The People’s Coq au Vin

August 20, 2016 – History teaches us that the world’s great cuisines originated from need.  The need to survive.  To preserve food.  To make meager supplies last longer.  To make food on the verge of spoiling taste better.  Even taste good.

I once heard a famous chef make similar statements in an interview.  When queried by the interviewer, the chef’s response was brilliant.

“Do you think,” the chef asked, “people would really have eaten snails and birds’ nests if they’d had a thick beef steak?”

It’s also true that politics have influenced how people eat.  Sometimes in cruel fashion.  Perhaps the best example of this phenomenon is China’s Cultural Revolution.

In the early ’60s, the aging Chairman Mao Zedong had allowed others to assume positions of influence in the Communist Party and the government of China.  But by 1966 he had become alarmed at the direction in which the country was going.  Aided by his wife, Jiang Qing and her followers, known as the Gang of Four, he moved to reassert his authority.

They called on China’s youth to purge the “impure” elements of Chinese society.  Schools were closed.  The elderly and intellectuals were driven from the cities to rural areas.  They were the fortunate ones.

1.5 million people were killed.  Millions more were imprisoned and tortured.  Their only crime was a bourgeois life style as reported by the neighbors who spied on them.  At least the pretense of political purity demanded by the Communist Party leadership was imperative for survival.

That brings us to what was satirically referred to, in private, as the People’s Coq au Vin.  It was the simplest of dishes, containing only four elements:  a chicken, some oil, soy sauce and red wine.  Peasant food at its most basic.

However, if a family had a little more hidden from spying eyes, and if the windows were covered, onion, garlic, ginger and sesame oil might be added to spice up what was a very bland meal.

What follows is my version of the People’s Coq au Vin.

I used chicken thighs rather than a whole chicken.  I like chicken thighs.

I added the onion, garlic, ginger and sesame oil.  And more.  Much more.

To fool the spies who no doubt would have been trying to peek in our windows, I served the chicken with linguini.  I thought that would confuse them.

Since I was using thighs instead of a whole chicken, I traded the oven for a wok.  Baking takes time.  Stir frying is quick and easy.

Yeah, I would have been shot.

But my last meal would have been memorable.

The People’s Coq au Vin

(Serves four)

2 1/2 lbs boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite size pieces

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup red wine

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger

2 tablespoons Chile Garlic Sauce, or to taste

1 tablespoon hoisin sauce

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon lemongrass concentrate

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1/2 teaspoon arrowroot (or corn starch)

Salt & pepper to taste


Cook the linguini in salted boiling water.

Heat the oil in a wok.  When hot but not smoking, add the onion.  Stir fry until soft, four to five minutes.

Add the chicken.  Stir fry until it begins to turn color, three to four minutes.  Add the soy sauce and red wine.  Continue to cook until the chicken starts to become permeated with the liquid, two to three minutes.

Add all the other ingredients.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Mix well.  Stir fry until heated through and the chicken is thoroughly cooked.

If there is still a lot of liquid, toss in the arrowroot (or corn starch) to thicken.

Add the linguini to the pot and toss to coat.

Bon temps!

Squeeze Inn

August 8, 2016 – If you’re a fan of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive Ins & Dives, as are we, you’ve probably seen the episode in which Guy visits the Squeeze Inn in Sacramento.  A tiny little place opened by Travis Hausauer a few years ago.

Travis is a cheese lover.  He created a cheese lover’s burger.  A burger, good enough on its own, set in a frame of steamed, toasted cheese extending three inches all the way around.  An amazing sandwich!

Britney asked us if we wanted a table or would we prefer to sit at the bar.  We said we’d sit at the bar.  It seemed the thing to do in a place called the Squeeze Inn.  She said she’d be right back.  She had one table to tend ahead of us.  She said that as she literally ran to her waiting customers.

True to her word she was back quickly to take our drink orders.  In addition to the usual soft drinks, they offered River City Orange Cream Soda.  Artisanal.  Locally made.  In a bottle.  I had to try it.

