With Valentine’s Day approaching, we thought we’d delve into the idea of food as aphrodisiac. Maybe you have a sensual memory around a certain food — I could actually wax poetic about a certain pasta salad that was particularly … fortifying, allowing us to, um, continue what we had been doing … but I digress. More to the point, there are foods that are considered to have innate aphrodisiac qualities. Interestingly, many of them are the same as those “power foods” that are good for your heart: avocados, berries, almonds, dark chocolate, red wine, fish, olives and olive oil. Also, honey, garlic, pine nuts, oysters (of course), fennel, figs … the list goes on. Of course, you may only need “a jug of wine, a loaf of bread and thou,” as the saying goes.
If you happen to have some wine left in that jug, you might consider making Coq au Vin for your love. Recommended in Isabel Allende’s book “Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses” as a dish with aphrodisiac qualities, it’s a classic recipe with an enticing, earthy fragrance. Allende makes a good case for not forgetting to include food and drink in your plans for seduction. (If you need a little push, go read “Eating the World”, a poem by James Tipton included in Allende’s book.)
I had an opened bottle of cheap but hearty red wine sitting around getting stale (shocking, I know), and making Coq au Vin gave me a good excuse to buy a decent bottle to have with dinner. My version was inspired by Allende’s and several others I referred to online (thank you, Anne Burrell, for the info on preparing pearl onions). Interestingly, my daughter rejected the “purple chicken”, retreating to her bedroom and leaving my husband and me at the table to linger over our fragrant bowls, dipping our bread in the juices and sipping our wine …
Coq au Vin
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 chicken, pieced out (or use 6 leg quarters, as I did)
Salt and pepper
2 pieces bacon, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
4-5 carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch slices
2 Tablespoons cognac or brandy
2 1/2 cups hearty red wine (like Burgundy)
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
18-20 pearl onions
2 cups sliced button mushrooms
2 tablespoons butter
Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy bottomed pot. Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Just before putting in oil, dust chicken lightly with flour (I put a tablespoon of flour in a hand-held strainer and lightly shook it over the chicken). Brown chicken pieces on both sides, doing it in batches if needed.
Remove browned chicken and set aside. Turn heat to medium. Add bacon, onion, garlic and carrots, sautéeing until the onion is softened but not translucent, about 5 minutes. Add cognac and, if you wish, set it afire to burn off the alcohol (watch your eyebrows!). You may also cook off the alcohol by continuing to sauté for another 5 minutes. Lay the chicken pieces over the sautéed vegetables, add the thyme and bay leaf, and pour red wine over all. Cover and simmer while preparing the pearl onions.
Bring a medium pot of water to boil. When boiling, put the whole pearl onions in and boil for 3 minutes. Strain onions. When cool enough to handle, cut off root end and push slightly to pop out peeled onion. Magic! Add pearl onions and mushrooms to chicken, stir, and simmer for 30 minutes. (You may also sauté mushrooms prior to adding, if you prefer.) Taste the liquid and add salt and pepper as needed. Just before serving, add 2 tablespoons of butter and stir. (You may also remove the chicken and make the sauce more gravy-like by thickening with a roux, but I like the brothy sauce, myself.) Serve with really crusty bread. Serves 4-6, or just the two of you with leftovers. It’s even better the next day.
Written by: Shannon Oelrich