A recent coup de coeur moment for my neighborhood (here's looking at you, 18th arrondissement), in which my dry cleaner invited me to have dinner at her house upon finding out that I have no family in Paris, inspired a lively conversation on Facebook. "No family in Paris??" my friend Jeremy quickly responded, slightly insulted that I didn't immediately inform my dry cleaner that I was not at all alone in the city.
It's true that I have no biological family in Paris, or France for that matter, but I am fortunate in having an extended urban family in my adopted city. Close friends, mostly fellow ex-pats, who made a leap of faith to relocate to Paris, have become my touchstones and support network, providing everything we could ever ask of a family, with the added bonus of rarely driving each other crazy.
In my almost decade of living in Paris, I've learned that it's important to create the community you need to thrive while living abroad, or just living in general. I have honorary roommates who have free reign on a spare key to my house. Friends I can count on to enable me to have more fun and disable me when I'm having too much. Neighbors who look out for the strange American in their midst. A crew of passionate, intelligent, and hilarious ladies who inspire and lunch like no one else on this planet. And, of course, there's the family you choose.
Our family of friends celebrates finding each other with regular family dinners. We all sit down together, eat a home-cooked meal and drink wine. Lots of wine.
The most recent family dinner was one of our more epic affairs. I made a Coq au Vin for the first time ever and we had plenty of fermented grape juice to go with. Stories were told, dances were danced, and memories were made.
The fact that I have hardly any photos of the food I served that night is a testament to how much I adore this time spent à table, when I live totally in the moment and thoughts of blog posts, Instagram, etc. are far from my manic, internet-making mind. On nights like these I'm simply enjoying every minute of the time I have with my friends.
So, you'll have to take my word for it that the Coq au Vin looked (and was) delicious! Also a great choice for feeding a growing family of hungry ex-pats on a chilly autumn night.
Here's a recipe you can serve to whoever you consider kin. I've included ideas for expanding the recipe to feed more people, because you can never have too much family.
Family Dinner Coq au Vin
4 lbs (2 kilos) chicken; mixture of thighs, breasts, drumsticks, and wings (add 2-3 pieces of chicken for each additional person)
1/2 lb (150 grams) diced bacon
2 cups (300 grams) button mushrooms
10 small white or yellow onions
2 cups full-bodied red wine
2 cups beef or chicken stock
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons flour
2 cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon Thyme
1 Bay leaf
1 teaspoon Salt
Prepare to brown your chicken by cooking bacon in a large pot* until they render their fat. In the meantime, wash the chicken and then dry chicken pieces with a clean dishtowel. After about 5 minutes, remove bacon from pot and set aside. Add more olive oil if necessary, and arrange chicken pieces in one layer on the bottom of the pot. Cook, turning the chicken occasionally, for 6-8 minutes. If you are browning your chicken in two separate pots, you can combine the meat in the larger of the two at this point. Add onions, bay leaf, salt and thyme. Cover and cook on low heat for 5 minutes. Turn chicken over and season to taste, then cover and cook an additional 5 minutes. Add flour, lightly coating the chicken. Add red wine and stock, stirring to make sure there are no clumps of flour in your sauce. Add the browned bacon, tomato paste, and pressed garlic. Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Test chicken and onions after 20 minutes, they should be easily pierced with a fork. If this is not the case, continuing cooking until done. Add mushrooms, cover and cook an additional 5 minutes. At this point you can taste your sauce and season as necessary. If the sauce is not thick enough, bring the pot to a quick boil until you have the desired consistency. Serve with rice or shell beans and your choice of seasonal vegetable.
* It is important not to crowd the chicken, so if you have more chicken than room in your pot, you can use two different pots for the browning step