What would be the point, we asked each other, of coming to the Squeeze Inn without having the Squeeze Burger?  Travis Hausauer’s cheesy creation that had fascinated us when we say Guy tackling one on tv.  My wife ordered the Squeeze Burger.  Fully dressed, as we say in New Orleans, with mayonnaise, mustard, lettuce, tomato and pickle.  On the theory that jalapenos make anything better,  I added the semi spicy peppers to my Squeeze Burger.

I sipped the River City Orange Cream Soda as we watched our burgers come to life on the grill.  The soda lived up to its name.  Creamy.  Just enough orange to compliment the vanilla without overcoming it.  Soda-licious!

We were fascinated watching our Squeeze Burgers being made.  Travis Hausauer developed a unique style.  Starting with a burger.  A third of a pound of meat on the grill.  Cover it with a pile of cheese.  A large pile of cheese.  Let that melt down a bit.  What happens next borders on the surreal.  A cheese lovers dream!

A handful of ice is tossed onto the grill.  The burger is covered to let it steam briefly.  When the cover is removed the cheese has encircled the burger.  Left on the grill a bit longer to let the cheese toast, it’s brought to table looking like a work of art.  A delightful, exquisite, lovely work of food art.

Now to figure out how to eat the Squeeze Burger.  Some fold the cheese in on top of itself under the bun.  I like the taste of toasted cheese too much for that.  I ate the ring of cheese all the way around the bun.  Then I started on the burger itself.  The next few minutes were highly pleasurable.

When we left it was clear we wouldn’t be cooking dinner.  We had gorged ourselves far too much.   We were looking forward to a nap.  Perhaps a martini and light hors d’oeuvres later as we watched the Olympics from our couch and wondered where the athletes got all that energy.

But then we hadn’t seen a single one of them at the Squeeze Inn.

Oh, well.  Their loss.



Stir Fried Beef with Leeks

August 7, 2016 – My interest in learning about Chinese food and the amazing wok continues.  While many Chinese dishes are intricately complicated, the wok makes cooking delicious food quick and simple.  At this stage of life quick and simple is a good thing.

Our latest experiment is perhaps the simplest we’ve tried.  And one of the best.  I love leeks.  And beef…well, enough said.

This recipe calls for flank steak.  Generally a cheaper cut of beef, when sliced properly (against the grain) it is tender and toothsome.  Sliced improperly, (with the grain) it’s inedible.  You can chew until your jaw aches without making any progress.

Flank steak usually comes in wide slabs.  I did slice the steak with the grain just to make two smaller halves.  I then sliced each half across the grain into thin pieces suitable for stir frying.

While the beef and leeks mixture was quite palatable served on its own over rice, it also is a good base.  If I make it again I might add some hot red peppers.  Or maybe some other vegetables.  Broccoli flowerets or sliced zucchini come to mind.  The basic recipe is strong enough to stand up to the addition of most anything your imagination can conjure.

Again in this recipe I used coconut aminos, at my wife’s request, as a substitute for soy sauce.  If you use soy sauce, add a teaspoon of sugar to the marinade.

The following recipe served two of us.

Stir Fried Beef with Leeks

Flank steak, 1 lb, sliced thin                                             2 tablespoons red wine

Two leeks, sliced thin                                                       Salt & pepper to taste

3 tablespoons coconut aminos (or soy sauce)                4 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon hoisin sauce                                              Cooked rice

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

While the rice is cooking, mix the coconut aminos (or soy sauce), hoisin sauce, sesame oil, one tablespoon wine, and pepper to taste.  Pour it over the sliced beef and let it marinate until the rice is done.  About 20 minutes.

Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a wok, or frying pan.  Toss in the sliced leeks and add salt to taste.  Stir fry over high heat for three to four minutes until the leeks are softened but not brown.  Move the leeks to the sides of the wok and add the remaining olive oil to the pan.  Add the beef along with its marinade.  Stir fry for a minute or two.  Push the leeks into the beef and mix the two well, continuing to stir fry for another minute or two.  Add the second tablespoon of wine.  Stir fry for no more than another minute.

Serve over rice.  Perhaps a garnish of sliced green onion.

Bon temps!