It was never really my intention to cook my way through Rachel Khoo’s The Little Paris Kitchen, but so rarely has a cookbook resonated with me so much that I have found myself trying a new recipe from this book every few days since I first purchased it. If only I had this level of enthusiasm for all of my cookbooks!
With the weather warming up recently in Zurich, I was curious to try the Coq au Vin Skewers so that we would have an excuse to fire up the barbeque for the first time this year. But unlike most casual barbeque recipes, and as with most of Rachel Khoo’s recipes so far, this dish required quite a bit of advance preparation. Though, this is perhaps more a feature of French cooking than Rachel Khoo’s cooking style in itself.
The preparation starts with making the red wine marinade and leaving the chicken to sit in it for at least a few hours or overnight. It is best to use chicken thigh fillets for this recipe as the meat is unlikely to dry out like chicken breast fillets are more likely to do. But as chicken thigh fillets happen to be non-existent in Zurich, I used chicken breast fillets and took care not to overcook them later.
By the next day, our dinner plans had changed slightly; the weather was a balmy 27°C in Zurich and we decided at the last minute to invite our neighbours for a spontaneous picnic barbeque by the lake. The norm in Switzerland is to plan at least a week, if not a month, in advance, so last minute invitations like ours would ordinarily be refused or considered bad taste. But, luckily, our neighbours are quite flexible and enjoy a bit of alfresco dining.
So faced with a need to make portable food which was not too fancy, I didn’t follow Rachel’s recipe the whole way through for the barbeque. I entertained the idea of turning up with gourmet chicken skewers with a red wine dipping sauce to go with, but knew that even I would look at someone funnily if they did that at an impromptu picnic, especially if everyone else had only brought sausages and steaks.
So I threaded some of the chicken which had been sitting in the red wine marinade overnight, together with some mushrooms and bacon-wrapped prunes. Sort of fancy, but not too fussy. I love bacon-wrapped prunes at anytime and the fantastic idea of including them on barbeque skewers comes from my lovely South African friend, a busy mother of two who manages to find time to rustle up wonderful dishes whenever we visit (or invite ourselves over). Given that a coq au vin has bacon or lardon for flavouring, these bacon-wrapped prunes complemented the red-wine marinated chicken wonderfully.
The first thing I noticed was that the chicken was tinged an unsightly purple colour, not unusual given the red wine marinade. But the chicken, nevertheless, reminded me of a dead body on the cover of a Patricia Cornwall book. So when I presented the uncooked chicken skewers to my neighbours, I could tell that they looked a bit suspicious, wondering if I was going to serve them chicken which had reached an advanced state of decay.
A traditional coq au vin stew also doesn’t look very pretty once cooked because everything takes on a deep purple colour, thus the need for potatoes and parsley to liven the dish up a bit.
Looks aside, I am happy to report that the chicken skewers were quite tasty. The marinade gave a sweet, savoury flavour to the chicken which I realised was a useful recipe to have in your repertoire; given that my marinades for chicken skewers tend to always be Asian-flavoured, this red wine marinade is a nice alternative for anyone who might not like a spicy marinade.
Luckily, we had some chicken leftover in the marinade so I proceeded to follow through Rachel Khoo’s recipe the following evening at home. As with a traditional coq au vin, one needs potatoes, mushrooms and baby onions. For the coq au vin skewers, the potatoes and baby onions, together with some carrots, are first parboiled before they are threaded onto the skewers. Rachel’s recipe states to parboil them for only 5 minutes, but I didn’t trust that the vegetables would cook to my taste on the grill. So I ended up cooking the potatoes and carrots and for about 10-12 minutes until a skewer inserted in the middle met little resistance.
As the chicken skewers were cooking on the grill, I proceeded to make the red wine sauce which you do by straining the reserved marinade through a fine sieve until you have 300 ml of liquid. I found that I only had 200 ml of liquid and thought this was because the chicken had soaked a lot of the marinade after having been sitting in it for 2 nights.
I proceeded to bring the liquid to a simmer and, almost immediately, the impurities started to rise to the surface quite rapidly with grey/purple solids forming in a rather disgusting manner. My first instinct was to pour everything down the sink, but upon seeing the sieve still in the sink, I went to strain the liquid before returning it to the stove, and repeated this step 2 to 3 times before I was satisfied that the sauce was clear. By this time, I had perhaps only a mere 100 ml of liquid and a sink full of yucky stuff. I added some sugar and red wine vinegar to taste, together with a cornflour slurry to thicken the sauce. Ultimately, the sauce tasted okay but, in my opinion, not great. The memory of the yucky bits in the sink still lingered in my mind. Some homemade Cherry Tomato Relish and a bottle of Nando’s Hot Peri-Peri Sauce were a welcome accompaniment to the chicken skewers, although hubby managed to finish to red wine sauce.
Overall, I thought these Coq au Vin Skewers were a cute idea on a French classic. Although they take a lot of time to prepare, which sort of defeats the purpose of a laid-back and casual barbeque, I can see the advantages of making these posh skewers for perhaps my French in-laws for whom spicy Asian flavours are a bit too foreign and unfamiliar, nevermind unavailable where they live. And I think they would like the summer twist on what is usually a winter dish in France. So while I wouldn’t rush to make these again soon, I did enjoy this recipe and would certainly keep them in mind for the right occasion. I would probably also make the red wine dipping sauce from fresh ingredients, rather than from the reserved marinade, and will be on the lookout for any recipes in this regard.
But if you can recommend a red wine sauce that might go well with these skewers, I would love to hear from you