p1: Coquilles St-Jacques

7-SAV150-69_Scallops-750x750The Dish

As fun and interesting it is to delve into realms of history and legend that so many of these classic French preparations have seemed to garner, it’s almost ever more intriguing to find one that has little to say for itself. Thus is my experience with the preparation of Coquille St. Jacques, a term which has been says translates to “Saint James’s Scallops,” deriving an interesting little tale to the origin. The story goes that the holy Saint James, in his travels, saved a night who had fallen into the river; upon emerging, the night was covered in scallop shells (there is also a story of a knight’s horse that fell in and emerged with scallops). As such, Saint James’ emblem became that of the scallop shell, which on its own is a true fact, and thus lending itself to the name of the dish.

Whether these tales are true, or if they really has any forbearance on the dish’s name, is up to debate. What we can say is that Saint Jacques has become the accepted name for a certain French scallop, and that the term “coquille” is culinary used for a number of recipes that are baked or broiled inside a scallop shell, which when cleaned has made a very durable and trusty cooking utensil for hundreds of years (there’s an interesting anecdote to begging poor or monks who would travel with one tied around their neck and use to scoop food). These dishes are oft composed of the main ingredient chopped up and covered in a creamy wine sauce, thickened much like gravy, and then broiled with cheese as-is or on top of a bed of other ingredients. Methods for coquille st-jacques has found the scallops cooked alone or on top of duxelle (a blend of shallots, garlic, and mushroom sautéed into a paste), diced or whole, until golden and bubbly.

A Word On…

Scallops: Here is the question on how one puts this dish together; do we do the classic, rustic coquille which consists of a mass of goeey cheese sauce mixed with chopped up shellfish meat, or do we leave large rounded disks with an elegant garnish to display in a more refined manner, thus highlighting the meaty seafood? If one goes for the former, tiny Bay Scallops are likely your game, much sweeter and more flavor without having to worry about the structure. However, after my few months away from the blog game, I feel like I want to present the more sophisticated style of my first dish in a while; not to mention, if I’m going to cook with a good quality scallop, I want it to be able to shine properly, so bigger Sea Scallops it is.

I buy them fresh from a good distributor, not frozen and definitely not the ‘wet packed’ scallops that many people warn about. To make sure it doesn’t have any of that extra moisture that could ruin its structure when cooking, I pat and let them sit on some paper towels before the poaching. The results… well let’s see.

Of course, die hard recipe reproducers would look to get true St. Jacques Scallops from France; of which I have no clue how to do in the States besides shipping in frozen, so I’ll stick to some decent fresh ones instead.


Mushrooms: though their inclusion is fully optional, every recipe I’ve found that uses them points almost exclusively to white buttons, which I was want to follow. Giving myself a few extra seconds at the store, in front of the bins, I could not help but think that if this was made in the French countryside, around the Loire, from ingredients on hand, would it have been a ‘white button’ or some available brown-topped, perhaps wild mushroom? Some version of the latter feels more sincere, so at the very least I decided to buy some Criminis to get more flavor in.

20141221_133939Sauce: The sauce used for this is somewhat intriguing compared to other ones I’ve worked with in the past. It’s a roux-thickened recipe, much like with three of the classic mother sauces and gravy, but it uses no stock, no milk as its base, some cream yes but that’s more for fortification at the end (like butter); the liquid component is entirely based on wine that the scallops are poached in before baking. Flavor wise it ends up similar to a classic beurre blanc, but oh what a different texture.

That ramble out of the way, the poaching liquid itself offers another choice to us, as I’ve seen in my searchings: Wine or Vermouth. Many have used either or, or combinations of the two, thus leading us to debate; my own curiosity has me wondering what the vermouth would taste like, and why it’s included, however contrary to that I don’t think I’d want to create an all-vermouth sauce and poaching liquid unless I had some good quality alcohol, as opposed to the terrible mass-produced crap that’s usually in my bar simply be destined for thinning out in cocktails. Thus I settled for an almost equal portioned blend of the two, so that I could add just that little bit of complexity, botanical depth, and richness vermouth contributes. Though, I would suggest that, unlike me, you use a proper WHITE vermouth in your own experiments (sadly we ran out, so red it is).

Cheese: Not too much of a commonality in recipes, I’ve seen people use Swiss, Parmesan, Gruyere, mixes, you name it. Some sprinkle just on top, some melt into the sauce, if not both; which is where I start, as I feel like the sauce should stay a simple gravy of the thickened cooking liquid, only using cream to bolster the texture. Cheese is made to be gratineed over the top, and though there seems to not be anything SPECIFICALLY required, gruyere just seems to fit the bill best, both in its melting properties and the common use in French cuisine where cheese is concerned.

Coquille: Very likely, you probably don’t have a scallop shell you can use for cooking at home. Ramekins work well, though, or any other similar small baking dish that can be stuck in a super-hot oven and broiled with.

Coquilles St-Jacques
4 Tb Butter
3 Shallots, Chopped
4 cloves Garlic, Chopped
1 cup Chopped White Button or Crimini Mushrooms
¼ bunch Parsley
12 Sea Scallops
¾ cup Dry White Wine (French preferred)
½ – ¾ cup Dry White Vermouth
2 Tb Flour
3 Tb Cream
¼ cup Grated Gruyere
Salt and Pepper


  1. Heat a sauté pan to medium/med-high, tossing in 2 Tb of Butter and 2 of the Shallots.20141221_134934
  2. Cook 1-2 minutes until it begins to soften, adding in the Garlic and chopped Mushrooms.20141221_140736
  3. Heat, stirring often, until browned nicely throughout and broken down. Season with salt, pepper, and most of the Parsley Leaves, minced. Reserve.20141221_142013
  4. Gently prepare your Scallops, slicing carefully in half to produce two thin disks.20141221_143341
  5. In a separate, wide pan, combine the Wine, Vermouth, Parsley Stems, and the rest of the Shallots, heating until just barely at a simmer.20141221_142446
  6. Arrange the scallops in the pan so that the liquid only just covers them (or gets close to the top), letting them sit in the warm but not boiling poaching liquid 2-3 minutes. You may need to flip them halfway through to ensure even cooking.
  7. Remove scallops, reserve on the side, and strain the resulting wine and scallop Stock.20141221_143442
  8. In the pan one cooked mushrooms in, add the rest of the butter with the heat on medium. Once melted, whisk in the Flour.
  9. Let sit on hit, whisking often, until it lightens slightly in color, 1-3 minutes. Slowly pour in the still-warm wine stock, mixing constantly to incorporate.20141221_143742
  10. Let heat for a minute or two until thickened slightly; if notable too thick, add in more wine to thin into a proper sauce. Season salt and pepper, finish with the Cream.
  11. Heat oven to 475F.20141221_171344
  12. Start arranging your ingredients on the Coquille or other ramekin-like serving vessel, starting with a mound of the sautéed mushroom duxelle and some of the sauce.20141221_171738
  13. Carefully layer the poached scallop coins on top in a pleasing array, spooning the rest of the sauce overhead. Garnish with Gruyere and move to the oven.
  14. Roast until the sauce is melty and the top has bruleed to a beautiful golden edge, about 5-15 minutes depending on cooking vessel and other factors.20141221_182958
  15. Remove, garnish with freshly chopped parsley, and serve alongside toasted baguette.

