I have two degrees, a B.A. in Psychology and a PhD in Belgian Studies. I earned my B.A. the traditional way, four years of courses, capped off with a 100-page senior thesis. My PhD, however, is a different story. During summers in college I was an intern for Vanberg & DeWulf, the premiere Belgian beer importing company in the US. My job responsibilities were the typical unglamorous intern tasks, I sealed envelopes, organized food events, filed press clippings and did essentially anything else they asked of me. I didn't mind though, my time working for Wendy and Don was an unparalleled learning experience, akin to having a private tourguide to the cuisine and culture of Belgium.
In the two summers, and several school vacations, I worked at V&DeW I learned all about the fantastic world of mussels and frites, real waffles, Axel Vervoordt, artisanal cheeses and chocolates, Tin-Tin, and, of course, Belgian-style home cooking. In fact, my first day of work Wendy handed me a copy of Ruth's book, Everybody Eats Well in Belgium, and my parent's and I cooked from it, exclusively, for two months straight. The whole experience was a little strange for me at first, having listened to everyone wax poetic about France and it's culinary treasures I couldn't figure out what was wrong with Belgium. I mean, why had I never heard much about this country? Did it want to be ignored? It turns out that the country of Belgium is just very small which is why people seem to have an easier job dismissing it then, say, Italy or Spain. But, I can attest, Belgium is packed with cultural treasures and talented people, it deserves it's share of the spotlight.
There are many delectable Belgian recipes and anecdotes I plan to share with you over time (Beer battered onion rings! Beef Carbonnade! Artisanal Beers!), but today I am going to start with one of my family's favorites, Coq a la Biere. This recipe is Belgium's answer to France's popular dish Coq au vin, and is perfect to make for a Sunday dinner. The preparation takes time, but is simple and doesn't require any complicated techniques. One of the biggest ways I save time is to have my butcher ("you have to know your butcher!"), cut the chicken into eight pieces since I hate doing it at home. Once I begin the process of making the dish it simply becomes a matter of slowly adding the ingredients, deglazing the pan, and then letting everything simmer away in dark beer with a fragrant bouquet garni. After almost an hour of simmering the chicken becomes moist and tender, and the beer transforms into a delicious nutty flavored sauce. The finishing touch of the meal is to add a quick dash of cream to the beer sauce, which I serve spooned over the chicken alongside a big green salad. Most of the time the leftovers from this meal will feed my family for at least two or three days, though sometimes I snag the drumsticks during the day and take them to the park for a picnic.
For my next round of Belgian stories I will definitely go into more detail about Belgium's beer culture and, of course, share more recipes. I also can't wait to explore the fascinating experiment by the city of Ghent to go vegetarian once a week in an attempt to lose weight and save the planet. But, until then, I encourage you to research this fantastic country yourself and maybe even plan a trip. There is so much to love about it that Arthur Frommer himself wrote a book called "A Masterpiece called Belgium," which, I think, says it all. Genieten!
Naptime's Coq a la Biere
adapted from The Beer Companion by Michael Jackson (the food expert, not the singer!)
3 T. olive oil
1/4 stick of unsalted butter
1/2 lb. pearl onions, frozen
1 chicken cut into eight pieces
1/3 c. white wine
1 T. flour
1 1/3 c. dark beer (I recommend Witkap Dubbele, Moinette or St. Amand)
Bouquet Garni* (I use fresh rosemary, fresh thyme and a bay leaf)
1/3 c. heavy cream
Salt & Pepper to taste
*To make a bouquet garni tie together 4 inch stalks of any herb you choose with kitchen twine. Then, drop it into your soup or stock to add delicious flavoring. Don't panic, the herbs will loosen up and float into the sauce, this is normal.
1. Heat the oil and butter in a large dutch oven. Saute the onions until they begin to brown, the remove them with a slotted spoon and reserve for later.
2. Add the chicken pieces to the pan and brown each piece. Once they are all browned add the wine and deglaze the pan, making sure to scrape up all the brown bits.
3. Sprinkle the flour over the chicken and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
4. Return the onions to the pan, add the beer, bouquet garni, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, and cover for 40-45 minutes until chicken is tender.
5. Discard bouquet garni, skim excess fat and stir in the heavy cream. Bring back to a boil for 3 minutes, add more salt & pepper to taste.
6. Serve the chicken and spoon sauce over each piece.
Naptime Recipe Props: This recipe is the perfect meal for big family dinner. It is easy to make and yields large quantities of moist, tender chicken. Feel free to adjust the seasonings if you like, almost any kind of herb works well. I have also heard that people like to serve it with chopped parsley scattered over the top.
Naptime Stopwatch: The preparation of the chicken takes about 15 minutes and the simmering about another 45. The whole dinner is complete in about an hour and a half, but time is saved because you don't have to cook at all the next evening!
Naptime Reviews: My husband and I love this dish. My daughter likes the tender chicken but made it abundantly clear to us that she does not like the onions!