Tonight, March 21, all roads lead to France, or at least to French food.
It’s the night the French remind the world why its cuisine has been regarded as among the best in the world, why French food and cooking techniques are the gold standard upon which other cuisines are judged.
“Gout de France,” a celebration of French gastronomy, is the one night in spring when participating restaurants in over 150 countries will serve a special menu that showcases the richness and flavors of French cuisine.
The concept was launched in 2015 by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and renowned chef Alain Ducasse.
Since then it has had various iterations. This year, the feast highlights not just French Provençal cooking, but also responsible cuisine and environmental sustainability.
In the Philippines, 26 chefs and restaurants are participating in the event. They include not just those in Metro Manila, but even restaurants in Baguio (Hill Station), Tagaytay (Anya Resort’s Samira), Malaybalay (Eiffel Kubo) and Cebu (La Vie Parisienne and La Vie in the Sky).
Welcoming the media at the launch at Manila Hotel’s Champagne Room last Wednesday was French Ambassador Nicolas Galey.
The launch was, indeed, French cuisine at its best. The Champagne Room, which prides itself in having had Ernest Hemingway among its famous visitors, served pan-seared scallops with spears of seasonal white asparagus enhanced ever so subtly with foie gras sauce.
Chef Jessie’s clear essence of wild game looked deceptively like clear liquid, but its flavor was full and robust, punctuated by herbed mini dumplings.
Chateau 1771 impressed with its duck leg gently cooked for five long hours with tomatoes, chorizo and beans, while Milagritos served the classic Coquilles Saint Jacques.
Ratatouille, another classic French dish, was interpreted by Menoy Gimenez of Tito Chef, while Gene Gonzalez of Café Ysabel served tarte tatin, with mulled red wine ice cream and sauce beurre noisette.
And then there was the exquisite potatoccino of Anya Resort’s Samira Restaurant—puréed potatoes topped with a delicate truffle foam.
Mulberry Door served the classic dish coq au vin, as did Eiffel Kubo, which playfully renamed it Manok au Vin.
I wasn’t able to try it as I was abstaining from wine that evening, but at home I made my own version of this chicken dish cooked in red wine. It was surprisingly easy to make—and yet the dish turned out hearty and delicious.
Coq au vin
8 slices bacon, cut into one-inch lengths
1 whole chicken, sliced into 8-10 serving pieces or 4 chicken legs and 4 chicken thighs
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 medium onion, diced
1 large carrot, cut into rounds
10 large button mushrooms, sliced into quarters
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tbsp butter
2 c red wine
1½ c chicken broth
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp chopped parsley leaves
In deep casserole, cook the bacon over medium heat, turning frequently, until browned. Remove the bacon from the casserole and transfer to a clean plate. Leave the bacon drippings in the casserole.
Season the chicken well with salt and pepper. Turn up the heat and brown the chicken pieces in the hot bacon drippings, turning once, just until the chicken pieces are browned on all sides (about two minutes per side).
Transfer the chicken to a clean plate. Spoon off excess drippings, leaving about 1 to 2 tablespoons in the casserole. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to release the browned bits.
Turn down the heat, then sauté the diced onion about 1-2 minutes. Add carrots and mushrooms and sauté until slightly tender and the mushrooms turn brown. Season with salt.
Push the vegetables to one side of the casserole. Add flour and butter to the casserole and stir until well-blended, then mix into the vegetables.
Pour in the red wine. Simmer until the wine is reduced by about half. Pour in the chicken broth, then return the chicken and the bacon to the casserole.
Add the thyme and bay leaves. If desired, season with additional salt and pepper. Simmer for about 20 minutes, until the chicken is fully cooked and tender.
Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle parsley on top (remove the thyme and bay leaves before serving).
Use good-quality red wine. Since this is a French dish, it’s advisable to use French wine.
This is best served with mashed potatoes. Spoon some of the sauce into the mashed potatoes to create a tasty, homemade flavor.
You can also serve this with bread. Bread is good for sopping up the flavorful wine sauce.