The Verdict

20141221_183344There’s a very intriguing ‘rule’ in French and Italian cooking that states one should never plate seafood with cheese; there are of course exceptions to every rule, but it’s usually seen with subtle manipulations, here most often using only the lightest hints of parmesan to bolster a bit of richness in a white fish or scallop dip. Which is why, when eating, I found this particular dish so intriguing, in light of not only this rule but of what I know of France’s culinary distinctions. Here we’re taking a scallop, an ingredient that needs gentle treatment and is most commonly partnered with delicate flavors so as to highlight its veil of sweetness and easy-to-dismiss flavors of the sea, and completely smothering it in garlicky mushrooms, a thick and tart cream sauce, and the strong European cheddar that is Gruyere.

And the damn thing works. For despite this rich, gut warming bowl of goodness, the scallop’s flavors are never fully covered, and the portions leave its meat in the strong point, allowing us to enjoy its well-cooked texture, the sweetness coming to underlay against the creamy cheese and sauce, with mushrooms dancing in behind to say hello and make our taste buds happy. Though they might not be a requirement, I am happy I went for the version with the duxelle, as well as keeping big pieces of scallop vs chopped, though I’m sure that would have been its own scrumchy delight. It does need to be eaten with bread or something else though, for a complete course, too bad I forgot to get a baguette (had some English muffins though, so it worked out!).


20141221_182559Primary Pairing – Gingo Sake

It’s not hard to reason that sake goes very well with fish and seafood, considering the well famed Japanese cuisine. Though one might not think it, considering most sake’s very earth-bound flavors of woods, fungus, and earth mixed with the rice’s sweetness. But when we get into the more aromatic and refined styles of Gingo and Daigingo, where the rice grain has more of its heavier outer layers polished down, we find notably lighter-bodied ‘wines’ with those characteristic flavors of the sea mixed with fruit and floral yeasts. If we were to choose a bottle that was only halfway up this sake totem pole of refinement, mainly Gingos, then we would still hold onto some of those earthy flavors, which in my opinion make it quite the appealing pair to enjoy alongside this medium-lightweight, mushroomy seafood dish.

20141221_180421My Bottle: Sho Chiku Bai’s Junmai Gingo Sake

I’ll admit a noted disappointment on first sip, as I had hoped for it to reveal more flavors of fleshy fruit, or perhaps some zesty aromatics, but nonetheless it shone itself as a proper, standard Junmai Gingo. The ‘weight’ of the drink was a noted step down from regular Junmai sake (which is an interesting thing to taste one next to the other; unlike other drinks, where shifts in style happen more smoothly and gradually, one can very easily feel a drop in aromatic strength and body weight between the different sake styles), and contained the smooth flavors of barley and mushrooms to play with the palette without overpowering the light scallops. The flavors and weights ended up meshing quite nicely, with just a bit of that creamy rice flavor that blended into the creamy white scallop. Overall, much like my last sake pairing with the duck, a surprisingly successful match after opening.

vouvSecondary Pairing – Vouvray

Sticking to the NW region, along the river Loire and close to the sea, I so much want to use a Sancerre or Muscadet, but the body’s just too light and flavors too crisp for my liking in this case. A Vouvray, however, based on the Chenin Blanc, brings a bit more weight to combat the slightly heavier sauce and mushrooms, a bit more of a richer background, while still holding notable acid (as Chenin and Rieslings are like to do) to cut through the cream and brighten the seafood. Not to mention many Vouvray (note I’m sticking with the generic as opposed to choosing a specific style, regional or otherwise) contain a bit of sweetness which I think would combat the saltiness of the cheese and scallops beautifully, if done right of course.

p1: Magret et Confit de Canard

A perfect 2-for-1 adventure, why pay the extra money for buying breasts and thigh/leg meat separately for different days when you can just get the whole poultry and do both? Costs less AND you now get the wings, neck, giblets, and the whole carcass (bones and all) for your own stock.enhanced-buzz-20628-1386088111-22

The Dish

I LOVE Duck. Besides the fact that it’s, well, delicious, the big bird is FULL of fat-thick skin (I mean just look at the huge overhang flap from the neck) for amazing rendering. That, and this dish actual holds a bit of nostalgic importance to me. When I was in culinary school, Pan-Seared Duck Breast was the first recipe and technique I was able to really nail; it was the first technique I was able to take pride in. But enough about mislaid attempts at justifying myself, let’s talk about the actual food!

What’s become viewed as a specialty of Southwestern France, the art of Confit started, as many recipes featured in my giant Garde Manger cookbook have, as a way to preserve food. Yes, despite what the history books may say, people didn’t always have electricity and refridgeration, nor any access to gathering ice, difficult or non (or maybe I just had really shitty history books in my school…). Many a meat from days hunting needed to be able to last a long time, both to stretch out meals and simply on those times they couldn’t eat it all in a few days time.enhanced-buzz-4157-1388097660-0

So methods were developed to “cure” these proteins for the long months ahead. Smoking over fires, drying in the air, storing it in the ground with loads of salt (very popular with fishies), and the method we’ve come to know a “Confit,” the past tense form of “confire,” to preserve. After rendering off gobs of fat from the animal in question, usually very thickly-skinned birds like goose, a large cooking pot (traditionally copper) would be filled with cuts of partially salt-cured meat and the detached lipids (…. fat). This would be heated to cook the meat through, then transferred to a clay crock, covering the meat in an even, thick layer of the skimmed and clean oils. Stored, this coating of solid fat would keep out anything, both good and bad, that tried to get in; providing a rusticly air-tight seal on the now stable cooked and cured meat, protecting it through long winters and up to the spring, when hunting was easier and farmed animals were mature enough.

