Defrost in translation…

sunday's sketches
I was on deck with my sketchbook, supposedly drawing ideas for a group exhibit that I’ll be joining in September (but really I was distractedly doodling, as usual, and had made a few attempts to draw Kris, who was sitting on the other end of the deck) when sailor, friend, and all-around lovely French guy Christophe dropped in on the (reasonably) good ship Sonofagun this morning to lend me his 6 liter pressure cooker as well as a small recipe book that used to belong to his mother.

All of this came about because I told him, over some vodka at the Dinah Beach Yacht Pub, that I didn’t know what to make for Kris’ birthday dinner that would be easy for me to prepare on our very low-tech boat, yet still a respectable dish, and in quantities that would feed 15-20 adults, without shackling me to the kitchen stove all night.

He suggested I make coq au vin (rooster with wine) in a pressure cooker, and I thought Hmm, that’s really not a bad idea…throw everything into the autocuiseur, walk away and, an hour later, come back to reveal tender chicken pieces in a rich sauce of cognac and red wine.

Add to this dish some mashed potato and a hearty pumpkin or a lentil and garlic soup (don’t forget, it’s winter in Oz, and even tropical Darwin gets chilly when the sun goes down…especially on the open deck of a boat in the harbour!), preceded by little bowls of homemade hommus, bagna cauda, this award-winning recipe for borani esfanaaj (“yoghurt and spinach dip in the Persian manner”), vegetable crudites, a couple of decent cheeses, some salami and smoked salmon, and loads of fresh, crusty Turkish bread and baguettes…

I gazed into the middle distance and my eyes took on a faraway, concentrated look as the entire evening’s menu sort of just wrote itself, in my head, while I methodically imagined every taste and texture to see what a meal like that would be like. I even sipped an after-dinner glass of frosty eggnog for a moment, before discarding the imaginary drink and replacing it with a mug of hot homemade mocha chocolate, instead. I gave a contented sigh and beamed at him. Christophe probably thought to himself “Ah, she only drink two shots of this vodka, but already she is drunk!”

I have only ever made coq au vin using an old Cordon Bleu cookbook…if my memory serves me, it involved several cast iron pans, many hours of stirring and thickening, as well as handfuls of perfectly good carrots that you simmered for ages until very soft…only to squeeze them for their juices and throw away the rest. Also, there was blood, and a Dutch oven involved.

It hadn’t been an easy dish to cook in my mother’s modern, gadget-packed kitchen—and it left a small trail of dirty cookware—so there’s no way I would manage it on a solar powered boat with a single-burner camping stove and a Coleman cooler for refrigeration, but Christophe’s recipe looked promisingly short, so maybe it would be simple, too?

I wouldn’t know until I translated it from the French.

“Gild the cockerel pieces…halfway through the operation, add the onion roundels…. Add the cognac (the recipe gives you a choice of cognac or coffee grounds…can’t be right…) and quickly ignite. Cover with red wine…cut the sandy feet off the champignons and wash the latter…simmer for 30-40 minutes from the time the pressure cooker starts whispering, depending on the age of the cockerel (a fork will easily penetrate the thigh when it is the appropriate time)…”

It was pretty easy, after the literal translation, to go over the instructions with the logic of recipes in mind, and smooth it all out so it made sense…only that bit that my dictionary said meant “coffee grounds,” and a word that wasn’t in my dictionary: couenne, that I first mistook for cayenne pepper (but turned out to be pork rind, yuck, wouldn’t use it, anyway!)

There’s no point writing the recipe here until I’ve tried it myself. If everything goes well, I’ll be sure to let you know and share it! In the meantime, thought I’d share the doodle I made next to my rough translation of the recipe (which I wrote in my sketchbook, because it was the closest bit of blank paper)

coq au vin

Although a capon or chicken is usually used, the recipe was originally recommended as a way to tenderise tough old sinewy roosters, like this potty-mouthed old fella.

  • Potetto something (DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!) ( A hilarious article about, among other things, how letting your pressure cooker get all scungy and disgusting can cause cancer… also, a recipe for “Potato something” about which the author writes: “Divine, heavenly, uplifting, subliminal, subtle are all words that I will NOT use to describe this dish. It was crap and I will never do it again.”
  • National coq au vin day (
  • Lock the Lid, Embrace the Green (

8 thoughts on “Defrost in translation…

    1. It was awesome, really…our local Frenchman said it was almost as good as his mother’s. YAY! I’m going to try and replicate that rooster on the appropriate page in my cookbook…


  1. I just caught up with your posts today and your menu sounds so excitingly exotic – and a lot of work maybe? will read up more in a bit and see how it came out. 🙂 OH and happy birthday Kris!


    1. Hahaha, it was meant to be the easy alternative (and it was, apart from the coq) but it’s all relative, I’m used to starting cooking three days ahead, so the fact that I only started the night before was, to me, ‘easier’. 😉


  2. Ha! I *love* the trussed-up rooster doodle ;-).

    It sounds like a very lovely birthday meal to share with friends =).


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