Cook au vin

Mark Hix hits the bottle and reveals the boozy secrets of a master saucier
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Last week I revealed that I'd learned to cook basmati during a short stint at the Hilton staff canteen. In my second job in London, at the Grosvenor House hotel, I was immersed, as it were, in cooking with wine. The sauce section is where you need to be to be a real cook, in a real kitchen - well that's what you are led to believe as a green youngster from the sticks. But before you become a saucier you have to work your way up, earning your stripes in other sections such as vegetables (entremetier) and larder (garde manger), for a couple of years. Even when you reach the ultimate position, you must almost start again from scratch. I knew that when my time arrived I must be prepared, so whenever there was a quiet period I would nip around and see what was happening on the sauce. I would get yelled at occasionally for being absent from my section, but what the hell, I needed to know as much as possible before I was summoned.

Last week I revealed that I'd learned to cook basmati during a short stint at the Hilton staff canteen. In my second job in London, at the Grosvenor House hotel, I was immersed, as it were, in cooking with wine. The sauce section is where you need to be to be a real cook, in a real kitchen - well that's what you are led to believe as a green youngster from the sticks. But before you become a saucier you have to work your way up, earning your stripes in other sections such as vegetables (entremetier) and larder (garde manger), for a couple of years. Even when you reach the ultimate position, you must almost start again from scratch. I knew that when my time arrived I must be prepared, so whenever there was a quiet period I would nip around and see what was happening on the sauce. I would get yelled at occasionally for being absent from my section, but what the hell, I needed to know as much as possible before I was summoned.

Those were the days when every dish had a sauce. At 7am there was a battle for large copper pans to begin the daily sauce boil-up. If you were there the night before, you could hide them in the ovens to get an advantage. By 8am there were about 12 or 14 sauces on the go. Each pan had chopped shallots, herbs and a reduction of wine and stock bubbling away. The smell was incredible, and controlling those almost magical potions was a thrilling experience. There would be pots of crayfish heads simmering away in cream for hours with saffron and fish stock. Creamed morels would sit on the very edge of the solid top stove, barely simmering. And pans of red and white wine for veal, beef, game and lamb dishes would be rapidly boiling to burn away the alcohol so the finished sauce would be sweet and velvety. We got through so much booze in the sauces, we thought nothing of lobbing a couple of bottles into each pan.

You see, in a restaurant a red wine or Madeira sauce must taste of what it's supposed to. It takes at least a bottle of wine to make enough sauce for lunch and dinner. How good the wine should be depends on when it is added. For example, to make a red wine sauce, a bottle of wine is reduced down to about half a glass with some shallots and herbs.

I've always thought that this is a complete waste of a £10-£15 wine, because by the end there's very little difference compared to a bottle of half-decent plonk. I am, though, in favour of finishing some sauces with a splash of good wine to give a little of the freshness that is sometimes lost through boiling and overpowered by strong stocks. Fortified wines like vermouth, Madeira and port should also be added at the end, just before serving, as they are sweeter and will only enhance the sauce and give it their distinctive flavour.

What cooking with wine boils down to is that as long as the sauce tastes of what it should, it matters not how you get there. My only rule is that the wine should be drinkable before you add it to the cooking. Taste it first. If it's corked or something dreadful that you won in a tombola at the golf club, pour it down the sink, not into the saucepan.

Lamb's kidneys in sherry and mustard sauce

Serves 4

It's a shame we don't drink more sherry - or use it for cooking. As an aperitif it's ideal with cured ham, tapas and other little Spanish delicacies, and it complements offal and other stronger meats perfectly in a sauce.

Lamb's kidneys are underrated, too. Instead of chopped in a steak pie, they're delicious on their own simply grilled in a mixed grill or pan-fried. Try to buy fresh kidneys, as the frozen ones tend to lose their blood and natural juices when they hit the hot grill or frying pan. Try this for brunch, lunch, supper or even as a starter if you're that hungry.

3 fresh lamb's kidneys
4 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
A good knob of butter
2tsp flour
100ml dry sherry
1tsp Dijon mustard
1tsp grain mustard
200ml beef stock
2tbsp double cream
1tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable or corn oil for frying
4 slices of bloomer or ciabatta-style bread, cut 1cm thick

Cut the kidneys in half, lengthways and remove any sinew with the point of a small sharp knife. Heat the butter in a pan and gently cook the shallots for 2-3 minutes until soft. Stir in the flour, then add the sherry and mustards and stir well. Gradually add the beef stock, stirring well to avoid lumps forming, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, season the kidneys and heat the vegetable oil in a heavy-based frying pan, until it's almost smoking. Fry the kidneys for 2-3 minutes on a high heat until they are nicely coloured, but still rare in the middle.