There was another benefit to this, of course; the meat tasted amazing. It is said a “Gascon will fall to his knees for a good confit,” it being a favorite technique of the region and showing just how tasty this tender, succulently prepared preservation can be. And its melding from a technique to survive towards finer French cuisine was assured.

Up and throughout this point, it was tradition that the entire animal would be used; with Duck being considered purely for confit in the south, its parts were all indefinitely stuck in the delicious but thick swamp that was its fat. It was only until a couple centuries ago, when restrauters served portions of the “magret,” or Breast, of the duck in the traditional country style: grilled, skin side first. The fat melts, the skin crisps up, its thinning layers insulating the delicate yet flavorful red chest meat from quickly overcooking, rendering a final product that’s tender, juicy, and full of all the flavors that have encapsulated the heart of every duck lover.


Duck: There’s not much I can say for quality duck. It’s not that easy to find it fresh; I WAS able to figure out a place that I could get a whole duck fresh. Sadly, it was really out of my way, cost an extra $2 per pound, could only get it on a certain day… it was just easier to get a frozen one. It’s relatively available in a lot of markets, I’ve even gotten whole ducks from Cub (better ones from smaller meat markets or co-ops though). And after all that confit-ing (is that a word?), especially if you’re using most of it for dishes like, oh I don’t know, cassoulet, then I think it’s acceptable to take a SLIGHT loss in quality just this once.

As far as substitutes go, there really isn’t many worth it. Chicken tastes absolutely nothing like duck, game birds are usually tiny and, again, barely resemble it. The few things that do, namely Goose and some Pheasants, actually cost MORE. So just get duck, unless you wanted a higher quality/local bird version.

Skin: The two main factors in the final product of our magret lies in how cooked the meat is and, more importantly, how crispy we can get the skin. I.e., how much fat we can cook out of it. If left to “traditional” or “proper” senses, this basically means taking ALL the fat out, which I will be doing for this particular circumstance.

Which I just think is so bull. Every single damn time I see a cooking competition where a judge complains that there’s still fat on their duck… that’s the point! Come on! It’s delicious and amazing! Of course you don’t want this thick, barely cooked layer, but get rid of like half of it, have that full brown crust over the surface and a soft ¼” of fat underneath , and that’s just a slice of heaven isn’t it? Eat it and tell me I’m wrong.

SAMSUNGRant aside, no matter how much fat we need to cook down, we need to be able to control it. And besides heat application, that means one thing: Scoring. Carefully pricking or slicing through the fatty skin in evenly distributed lines, opening the insides up to better release the fat. How deep or thin it’s cut will determine how much comes out during cooking, simple as that.

Pan-Cooking: When I originally learned this technique, I was given the opinion that it was the only way to do it right. Get a pan searing hot, pop the duck (skin side down) for a bare minute or two and turn it down to medium-ish for a LONG time, like 15 minutes, before finally flipping onto the other side for one last minute.

Apparently that’s not the only way anymore. There are some that apply the exact opposite idea, starting in a low (if not cold) pan and gradually increasing the heat. Some have it on the flesh side for half the time and quick-melt the fat later. However the actual method one chooses works, so long as you’re able to find one that works and is comfortable for you, then do it.

But try mine first.

Doneness: There’s a bit of a debate as to what a properly cooked duck breast should look like in the center. I’m firmly footed in the camp that it should have a nice, even pink, sort of like a medium-rare steak, while there are many others who like it completely “grey” (often it’s still able to retain moistness and has flavor, unlike a fully cooked steak, but still grey). And then there are betweens.

I can’t say what specific stage is “proper” and “best,” because I don’t know. What I CAN tell you is what you DON’T want. First, there should NEVER be any still raw meat, even a small spot; it can still be pink but actually “firm” and cooked (don’t worry, you’ll know when it’s under). On the opposite end, it should never be full-blast, dark grey, DRY, noticeably overcooked. The whole technique of cooking it on its (very thick) skin side for most of the process and VERY briefly flipping over to the flesh is meant to keep either of these from happening. Giving enough heat to the delicate underside to push it through without having been blasted over the border throughout the hot process.

Resting: Those familiar with meat cookery know that the meat should rest soon after leaving the heat before it’s sliced, otherwise the delicious juices inside “burst” and flood everywhere before gathering back in the center. I will say, though, that doesn’t mean keep it on the counter for 6-10 minutes, because even with the best intentiSAMSUNGons it’ll get cold on the plate, and likely you’ll STILL have some blood leaking out onto the board. What I’m clumsily trying to say is that finding the “perfect resting spot” for these duck breasts is difficult as hell if nigh on impossible; to keep warm, you’ll have to let go of some of the juices. But luckily it won’t affect the final plated meal at all; look how much I lost and mine was still succulent.

Fat: Duck fat is obviously the traditional lipid of choice, and you can get it too! I have noSAMSUNG idea how easy or difficult it is to find in stores, but with how much skin and fat is on a whole duck, rendering your own is a simple task. Just cut off as much of the skin from the bones, wings, and excess breast and leg fat that you don’t need, and as described in my post on Coq au Vin, start rendering. A little bit of water in a pan, on medium-low, adding more until enough fat has melted out to cook the skin the rest of the way.

ISAMSUNGt’s okay if the pan is crowded; these guys will shrink down a LOT as time goes by. Which WILL take a while though, especially compared to how fast the chunks of salt pork rendered out. And when done, you’ll have yourself most of a cup of your own amazingly delicious fat and a couple handfuls of the best duck cracklings in the world.

SAMSUNGSadly, there’s a good chance this won’t actually be enough for the confit, unless you were cooking JUST the legs in a pretty small/tight pan. If you need more, I suggest first looking for other rendered fats; I made sure to keep my leftover chicken skin and salt pork stuff from previous projects, along with a nice bunch of bacon fat that had yet to find a purpose.

And in the case of no other rendered fats or still needing more, it’s okay to use commercial oils; Olive Oil is the best suited (I’ve found some pretty awesome recipes that use it), and Vegetable Oil will work too. I suggest adding your other fats first, waiting for them to melt in the oven, and topping the rest off with the other oil to ensure you only use JUST as much that’s needed. It can feel wasteful (I had to use quite a bit), but think of it this way; when you’re done with all your duck, you now have a whole bunch of your own ducky, aromatically, salty fat goodness that you can use in place of veggie oil or butter in any recipe. Just make sure to strain it first.

