 6 sprigs)
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
- 1/2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 lb. frozen pearl onions
- 4 oz. mushrooms, stems removed and thickly sliced
- 1 quince, cored and cut into thick wedges (about 8 wedges)
- Preheat the oven to 250°F. Add the pancetta to the dutch oven over medium heat. Cook the pancetta until it’s crispy. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pancetta, but none of its grease. Transfer the pancetta to a large plate.
- Meanwhile, pat dry the chicken thighs, then season both sides with a good pinch of salt and a sprinkle of pepper. Use cooking tongs to place the chicken thigh into the dutch oven. Brown the thighs on both sides - about 4 to 5 minutes. Use the tongs to remove the thighs and transfer them to the plate with the pancetta.
- Add the diced onions, carrots, a good pinch of salt and a dash of pepper to the dutch oven and cook until the onions have slightly browned - about 6 to 8 minutes.
- Add the garlic and cook for another minute before adding the brandy, pancetta, chicken, and any of the juices collected on the plate of chicken. Pour in the chicken stock, wine, and sprigs of thyme, giving it all a big stir.
- Put the lid on the dutch oven and transfer from the stove to the oven. Cook for approximately 35 minutes in the oven, until the chicken is no longer pink. Then, remove from the oven and place the pot on the stove. Temporarily leave it as is with the lid on.
- In a small bowl, use a spoon to mash 1 tbsp of the butter with the flour. Add this to the stew, along with the pearl onions.
- In a medium skillet, sauté the sliced mushrooms in the remaining tablespoon of butter until the mushrooms are browned, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms to the stew.
- In the same, now empty, skillet, heat the tbsp of olive oil. Add the quince wedges and cook over medium low heat until they are slightly tender and look caramelized. Transfer the quince to the stew and cook the stew over medium-low heat for approximately 15 minutes or so, until the quince is fork-tender and the broth has thickened a bit. Check for seasoning and add any salt or pepper, if necessary. Serve warm with mashed potatoes or crusty French bread.