I love family recipes. There is just something special about food passed down from generation to generation. It’s not all nostalgia either, although there is a heavy dash of that. Other reasons as well make family recipes valuable.
1. Tried and true. These babies have been in use for years, over and over again. If it doesn’t work, it would have been tossed long ago.
2. Delicious (well, maybe). Barring a few dishes that are kept around for nostalgic reasons (think boiled, sulfurous brussels sprouts) – if someone is going to bother making the same meal over and over again, there is a reason: It’s good. People ask for it, and unless they are ass-kissers, that means they like it.
3. Advice. Confused about when to add the flour, or whether to whisk or fold? Just ask! Unless you are the sole family survivor, which would be quite sad, then you’ve got people you can call and ask questions of when you get mixed up and begin tilting towards disaster.
I realized all of these benefits on New Year’s Eve, when I made my grandmother Louise’s recipe for coq au vin. Luckily she and my Aunt Christine were both in the house, so I could pepper them with any little concern that came to mind.
Some families guard their recipes, as if they are precious secrets. And I guess I sort of see why. Maybe they want to be able to boast that they make the best corn bread this side of Texas? Either way, I’m all for sharing. Because if you figure out how to do something well, but don’t tell anyone, it doesn’t do much good. Luckily my grandmother agrees, and said I could feature her recipe here.
This was her go-to dinner party recipe that she made most frequently in the 50s and 60s, for all sorts of company. She remembers once making it for her daughter Christine, her college roommate from Brown, and the girl’s parents. Grammy (Louise) said she often gravitated towards this recipe, because she could make it ahead, then relax and have a drink with her guests before dinner while the dish was warming in the oven. I asked her how she found the time to make it (it took me quite a while). She said, “Oh I didn’t have anything else to do.” For those who don’t know her, she had eight children, then earned her masters and went on to practice psychology at Tufts. As a single parent. I’m tired from just typing that.
Coq au vin is a classic French recipe, translating to “rooster with wine.” Traditionally a tough old rooster was stewed for hours in wine, until it was tender and juicy. My grandmother’s recipe called for fryers, or small chickens. We used chicken thighs and they worked well. Two buck chuck was our vin, and it did just fine. Anything dry would do.
Serve with a simple salad and crusty bread for mopping up all that wine-y goodness.
The coq au vin right before its long nap in the oven.
I made a few changes to the recipe, basically removing the canned goods and adding a few notes. The original recipe is below.
Louise Heard’s Coq au vin
Serves 6-8, generously
2 cups diced salt pork
2 tablespoons butter
4 fryers (quartered) or 8 chicken thighs
4 teaspoons of salt
2 cans whole onions, or one small frozen bag
4 cups white mushrooms, sliced
1 bunch sliced scallions
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup flour
4 cups red wine
2 sprigs parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1. Early in the day: cook salt pork in boiling salted water in Dutch oven for 5 minutes. (Note: the salt pork was very hard for me to slice, until I boiled it, then it was a piece of cake. If your pork has the skin still on: boil first, then chop.) Drain, add butter to pork; saute pork until brown. Remove, reserve.
2. Sear chicken on each side until lightly browned (If you are pressed for time, you can skip this.) Sprinkle with salt, pepper, add onions and mushrooms, simmer covered for 15 minutes.
3. Pour most of the fat, leaving enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Add scallions, garlic; simmer one minute.
4. Stir in flour, cook stirring till thickened, sprinkle parsley, thyme and salt pork. Add wine, stir to coat.
5. Bake covered at 350 degrees for two hours.
6. Serve immediately or cool and refrigerate. Reheat and serve up to two days later.
Grammy and I have been living together for just about a month now and it’s been so fun. We spend most days by the fire, reading and working on our laptops. This means we’ve a few more family recipes that I will post about soon. Up next, homemade fish chowder that was her mother’s recipe. My mom and I filleted two white bass to make it. There were a few choice four letter words (from me), followed by some very good soup. More to come on that. But for now, do you have special family recipes? What are they? Does your family share them, or are they top secret?