We live in the golden age of specialized cooking tools. There is a special appliance this year for just cooking frankfurters, another for hamburger patties, a third for grilled-cheese sandwiches. Doubtless someone somewhere is even now ironing the kinks out of a brand-new, personal, single-egg boiler. One of the most popular of the relatively new cooking appliances is called the crock pot, and there are at least a dozen models for the crock-potter to choose from.
What sells the crock pot is convenience. This the scenario: The family cook wakes up early, tosses some meant and vegetables in a crock pot, flicks a switch, goes off to work, comes home in the evening, lifts the lid and discovers-aha! -a ready-to-eat dinner still hot in the pot. Okay, that's the theory. Here's what happens in real life: up in the a.m. . . . the meat and veg . . . the switch . . . the job . . . back home . . . lift up the lid and-aha-soup.
Instead of using this new-fangled contraption, tonight we're going to use an old-fashioned pot on top on top of an old-fashioned range, and you're going to be cooking one of the great French classics, coq au vin.
The Staples: Make sure these are all on hand-salt, pepper, butter, milk, eggs, onions, bay leaves, garlic, thyme, parsley, vanilla.
The Shopping List: Roasting chicken (4 to 5 pounds, cut into sections); bacon (4 strips); wine (Beaujolais, 2 bottles); small white onions (2 pounds); 1/2 pound of mushrooms; chocolate (6 ounces, sweet); cream (1 cup); French bread (or Italian).
Prepare in Advance: The chocolate custard. Mix together 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of cream and cook over medium heat. Stir in 1 package of sweet chocolate (6 ounces). When chocolate has melted and just before mixture comes to a boil, remove from heat.
In a separate bowl, beat together 6 egg yolks and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Add this to the chocolate mixture, a little at a time, beating between additions. Refrigerate in bowl.
4:45 p.m.: And now for the main course. You'll be using a heavy cast-iron pot with a tight-fitting lid. In the beginning-but only in the beginning-you'll put this over a medium-high heat. Fry the bacon until it's cooked through, then remove the strips of bacon from the pot.
Rinse the chicken pieces under cool water and pat dry. Salt and pepper them generously. And fry them in the bacon fat until they are lightly browned on all sides. If more fat is needed, add a chunk of butter. Remove the chicken pieces from the pot.
5:10 p.m.: Peel and chop two large onions and saute them in the same pot, adding butter as necessary. Cook until tender. Add about 3/4 of a bottle of Beaujolais and turn the heat to high, allowing the wine to cook down for a few minutes. (Caution! Don't try to "cheap-out" with inferior wine; the difference between coq au vin and chicken stew is the quality of the wine.)
As the wine is cooking, add 2 bay leaves; 3 cloves of garlic, minced fine; a pinch of thyme; a small handful of parsley, chopped, and the bacon slices, crumbled.
And finally, the chicken pieces. The wine should just cover the chicken. If more is needed, add it. Then turn heat to low and cover the pot tightly.
6 p.m.: Peel the white onions and cut the tips from the mushroom stems-but do not slice either vegetable.
In a small frying pan over medium heat, melt a large chunk of butter. Add the peeled onions and saute them-shaking the pan from time to time so that they are lightly browned on all sides. The total cooking time should be about 10 minutes.
Set the onions to one side and, using the same pan, saute the whole mushrooms in butter.
6:15 p.m.: Add the onions and the mushrooms to the pot. Open the second bottle of Beaujolais. (You'll drink this one.)
6:20 p.m.: Preheat oven to 360 degrees. Slice the loaf of French bread lengthwise.Butter both sides and add minced garlic or a combination of minced garlic and minced parsley. Bake until the butter has melted and the bread has started to brown. The bread will be used in you mopping-up action.
6:30 p.m.: Remove pot from the fire. If sauce seems too watery, remove the other ingredients for moment and boil it down some more. If it seems too thick, try it that way-it'll be delicious.