Oh, speaking of which, NO BUTTER. Good chances of burning, plus there’s the whole separating milk solids. Maybe if you clarified it first it’s okay, but at that point I’d prefer it for poaching fish and seafood over confit.

Confit: Though the general procedure for confit is basically the same no matter where you go (lightly salt/cure duck, cover in fat, cook for long period of time, store), cooking temperatures seem to abound. I’ve seen ones that cook a 300F+ for 90 minutes, 200F or so for 3+ hours, and 180F cooking that lasts a whole day. Classic French recipes say to “simmer” while some procedures leave the fat perfectly still, and others blitz it at the end to actually try and crisp/brown the skin in the fat. It makes it hard to tell which you should actually use, so ultimately I say it’s up to your opinion and what sort of constraints you have.

All I advise is that, at whatever temp, the duck cook until it is tender and soft through and through; a paring knife should slide in easily. I myself stuck to 200F for 4 hours or so, took one leg out early to eat with the meal and left the rest in there for another 5+ hours just for the heck of it.

Sides and Sauce: Doing a bit of research online and in my big Larousse Gastronomique book (after I made the whole dish, of course, gah), I’ve found there to be quite a few different sauces and sides that can be traditionally served with either of these duck preparations. There are not too many things in common here and there, other than a couple factors IF you want to consider them (I was mainly focused on cooking the proteins, as neither entry in the 44 placed importance on what theySAMSUNG were served with).

Potatoes seem very popular as a side, usually in a whole or chopped/sautéed fashion; I myself chose to go the opposite route and mash mine, take advantage of using those ever so soft cloves of fat-roasted garlic and onions. The sauces themselves are all pretty French, and sometimes use Capers; I just kept to a very simple and traditional French Pan Sauce using a demiglace from homemade Duck Stock.

Magret de Canard avec Confit de Canard
1 pair Duck Breasts
Salt and Pepper
Duck Leg and/or Thigh Confit (recipe follows)


  1. Heat a large, thick bottomed sauté or cast-iron pan to Medium-Hi, practically smoking.
  2. Carefully score the skin of your duck breasts however desired, making sure not to injure the flesh.
  3. Lay skin-side down in pan, letting sear hard on the high heat for 1-2 minutes, and season the flesh side liberally with salt and pepper.SAMSUNG
  4. Turn heat down to Medium-Low, allowing the duck breast to gently heat and render the fat for 10-18 minutes depending.                      Note: if using an electric stove, may need to turn heat down immediately.
  5. Lay your desired cut of Confit, skin down, into the hot fat about halfway through cooking, letting it caramelize as it heats up.SAMSUNG
  6. When skin is properly rendered and crisped to your desired, quick flip over and cook on the flesh for 1 minute.
  7. Move onto the cutting board to rest, pouring the SAMSUNGfat from the pan to make your Pan Sauce (recipe follows) as it does so.
  8. Slice Magret on a bias and serve with whole or shredded Confit, a potato-based side, and French sauce.

Confit de Canard
Duck Legs, Thighs, and other Miscellaneous Parts
4-5 Tb Salt
½ Head Garlic Cloves
½ Head Red Onion, Chopped
2 Bay Leaves
1 Tb Peppercorns
3-5 Sprigs Thyme, dry or fresh (preferred)
Rendered Duck Fat
Other Rendered Fats and/or Oils (Optional or if needed)


  1. Prick the fatty skin of whichever Duck pieces one is using, particularly the thicker fat layers, to better melt out while cooking.SAMSUNG
  2. Combine with Aromatics in pan, rubbing them down with your salt (may need to add more; looking for the area between “heavy seasoning” and “thick cure”).
  3. Cover, leave rest in the fridge, at least overnight and preferably over 24 hours.SAMSUNG
  4. Remove Thyme Sprigs and Bay leaf, lightly rinsing the meat if it seems needed, making sure to drain off any fluids/juices in the pan.SAMSUNG
  5. Top with Rendered Duck and/or other Animal Fats and move to oven, turning it onto 200F.SAMSUNG
  6. Once melted, top off with additional cookable lipids if needed to fully cover the meat.SAMSUNG
  7. Cook Minimum 3 hours (after heated) until tender, when a small knife is able to insert and pull out cleanly and with ease, skimming the “skin” stuff on the top if desired (it is nummy).
  8. If one desires to brown the skin while cooking, turn oven to 375-425F after it’s turned tender, leaving to “simmer” under the heat about 20-40 minutes (again, depending).SAMSUNG
  9. Remove, let cool on counter, cover, and store in fridge until needed. Ideally it should sit as long as possible, months even, to develop flavor.
  10. Add to recipes or enjoy as is by heating up in oven or sauté pan.

Pan Sauce
1 ½ – 2 cups homemade, thick Duck Stock
¼ cup Wine
Thinly sliced preferred veggies (optional)
2 Tb Seasoned Garlic Compound Butter, chilled


  1. Reduce stock to ¼-½ cup thick, gelatin-like Demi.
  2. Turn recently empty, still hot cooking pan to Med/Med-Hi heat, pouring in wine to deglaze the crispy Fond on the bottom.SAMSUNG
  3. When reduced by half, add in your prepared Demi and any Veggies, Capers, or other garnishes one desires.SAMSUNG
  4. Once bubbling, remove from heat and toss in your Compound Butter (butter mixed with salt, pepper, and the confit-cooked garlic), quickly stirring to emulsify as it melts.
  5. Pour over Duck or other desired cooked protein.

The Verdict

SAMSUNGNow this is why I love duck; that juicy, sorta-red meat but also a bit porky-game bird-y flavor, with that tender chew that you just love biting through over and over. Though the color was a bit darker than I usually try to make it (you should see it when it’s perfectly pink in every single slice), it still tastes damn good, thus proving the incongruity of the “right level.”

I still think that, at the end of the day, I much prefer my skin to have a good, even, noticeable layer of that awesome fat on top. It’s already hard enough getting it “properly” crispy after practically rendering ALL the fat off, so why bother? Save some on the meat for your own guilty pleasure; plus it helps control the temp even further.

