The French Bistro

Someone recently told me that the French word "bistro" was actually derived from býstro (быстро), a Russian word meaning "quickly."

Always the skeptic, I headed straight to Wikipedia for a reference. (The live-in encyclopedia wasn't available...) While the above mentioned etymology is mentioned, it is thought to be apocryphal, as the word "bistro" didn’t come into use until the end of the 19th century - 80 or more years after the Russian occupation of Paris in 1815, when the Cossacks were said to have yelled, "Býstro!" to the waiters in Parisian cafés.

The French have another possible story. In certain restaurants, they serve an apéritif called bistrouille which combines a liqueur and coffee... and perhaps those were the eateries that became bistros.

In the end, no one really knows the etymology of the word. Whatever the case, bistros in France are great places to get a well-prepared meal with minimal fuss, in a modest setting, and with a smaller bill at the end. And they serve comfort food.

This is the kind of food we love, and there is one bistro we visit every time we go to Lenox, Massachusetts, to visit Mark's mother. Bistro Zinc.

When we were there in May, we stopped in one evening for a salad - crispy goat cheese with roasted beets, chopped smoked Marcona almonds and a honey-balsamic vinaigrette. We had the pleasure of being served by Ashley, a former spa employee. We chatted comfortably with her about gardening vegetables and good food.

At the other end of the bar sat the chef, Ryan McIntyre, who soon joined our conversation about food. When we asked Ashley about the food at the spa where she worked, she said, "Actually, the food was pretty good." Ryan asked if they used butter, to which she had to admit they did not. "Then it isn't good,” he said.

Ryan is a firm believer in the use of butter. I liked him immediately. (Oddly, today's recipe uses no butter.)

I mentioned to him that I was happy to see his recipe for Coq au Vin in the RSVP section of Bon Appétit recently, and that I had enjoyed that dish during our last trip. He said he was honored to have been asked by BA for his recipe, but was a bit put off that they had not given him credit by name. I promised that I would post his Coq au Vin here on Cocoa and Lavender, and give him some of the credit he is due. It is a superb dish, and exactly like one I would expect in Paris.

Although we may think of Coq au Vin as a winter dish, it is served year-round in bistros throughout France. We opted to serve it to Christine and Bill as they prepare to leave for Cabo San Lucas for the next eight months. Figuring they will have their fill of good Mexican food, we opted for this iconic French dish...

Thanks, Ryan, for this great recipe and for all wonderful food you serve at Bistro Zinc, and ¡Buena Suerte! to Chris and Bill as they head south!

And, this is a perfect choice to make for your Bastille Day celebration! Joyeux Le Quatorze Juillet!

~ David

Coq au Vin Chef Ryan McIntyre, Bistro Zinc, Lenox, MA
[my few edits appear below in brackets]

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
4 or 5 skin-on, bone-in chicken legs (thigh and drumstick)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into 1/3-inch slices 

    [I used salt pork to avoid a smoky flavor]
3 carrots, peeled, chopped
3 celery stalks, minced
1 onion, minced
4 cups dry red wine, such as Burgundy, divided
1/2 cup tomato paste
1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
12 sprigs thyme
6 sprigs rosemary
1 pound assorted wild mushrooms, cut into bite-size pieces (about 8 cups)
    [I used baby bellas, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms]

Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large ovenproof Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Cook chicken in batches until browned, 5-6 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate [and drain fat from pot].

Add bacon to pot; cook until rendered. [Drain all but 1 tablespoon fat from the pan.] Add carrots, celery, and onion; cook until onion is translucent, 7-8 minutes. Stir in 1 cup wine and tomato paste; simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add remaining 3 cups wine. [Gently] boil [stirring occasionally] until wine is reduced by half, 15-20 minutes. Return chicken to pot.

Add broth. Tie thyme and rosemary sprigs together; add to pot. Bring to a boil and cover pot. Transfer pot to oven and braise until chicken is tender, about 1 1/4 hours.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; sauté until browned, about 5 minutes.

Transfer chicken from sauce to pot with mushrooms; keep warm. Simmer sauce over medium heat until reduced by 1/3, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. [Go lightly on the salt until you taste it.] Add mushrooms and chicken to sauce.

Serves 4-6.

Note: Coq au Vin can be made 3 days ahead. Chill uncovered until cold. Cover; keep chilled. Rewarm before serving.

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