Try your hand at classic coq au vin

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Coq au vin, literally "rooster in wine," is one of the great classic French dishes that many of us may have heard of or even tried, but few have attempted to cook.

Well, if you have ever made chicken cacciatore, then you have made something really close.

See, it used to be that everyone had chickens. Most people lived in a rural area away from the trappings of modern life and money.

If you wanted to eat, you grew it yourself.

The origins of most of our tried and true "traditional" and "classic" recipes are peasant food, the food of the poor.

Why? Because people had to figure out how to make $1 feed a family of nine for a week. They couldn't afford the best cuts of meat.

They had to settle for the scraps, the chewy bits, the throwaways. They needed to use up all the ingredients they had and figure out how to make them tasty.

Think of some of your favorite foods. Now, think about how they are made. Fish and chips was the working class poor's staple in England.

Pasta has sustained the poor of both China and Italy for hundreds of years.

One of my favorite poor foods is ravioli. Ravioli is pasta stuffed with something - usually a tiny bit of meat and lots of filler.

But think about tucking in to a great bowl of ravioli right now ... you see? It evokes a memory, because when its good, its really good.

And so it is with all of the "classics" like coq au vin.

The idea behind coq au vin is simple. You have an old chicken (yes, he's not a spring chicken anymore) and you need to feed your family . . . what to do, what to do.

Well if you try roasting or frying, it's going to be tough and probably not too tasty. So you slow cook him in wine and root vegetables and voila! Dinner.

I think 99% of the foods that I love to cook and eat are peasant meals. Meals with humble origins that are put together with care.

Where the flavors are deep and layered, not from exotic spices or expensive ingredients but from careful consideration of your items at hand and how best to treat them.

And that is the key here: knowing what to do with your ingredients.

Fear not! We are here to help and we'll be guiding you through some of those questions in the weeks to come.

Inspired by Lifestyles Magazine and Downtown Walla Walla Foundation's Second Annual Julia Child Cook Off in February, I thought we'd give you a chance to try it for yourself.

While there are many great recipes out there, I think this one is great and very simple.

Take your time and don't reach for the really expensive bottle of wine but rather something simple, rustic and even a little lighter than you might be used to.

We have a plethora of great wines available to us here in Walla Walla. We also have some very knowledgeable wine sales people.

There are even some great options from outside the area too! Don't be afraid to ask your wine merchant for some suggestions and if they cannot answer your questions, go somewhere where they can.

Damon and Colby Burke own Salumiere Cesario, an award-winning gourmet grocery in downtown Walla Walla. Send your comments or questions to: wallawallatable@gmail.com.

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