And the Confit was delicate, tender and tasty; I can’t wait to see how it tastes after sitting in the fridge for over a week. I’d be curious to try out some other cooking temps for it, like heating it up at the end; “luckily” for me it seems there might be more than one other 4SAMSUNG4 dish besides cassoulet that requires the fat-cured protein. Might just have to revisit it then.

Oh, yeah, and that confit garlic and onion make some pretty damn good mashed potatoes. All it needed was some of those small, crunchy cracklings I made on top… if only they were able to last an hour after making them…

Primary Pairing – Junmai/Honjozo Sake

Another instance where, while thinking and searching for the most desired wine to go with this week’s adventure, my mind decided to sidetrack itself towards something different. I think what probably struck the embers on it this time, besides Surdyk’s pretty damn good selection of sake, was a craving for that perfect mouthfeel to go along with that oh-so-important chew factor of cooked duck. Not to mention it does draw me back to Peking Duck….

And I do love pairing sake with non-asian recipes, really show its versatility in mirroring similarly desired factors in wine. It’s a great substitute for the naturally earthy flavors of a French red; and much like I wouldn’t look for a big, deeply tannic red wine here, I also want the particular musky characters of sake reduced, but still present as a major character. So Junmai-level seimaibuai (how much the rice is milled down) gives that perfect median amount, often carrying with it a rich enough body and more rice character to emphasize the similar weight in the food. It’s not too difficult to find one with enough acid to match the fatty richness.images

Where junmai is a little stronger, but muted/even tone in flavor and aroma, great for underlying and supporting the flavors of the dish, the Honjozo (made by adding alcohol in after fermenting to change aromas) provides a wild aromatic aspect of those mushroomy, barky, only slightly floral/fruity notes to celebrate with this duck. So whether you’re looking to celebrate the Duck or the Sake as the main aspect, the choice is yours (Junmai is a great style for those not yet into sake, for this or other instances).

Oh, by the way, no serving it hot. Step away from the microwave!

SAMSUNGMy Bottle: Tozai “Living Jewel” Junmai

So happy I ended up picking this bottle, it ended up as practically THE perfect sake to have with the meal; always remember how risky choosing sake can be if you know nothing about the specific bottle or brewer.

Good, solid undertones of the forest with such a refreshing body and creaminess, refreshing my palette while standing up to the softer weight of the meats. Light herby characteristics tie in to the French aspect of the meal, with just enough tannin from the rice to take care of the protein. Though that’s just the beginning; I found a few fun little surprises in store.

Duck always works well with fruit, particularlySAMSUNG stone and other tree fruits like peaches and apples; with a little punch of something reminiscent of apricots and Japanese plums, this little pleasure is still enjoyed. I actually forgot about the sweetness factor when choosing; the sake is a bit off-dry, if not sweeter, which worried me in offering it in terms of balancing the food. Luckily, this actually turned out to my benefit, as my highly reduced Demi Pan Sauce provided a noted salty character, begging to be cut by a bit of sweetness (this aspect would be even more perfect if I had the duck cracklings on top). Finally, the starchy rice flavor sprinkled throughout ate perfectly with the mashed potatoes.

So if you want a sake to pair with this or similar food and aren’t sure what to get, this is a good bottle to zero in on.

Secondary Pairing – St. Emilion and Satellites

I think this is the third dish in a row where the wine pairing suggestion was Cab Sauv or Cab Sauv dominated by Buzzfeed… at least this item’s suggestion was partially right, but at the same time oh so wrong.

There are two things wrong with listing “Red Bordeaux” as a pairing. First off, unlike Burgundy where the whole region’s red is characteristically made with one grape, Bordeaux is a region of blends. Not only that, but the actual style of that blend and the final balance varies hugely and very distinctly from one section to the next. Most people aware of Bordeaux know the concept that “Left Bank” wines are very big, rich, Cab dominated with some smooth Merlot, while the “Right Bank” are much gentler, softer Merlot based blends with little or no Cab Sauv (they use the highly floral and aromatic Cab Franc instead).

Which brings me to my Second point; where it can be clearly seen even from this description that a Right Bank wine WOULD work well, thus lending credibility to the idea of “red Bordeaux,” the fact is when most people DO generalize it’s always concerning the COUNTERPART. The big, overly bodied and overly tannic Cabernet-dominated blends. Which I’m quite sure of are Buzzfeed’s initial assumptions on the style.

God, I just can’t help being mean to these guys sometimes can I? Maybe it’s just bad luck in choosing some of their more ill-fated concepts early on… it’ll probably get better later.st_emilion

Let’s get back to where they COULD have been right though; being a southwestern/bordelaise dish, both confit and magret have affinities for certain reds of the region. And I can’t quite think of a regional wine better than one of the simpler, fresher St. Emilions. With a base that sticks traditionally around 85% Merlot and 15% Cab Franc, we have a wine very similar in body, acid, and tannin level to a Pinot Noir, great for matching the structure of these dishes.

At the same time, the unique qualities of the grapes brings a smoother lushness from the Merlot, the importance of the mouthfeel that I also found in sake. Cab Franc helps emphasize the super ripe and tart fruits and brings accompanying flowers of red and pink, bolstering the aromas nicely like the Honjozo.

But you want to stick with the simpler bottles in the right bank; Pomerol and quality Crus of St Emilion make amazing wines, but along with their depth they bring in added body, tannins from ripe grapes and oak, and other aspects which can skew it away from the ideal pairing. Not to mention price of course; St. Emilion Satellites (regions surrounding it that are allowed to append their name) come in at so great price deals for the quality of the wines, and can bring in that nice refreshing aspect I find.

Other options, if you can find them, are Fronsac or Blaye wines (other less-notable regions along the Right Bank). And personally, I’m tempted to ignore Bordeaux all together and hitch a ride to Loire to pick up one of their Pure Cabernet Franc-based red wines. Ah, screw the merlot, give me all those aromatics, small but tight tannins, and that stony taste of graphite and tart fruit down my gullet. That’s how you drink with duck right there.

Don’t forget to stay tuned in a couple weeks when I turn all my leftovers into Cassoulet!

p1: Coq au Vin

For me nothing feels more right to kick off these recipes than tackling that all-time super classic, both in making and drinking with wine, Coq au Vin.

