Hooked on classics

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 October, 2007, 12:00am

French food has a reputation for being rich and complex and it often is - but in restaurants. The average home cook isn't making elaborate dinners of 25-hour sous vide Wagyu beef cheeks with black truffle demi glace. They are cooking relatively simple and inexpensive dishes with ingredients that can be picked up at the supermarket.

Although easy, this first recipe takes some time to cook so would probably be best for a weekend meal. The second is suitable for a quick post-work dinner.

Poulet au vin (pictured)

Anyone who followed the third season of US television show Top Chef will know the danger of calling this coq au vin - the contestant who did was reprimanded because she used chicken rather than rooster, as indicated by the dish's name. Traditionally, coq au vin was devised as a way to tenderise an old rooster, but this recipe uses juicy chicken legs.

This recipe is from food stylist Vivian Herijanto.

6 whole chicken legs (thigh and drumstick), each cut into two pieces

1 onion, cut into 1cm dice

1 large carrot, cut into 1cm dice

1 celery stalk, cut into 1cm dice

10 cloves garlic, crushed

1 bottle of red wine, preferably a pinot noir

3 parsley sprigs

3 thyme sprigs

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp whole black peppercorns

120ml canola oil

30 grams tomato paste

65 grams plain flour

60ml cognac or brandy

480ml unsalted chicken stock

250 grams pearl onions

500 grams assorted fresh mushrooms such as shiitake and oyster, thinly sliced

250 grams smoked pancetta or bacon, diced

3 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place the chicken pieces in a large bowl with the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns and wine. Mix thoroughly then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for up to 36 hours.

Pour the ingredients into a sieve placed over a bowl and reserve the marinade liquid. Separate the chicken from the vegetables. Season the chicken pieces on both sides with salt and pepper then dredge in flour and shake off excess. Heat the canola oil in a large Dutch oven. When the oil starts to smoke, add the chicken pieces (in batches, if necessary), brown for about six to eight minutes on each side then drain on paper towels. In a separate pan, bring the chicken stock to the boil and keep it warm.

Put the marinated vegetables into the Dutch oven and cook until they start to brown. Add the tomato paste to the vegetables and stir for about two minutes until browned. Sprinkle in the flour and stir for several minutes to remove the raw taste. Pour the cognac and reserved marinade liquid into the pan bring to the boil and stir well with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom of the pan to incorporate the tasty browned bits into the liquid. Add the chicken pieces to the pan and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, then stir in the hot chicken stock. Bring to the boil and reduce to a low simmer. Cover the pan with a lid and slowly simmer for 60 to 90 minutes or until the meat is tender when poked with a fork.

While the chicken is braising, prepare the rest of the ingredients. Bring a pot of water to the boil and blanch the pearl onions for five to seven minutes, or until tender. Drain and allow to cool then slip off the skins. Cook the bacon (or pancetta) in an unoiled skillet over medium heat until brown. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon but leave behind the fat. Add the mushrooms to the pan, season with salt and pepper and saute until brown. Remove the mushrooms from the pan then repeat the process with the pearl onions.

When the chicken is tender, transfer the pieces to a large plate. Strain the braising liquid through a colander into a bowl. Discard the solids and return the liquid to the pan. Skim off any surface fat then bring to a simmer and reduce the liquid until it lightly coats the back of a spoon. Return the chicken pieces to the pan and add the bacon, onions and mushrooms. Simmer for 15 minutes then taste the sauce and adjust seasonings if needed. Add the chopped parsley and serve.

Roast chicken with tarragon cream sauce

1 chicken, about 1.5kg

4 tarragon sprigs

3-6 garlic cloves, unpeeled

About 50 grams unsalted butter, melted

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce:

2 shallots, chopped

80ml dry white wine

180ml cream

Chopped leaves of one large tarragon sprig, plus extra for garnish

Remove and dispose of the bag of innards in the chicken (if it has one). Use paper towels to dry the chicken then season it thoroughly inside and out with salt and pepper. Stuff the tarragon sprigs and garlic cloves into the cavity of the chicken and let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Celsius.

Brush the chicken liberally with melted butter, place it breast-side down in a lightly oiled roasting pan then place in the oven. Immediately reduce the heat to 230 degrees. Roast the chicken for 25 minutes then turn it over, reduce the heat to 200 degrees and continue to cook for about 20 minutes or until done: test it by shaking the leg - if it moves easily in the joint, it's cooked. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let it rest while making the sauce.

Tip the juices and fat from the roasting pan into a heat-proof container. Skim the fat from the surface.

Pour about 15ml of the fat back into the roasting pan and place over a medium-low flame. Add the shallots and cook until translucent. Add the white wine and use a wooden spoon to scrape up the burned bits from the bottom of the pan. Simmer the wine for several minutes then add the pan juices, cream, tarragon and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until the sauce lightly coats a wooden spoon. Strain the sauce into a bowl and add fresh tarragon leaves. Carve the chicken and serve the sauce

on the side.