Remove from the pan onto a plate to catch any juices. Add the cream and parsley to the sauce and simmer for a few minutes until it's quite thick. Add the kidneys to the sauce and season with salt and pepper. If necessary f bring back to the boil and simmer for 1-2 minutes to re-heat the kidneys.

Meanwhile toast the bread on both sides and spoon the kidneys and sauce over the toast.

Coq au vin

Serves 4

In France you just walk into your local butcher's and pop a coq in your basket. In this country it doesn't translate well, and anyway it isn't easy to find a cock. The point of a cock bird is that the meat is a bit tougher, tastes better and takes long, slow cooking so the wine flavour penetrates the flesh. This is also achieved by a long soaking in a fairly tannic red wine marinade which eats its way into the flesh. I find that large chicken legs are a good alternative as they withstand longer cooking and don't dry out.

6 large chicken legs, knuckles chopped off and discarded, and cut into two at the joint
Oil for frying
60g butter
60g flour, plus more for dusting
2tsp tomato purée
500ml dark meat stock (a beef cube or fresh ready-made stock)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper for the marinade
1 x 750ml bottle gutsy red wine
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1tsp chopped thyme leaves
10 black peppercorns

for the garnish

60g thickly sliced bacon or pancetta, cut into 1¿2-1cm cubes (these can be bought pre-cut from supermarkets)
Vegetable oil for frying
150g firm mushrooms like ceps or button mushrooms, cleaned, quartered or cut into bite-sized pieces
24 button onions, peeled
1tsp caster sugar
A good knob of butter

Put the chicken into a stainless steel (or other non- corrosive) container with the wine and the rest of the ingredients for the marinade. Mix well, cover with cling film and leave to marinade for at least three days, and up to a week in the fridge. Remove the pieces of chicken from the marinade and dry on some kitchen paper. Season them with salt and pepper and dust with flour. Heat some vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan and cook the chicken on a high heat, giving them a nice brown colour all over, then drain on some kitchen paper.

Pre-heat the oven to 175°C/350ºF/gas mark 4. Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan or casserole, with a lid, that fits in the oven, such as a Le Creuset. Add the flour and mix well, then the tomato purée, and cook on a low heat for a couple of minutes, stirring well, until it starts to turn a light brown colour.

Gradually add the marinade, garlic, onion, thyme and peppercorns and little by little, stirring well to avoid lumps forming, and all of the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for five minutes. Add the chicken pieces, season lightly with salt and pepper, cover and cook in the oven for an hour.

Fry the pieces of bacon in about a tablespoon of vegetable oil for 3-4 minutes until lightly coloured, remove the pieces onto a plate leaving the fat in the pan. Add the mushrooms to the pan and lightly sauté for 3-4 minutes until lightly coloured.

Meanwhile, put the button onions in a pan, cover with lightly salted water and add the sugar and butter. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until tender. Drain and put them with the mushrooms and bacon.

Pour the chicken and sauce into a colander, over a bowl, to catch the sauce. Strain the sauce through a fine meshed sieve into a saucepan and simmer until the sauce has reduced by about half and thickened. If the sauce is not thick enough, mix a little cornflour in water and stir into the sauce until it thickens.

Remove the chicken pieces from the colander and add to the sauce with the mushrooms, onions and bacon. Bring back to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Serve with rice cooked in chicken stock, or mashed or boiled potatoes.

Black Muscat jelly

Serves 4

You'll have noticed I'm a jelly head, and must have been thinking to yourselves, he hasn't done a jelly for a while. Is it because it's winter? Definitely not, I was just a bit conscious that I was in danger of over-jellifying. Still, I couldn't resist this: a cool, deep red jelly for dark nights. As the wine isn't boiled it keeps its alcohol, and it's like having your dessert wine without admitting you're drinking it.

300ml water
300ml Elysium black Muscat or another good red dessert wine such as Banyuls
150g caster sugar
5 sheets leaf gelatine

Bring the water to the boil, add the sugar and stir until dissolved then remove from heat. Soak the gelatine leaves in a shallow bowl of cold water for a minute or so until soft. Squeeze out the water, add to the syrup and stir until dissolved. Add the wine, then pour the jelly into moulds or suitable containers such as tea cups.

Refrigerate for 2-3 hours or overnight until set. To serve, turn out the jellies, dipping the mould quickly into hot water to ease them out. Thick Jersey or organic cream goes beautifully with it.

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