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Consisting of a rooster marinated and braised in wine-heavy stock, Coq au Vin’s simple concept twisted around carefully constructed French technique has vaulted it to the forefront as one of THE country’s dishes. And with SO MANY versions of it too: a Coq au Riesling made in Alsace; Coq au Blanc with Chardonnay; even a Coq au Vin Jura made from the small, tucked away region’s specialty, Vin Jaune (an almost sherry like wine that’s had HALF its volume disappear through evaporative aging). But the heart and soul of this classic, traditional dish will always lie in only one place with only one wine: Bourgogne Rouge (-cough- Red Burgundy).

One can actually speculate this rustic dish to go back multiple centuries. Its true origins ARE unknown, though it’s likely to date back to Gaul times (very old “kingdom” covering much of what is now France), after the introduction and spreading business and interest in wine of course. Many families, farmers or non, were known to have often kept at least one hen and rooster for themselves; once lived its life in full, the then-old rooster would be put to final use for a family dinner. With very tough meat, and times where people would most often have to stretch food out through stew and soup creations, it’s easy to see where the processes of marinating in the protein-softening-acidic wine (local of course, so easy to use) followed by long braising would come into play.

Of course, none of this was ever written down or recorded, so we can only speculate on how the dish officially started its footpath in this culture. Which many people have done, loudly, and with intent, enough so that we now have two little “myths” to how it began, which may or may not have ties to true events. Which, even if they do, it’s doubtful they are the origins of the dish itself, but a focal point to when coq au vin jumped into the public eye as a firmly rooted Burgundy recipe. Well, that and Julia Child (amazing how many foods in this list she’s brought to our attention).

The first Story starts with Napolean, who simply put arrived at an unexpected and ill-prepared Innmeal one night, the owner of which had little food (possibly due to a certain general’s wars) besides rooster and some cheap wine. One thing led to another as one would expect from these stories, and delicious food was born!

The second involved Julias Caesar, which stated that upon his conquering of the area was presented a rooster, which he had his chefs cook with wine, a popular drink with the Italians at the time. A myth which is most likely full bs, though the idea of Mediterranean culture interaction may bring about a clue as to why this dish is so often fond of Egg Noodles… either that or their past interactions with and geographic closeness to Germanic cultures.

Whatever the origin, the fact remains this recipe is delicious and proof to the epitomes of the simpler, rustic French culinary technique. I know I’m excited to finally dive into this classic, I do so hope those reading are too.

A Word On…

Chicken: the name of this dish truly does highlight the two components that separate it from other dishes and make it what it is. The Wine, and the Co-… er, Rooster. Any TRUE, proper, highly traditional coq au vin should use an old, beat-down, no-longer-useful-on-the-farm Rooster. Why? Because it’s a TOUGH F@#%^er, those muscles are tight and stringy and LAST through long, vigorous stewing so well, like a pork shoulder or leg or whatever section you stew. Not to mention all the flavor it’s developed through its years of walking and running and all that, which will allow it to stand out and accompany the very strong sauce we end up with. Take that next to a super-young, unhappy mass-produced hen one finds in a regular supermarket, with little to no flavor and flesh so weak and soft it’ll break apart and/or dry out before you’re even done cooking half of it.

SAMSUNGThat said, FINDING a rooster is a bitch. Good chances it won’t happen unless you live in Europe, California or New York. As for me, I called many a butcher, simply and high quality, and the best I could find was Capon (which is AWESOME, and a male chicken, but not used for something like this). What I ended up doing, and I suggest if you’re able, is getting a large Stewing Hen. They’re at least a year old, not so much as Rooster’s but definitely much better than regular chickens. Most often you’ll find it frozen but my local meat market gets some in fresh occasionally.

If still having trouble finding these, your wallet is a bit tight, or you just prefer working with regular chicken, then I implore you to skip getting a whole chicken and just buy a bunch of thighs and legs, preferably at a co-op from organic and/or free range chickens (they’ll have a BIT more flavor and exercise).

Wine: “Coq au Vin should be cooked with Burgundy.” That’s the underlying idea anyway, as is any wine-stewed dish with the regional wine of choice. Fact is though, it barely matters; the flavors and structures of any wine will change drastically once it’s cooked as-is, let alone reduced tremendously along with a strong stock, herbs, veggies, and chicken. It is definitely all right to just find and use a cheap Pinot Noir, which is the same grape that Burgundy is made from (and you should use the same “level” of red wine, don’t want a really big and tannic bottle like Cabernet or Nebbiolo). Other decent substitutions would be Merlot, Chianti, Valpolicella, lighter Red Blends, etc.
That said, if one wanted to keep the flavors traditional with how much wine is being used, there are some cheaper, competitively priced “Bourgogne AOC” wines out there for about $12-14 a bottle (or less) if one looks hard enough. These bottles have grapes which are basically sourced from wherever throughout the whole region of Burgundy and as such do not qualify for any Village-level designations. Often they will actually print “Pinot Noir” on the levels, which any QUALITY Burgundy should never be allowed to. As such it makes the perfect wine for cooking in volume! Because you never want to use a delicious, quality wine for this; all that complexity and subtlety WILL go out the window in this dish.

Cured Pork Fat: One of my favorite ingredients, in this dish and in life. Keeping traditional, one should try to find “Salt Pork,” which is easily available at any butchery of quality. Noting, you don’t want this for the actual meat; you want this for the fat, so get a block of the most fatty you can find, good chances there’ll be at least one that looks like almost pure lard (like mine!).
Though due to popular trends and ease of finding, there are many recipes that just use Bacon instead of Salt Pork, which if one wants to keep the PROPER flavors of the dish they should never use. The smoking of the pig and the particular cures used in bacon make its final flavor wildly different than a pure, simple salt pork. Not to mention it’s much harder to find one that’s pure fat.

However, I myself also like the idea of using bacon to thus impart that Smokey flavor and highlight the darker, earthier flavors of the stock and wine even further than classically designed, so it’d still make a very tasty and delicious meal. Just different.

Stock: unless you’re gathering random animal bones in your house on a semi-constant basis, it can be hard to try and make a proper animal stock; which for those unaware is made by simmering leftover bones with water (and maybe veggies and herbs depending) for hours on end. Even when I’ve had a chicken carcass to work with, leaving overnight, the resulting liquid probably had only half the concentration as opposed to what a restaurant could get (this is mainly due to the ratio they’re able to get between cramming so many broken up chicken carcasses into a giant pot and then filling the remaining space in water. VersSAMSUNGus one chicken in a single pot, filled to the top with water, much higher ratio difference). If you’re able to achieve a stock you’re satisfied with at home, then congrats and all the power to you.

