Thursday, July 30, 2015

A French Classic Gets An Iowa Makeover

I love French food. In this day and age fussy classic French dishes have fallen out of favor for most people but there is something about the classic techniques, traditional flavor combinations and history that keeps me coming back. There have been so many masterful French chefs just in my lifetime that have influenced not only me as a cook, but untold numbers of professional chefs.

It's no secret, if you have been following my blog for any length of time you know I love Julia Child. I love to read about her, read her recipes, would love to visit her kitchen at the Smithsonian (is it weird that I think of that as a honeymoon destination?). Thomas Keller is another chef I admire greatly. He is well known for his amazing French dishes. I could go on and on but who needs a list- you get the idea.

My interest in French food goes all the way back to high school. As a French student we often had food days and I always made pate choux for cream puffs and eclairs, or crepes with sweet and savory fillings. I mastered quiche by the time I was 15, including pastry. Souffles and mousses came next and by the time I was 18 I was making French dinners for my parents all the time. As a new wife in Texas I made many fancy dinners for friends and even won a recipe contest with a savory application for pate choux.

Poring over many different cookbooks for inspiration I found some vast differences in how chefs make coq au vin. Some use only thighs, others use breasts, some whole cut up chickens. Some recipes called for cognac and I even found one calling for bourbon! Most called for pearl or cipollini onions, which I was unable to find in my little store, so I used a large onion cut into chunks. I knew I wanted something along those lines, but it didn't need to be a clone of the classic- after all, I am using pork instead of chicken. So here is what I came up with, and I hope you will like it.

Porc Au Vin

6 slices bacon

8 oz package cremini or baby bella mushrooms
2 lbs boneless pork loin
flour, salt, pepper
1 large onion, chopped
3 carrots, scrubbed and sliced
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups dry red wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon dried savory leaves
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
cornstarch for thickening

Cut the pork into rectangular pieces, similar to a stick of butter but half the size. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

I liked this rectangular but cubes will work too- just
cut large cubes
Cut the bacon into lardons. 

Lardons. Fancy French word for little strips.
Place bacon in a dutch oven and cook over medium heat until browned and crispy. 

Remove with a slotted spoon, reserving the fat. I used a spoon to remove most of the fat to a small bowl and reserved it to use with the pork. Trim the ends of the mushrooms and place in skillet, tops down, and cook for several minutes until browned. Remove to a bowl and reserve for later.

My mushrooms were pretty big so I halved them and
decided to brown the cut side.

Place a small amount of flour onto a plate. Dredge the pork in the flour and add to the hot pan. Add some of the reserved bacon fat as needed. Brown the meat on all four sides and remove to a plate.

Don't crowd the meat or it will steam instead of brown.

I just use the upturned lid of my Dutch oven. One less
dish to wash later. Add juices to the pot also.
When the meat is done add the onion and carrots. Cook and stir until the onion is translucent and not browned. Add the garlic, and cook for a minute or two. Add the thyme, bay leaf, and tomato paste. Stir well.

Give the herbs a good stir to bring out the fragrance, then
add the tomato paste and cook for a minute or two. You
want to cook out that tinny taste of canned tomato paste.
Add the wine to the pot, stirring to loosen the browned bits on the bottom. Return the meat to the pot, and the mushrooms, the chicken stock, and cover.

Smells so good already!!
Cook over medium low heat for about 45 minutes, until the meat is tender. I leave the lid just barely askew to allow some evaporation and the sauce will thicken. If you like, you can thicken the sauce with a cornstarch slurry. Sprinkle with the chopped fresh parsley before serving.

What do you serve with this French classic with an Iowa twist? The French influence hints at some steamed haricots verts with herb butter. Green beans, for us everyday people. A bed of buttered noodles rounds out the dish. Of course I had to get a lovely crusty baguette to go with it- can't have French food without a baguette!

Let's talk a little bit about the ingredients I used. Of course, fresh Iowa pork is a must have. At our house we like to buy whole pork loins and do our own butchering so we get exactly the cuts and sizes we want. I cut a nice size hunk of roast off a loin and cut that into my rectangular chunks of meat.

I chose an Iowa dry red wine to make this recipe, from Penoach Winery near Adel in Dallas County. Made from locally grown grapes Rustic Red is a very smooth and easy drinking red. It's dry but not wildly so, not as dry as a Cabernet, but not sweet at all- it's a great wine for a sweet wine fan to try as they expand their palate. Great with food, this wine is also lovely to have a glass in the evening, and with cheese or chocolate. Try it!

My pasta choice is another Iowa-made product. Zaza's Artisan Pasta comes from their Italian market in Iowa City and homemade pasta is their specialty. I don't live near their shop but luckily I am able to get it at the nearby aquaponics farm, which also carries Iowa-made products in their tiny shop. They have several different flavors of pasta, I had beet pappardelle and it was so delicious. The texture after cooking was firm and just perfectly tender. The edges had that "rough" look that only handmade pasta has. Very delicious. I can't wait to try more varieties.

This recipe is great for entertaining, and serves 6 to 8 people. Since only two of us live here, I have plenty for leftovers!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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