If this is still out of your reach though, that’s fine. Both simple and higher end markets do sell Stock, and Chicken Broth is a very acceptable substitute (they’re practically the same thing): just make sure you buy one that’s Low Sodium, otherwise when reducing it like this recipe does will get you a pretty salty sauce. What I ended up doing, since the broth is still lighter than I want, is poured it in a pot with the leftover Chicken CarcSAMSUNGass, which I roasted, and simmered overnight (adding water back in as it evaporated), thus reinforcing and adding even more rich chicken flavor. It’s a great option for any cook.

Mushrooms: the fungus of choice for coq au vin always has been and always will be White Buttons, which are great for home cooks. Simple, readily available and price friendly. I do have to say though, I couldn’t help but want to use some form of Wild or other Quality Mushrooms when I made this, and considering all the end result does is help to emphasize the mushroom-y qualities even further I think it’s an alright and justified recipe change even when keeping traditional. Since it was winter when I attempted this, I ended up with a mixture of both buttons and King Trumpets (no wild mushrooms on the shelves, sad).

Oh, and I’d suggest not using rehydrated Dried Mushrooms. Though they’d be great to soak in and flavor the stock, they just don’t get that “right” texture that the fresh mushrooms do once sautéed. Can be sorta springy methinks.
Pearl Onions: they’re a pain in the ass to peel. I decided to follow tSAMSUNGhe advice of Alton Brown and blanch in boiling/simmering water for about a minute, stems cut off. As you can see they just squeeze right out of the skin with a bit of pressure so easily.

Days: there are some that say a true Coq au Vin takes 3-4 days to properly create and marry the flavors… let me just say that I may be a bit snobby at times in keeping things traditional here, but even that’s too much damn useless work. Ignore the stuck-up Frenchies in this case!

That said I also don’t really like the idea of making this dish in under a day unless I have to. If one is able to, I ultimately prefer the middle of the road technique displayed from Alton Brown’s recipe of completely everything up to searing and deglazing the day beforehand and then letting the chicken, wine, and broth sit and marinate together overnight. It really best allows for a bit of development and mingling with a hands-off approach, and you don’t need to wait most of the week till you can finally chow down.

Coq au Vin

1 Whole Rooster or Stewing Hen (7-9lbs)
6oz Salt Pork
¼ cup Flour
Salt n Pepper
8oz Mushrooms (Button and/or Wild), quartered/chopped
2 Tb Tomato Paste
1 ½ Bottles Red Burgundy
1 ½ cups Dark Chicken Stock
Mirepoix Veggies
1 stalk Thyme
3-4 cloves Garlic
Bay Leaf
Egg Noodles
Braised Pearl Onions (recipe follows)



    1. Separate chicken into desired components; suggested 8-piece of legs, thighs, and split airline breasts.


2. Dice Salt Pork into cubes, throw in crockpot (or other one-pot cooking pan) with 2 Tb of water, cover and heat to medium/med-high, turning it back to med-low as water evaporates and the fat starts to render.


3. While it’s cooking, season and toss chicken pieces into a bag with the Flour, tossing to lightly dredge and coat. After about 15-20 minutes, the cubes of pork will have shriveled and crisped up into crunchy, fatty Cracklings. Scoop these out and reserve in separate container.


4.Your pan now filled with a thick layer of hot, delicious pork fat, lower the chicken in to slowly sear, back on Med heat, for about 3-5 minutes a side, until the skin and flesh have achieved a crispy golden brown layer. For obvious reasons, this should be done in batches.


5. Reserve seared chicken on the side and add Mushrooms to hot oil, sautéing until shrunken, browned, and tender while still retaining a small bite. Remove and reserve.


Note: If you would like to keep a lot of this fat for future use, I suggest pouring most off BEFORE adding the mushroom. The soak up a LOT of that stuff, and only gave back a little afterwards.


6. Pour off any remaining fat and add Tomato Paste, quickly stirring to very briefly “cook/caramelize.”


7. Deglaze with small amount of wine, thoroughly scraping up all the deliciously developed Fond on the bottom of the pan.


8. Remove from heat and layer the bottom with large cut or whole Mirepoix (onion, celery, and carrot), thyme, garlic, and bay leaf. Stack reserved chicken over (white meat, if used, being kept on top) and fill pot with Stock and remaining Wine.


9. Cover tightly and chill in fridge overnight, along with the reserved mushrooms, cracklings, and braised onions if already made (many recipes have these three mixed together in the same bag, but I like keeping them separate so as to better keep the pork crispy).


  • 10. Heat oven to 325F next day, transferring the crockpot (which I let come to room temperature beforehand), still tightly covered to cook for at least 2 ½ to 3 hours, stirring occasionally, until “tender.” (not falling off the bone)


Note: Even being a stewing chicken, the breasts can still get a little dry, so I suggest either taking it out 1-2 hours early or add in during the last hour of cooking.

11. Carefully take out and move chicken into a covered pan to keep warm, best left in a 160-170F oven.

12. Strain the liquid from remaining veggies and herbs and return to the now empty hot, now moved onto med-hi to high heat. Reduce by at least 1/3 to ½ the liquid until thickened and sauce-like. This can take 20-45 minutes depending.

Note: it’s possible the liquid may not properly thicken up as desired no matter how much is reduced, despite the flour in the sautéed chicken supposedly being used to help this. If so, squish together equal amount of soft butter and flour and add a few tsp sized balls, whisking in. This should help much like making a roux for a sauce.


13. Mix in the reserved braised onions, salt pork cracklings, and sautéed mushrooms, stirring until warm. Add back in the warm chicken, turning to coat in sauce.


14. Serve chicken and stew over warm egg noodles, and Enjoy.

Braised Pearl Onions

1 Tb Butter/Fat
1 small bag Pearl Onions, peeled
1 clove Garlic
2 twigs Thyme
1 Bay Leaf
½ Cup Wine, Stock, or other flavorful liquid of choice



    1. Heat sauté pan to medium/med-high and add in butter or other fat of your choice (I used some of the rendered Salt Pork Fat from earlier).


2. Toss in onions to coat in fat, stirring very often in hot pan to better get an even browning around the spherical surface.

3. Once nicely golden and crispy-looking, add rest of the ingredients, turn heat down to medium-low, cover, and simmer until onions are tender and liquid has reduced down to a thick sauce. Depending, this can take up to 1 hour and a half or just 20 minutes.


4. Season carefully according to taste and reserve until needed in Coq au Vin or any other desired dish.

The Verdict

Chicken. This actually tastes like flippin’ chicken, as any properly cared for, farm raised hen should. And despite the rich, concentrated stewy flavors of the wine sauce (which just blankets the firm and crispy meat and veggies so nicely, keeping that subtle earthy and vine-y taste of the wine nicely), the old stewing hen was able to keep the integrity of its flavors and identity so well.

THEN there’s the mix-ins: the earthy and savory al-dente like mushrooms, the rich little balls of stocky onions, and of course the super crispy-crunchy pieces of cooked pork fat. With the noodles it almost felt like one of the best earthy-winey Italian pasta dishes ever, if of course my attention wasn’t always drawn to take big bites out of that bone-in chicken. And though MY final outcome ended up saltier than I wanted (‘twas quite noticeable, though nothing a chocolate cookie-vanilla milkshake couldn’t fix), I believe the true worth, highlights, and potential of this classic dish was able to shine clearly, so I’m very satisfied with the final outcome.

Not to mention how damn good it is eating cold from the fridge the next day (and it only lasted one)… or in the middle of the night wearing pjs.

Primary Pairing – Red Burgundy

Is it cliché? Yes. Is there a reason for that? Oh HELL Yes, because it WORKS. As do almost all regional pairings with European Wine and Food; they grew up together, those making the food drank wine and those making the wine ate the food, each unconsciously adjusting each other through the centuries to ensure they had two things and tasted amazing together.

This is the prime example. A bottle of decent burgundy has a solid, weighty Medium body, enough to match this heavier version of Chicken, and a firmness in Acid to “cut” the richness (which isn’t technically a thing in any way, but when I have any rich or fatty dish I want some acid to juxtapose it, otherwise it’s just flabby) and match the tangy wine. Then there’s the nose: the almost concentrated, earthy aromas, often affected with some ageing in an old barrel (not new barrel, we don’t want any raw oak flavor in this), that just helps it stand up but not overpower the round intensity of the dark chicken stew. Finally, they contain that perfect middle-ground of tannins; not light but not super big and sandy and overpowering, which is much better for OTHER dishes.

As for choice, I like to think Village-level (or is it Sub-Regional? I forget) Burgundy is where you want to go; this is not where one gets that cheap Bourgogne AOC we just used for cooking. At the same time, Premier and Grand Crus are not only really expensive but probably a bit too complex, containing certain subtle and delicate aromas that aren’t likely to survive long with this dish. Simple but deep and powerful is where we want.

So look for names that just say Santenay, Aloxe-Corton, Chorey-les-Beaune, Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-St-Denis, and the like. Maybe even a “Haute Cotes de Beaune/Nuits,” which are from a larger and “lower quality” region on the golden slopes of Burgundy, but do hold possibilities of good, tasty deals. I’m sure the particular Wine Staff would be happy to point you in the right direction.

As for Burgundy Substitutions, which I almost don’t understand why even bother at all at this point (but hey, wallets are wallets), I think German Pinot Noirs (Ahr is a great region) are fun, Chateneuf-du-Papes and Chianti blends can provide the same features (if you find the right ones), but I think Valpolicella would probably be my favorite non-French choice. You can find all of them at much better prices, and you’re still staying to the Old World (very important, as New World wines focus more on fruit and barrels and basically have absolutely no real flavors of “earth” in them like Old Worlds).

My Bottle: 2010 Givry, Domaine Voarick
Being a bit price conscious, I decided to choose this little gem from one of the Five AOC villages of the Cote Chalonnaise, the large region just south of the main Cote d’Or section of Burgundy (the center of the “quality” wine production, not counting Cru Beaujolais of course). Givry is located on the Eastern edge just in the center of the not-so-tight escarpments, and along with the rest of the reds from the area produces a slightly lighter concentrated, “rustic” Pinot Noir. Though they’re seen as lower quality, one can find some of the best price-to-flavor/experience deals throughout the whole Region (the Norther region is notorious for being complex to navigate quality through different villages, making for a dangerous dice roll of overpriced wine for those not familiar with the producer).

For $20 I was very happy. It still held a beautifully simple, concentrated nose with all the main aromas of Burgundy I look for, with a strong enough flavor and body to stand up to the meat. I swished and chewed and sat back in a happy daze, with no off qualities distracting my enjoyment. When it comes to wine, that’s sometimes all that I find important; just need a proper bottle to get me there.

Secondary Pairing – Nada Yamahai Junmai Sake

I LOVE ge628x471tting into Sake and being able to pair it with non-Asian fare. For many of those who aren’t aware, the potential complexities and flavor molecules in sake actually reach even higher peaks than wine. Thus enforcing its ability to be matched with so many different foods, so long as one knows which bottles to look for.

With a dish like coq au vin, I would really want to be able to get the more masculine, earth and mushroom-based sakes, one with a bit of quality complexity and depth in that department, but still kept back somewhat so the body and flavor isn’t overpowering (like a Bordeaux would be).

Nada, and other more southern regions in Japan, present with some of the bigger, rounder, earthier styles of sake as opposed to the north.  Pair that with a Junmai sake, where the rice is milled down to at least 70% its original grain, keeping some of the raw, naturally tight, earthy grain qualities from the outer rind but cutting its power and rawness down considerably. Thus it has developed very little, or none, of the more delicate and weaker fruit, floral, and other aromas that a Gingo or Daigingo (milled down to 60 and 50% grain) would have.

Finally we bring in the Yamahai style of developing the Koji mold (a very important process of inhibiting certain bacteria, developing enzymes to convert rice starch to carbohydrates, and influencing final flavors), a mid-way method that’s not so old and classic as Kimoto but rougher than the super-lazy modern, and is known for creating some of the most earthy rich, dense and complex styles of the three.

Combined we have a sake that inhabits much the same earthy, barnyard characters of a traditional Burgundy with a wonderfully complex, medium-heavy nose, a body enough to match the stew and a mouthfeel to go along with the heavier but tender chicken meat. As for qualities such as acid, sweetness, etc, there is sure to be a few sakes in this category that fill the final criteria. But that’s less a thing of regionality and more knowing the producer (as is much of the sake world; it’s fun a super complex).