Like many well-educated housewives, my mother purchased Mastering the Art of French Cooking in the mid-1960s and tucked right in. One night I sat at the kitchen table, the red fleurs-de-lis calico of Julia Child's masterpiece open for quick reference, Mom braising pearl onions and, simmering bacon and finally browning chicken, after which, she poured this pungent amber liquid over the bird, told me to stand back--I was all of about six--and whoosh--flames! Clearly this was not an every-day meal.
I was an absurdly picky eater at the time, hot dogs and vegetable soup, mostly, hamburgers rarely and only with ketchup. I loathed cheese, salads and anything with mayonnaise (a fetish that continues; would that I still hated cheese!). When Mom set cooled mushrooms and a chicken wing in front of me, its skin tinged red from the burgundy, I balked. She implored me to "just to taste." For whatever reason, I did, fearing the noxious taste of canned spinach, or the slimy, nasally tang of mayo. But I was wrong. Here was something rich and savory, chicken that no longer tasted of muscle and paste, but transmogrified by wine into a hearty, delicious stew.
After that first bite, of course, I begged for more, requesting it on birthdays and special occasions. Dutifully, Mom made it Julia's way a few more times then wised up. "My shortcuts," she called them. She browned the chicken and vegetables and then threw everything into our black enameled roaster; braising it in the oven, allowing the gorgeous alchemy of wine and heat to scent the house. There were no more flames, no more parboiled bacon, but it still tasted like a revelation.
I'm attaching this recipe for coq au vin here. Julia Child and her partner Simone Beck wrote their recipes as narratives, insinuating ingredients like characters in a story, the cooking process working as plot. This recipe is written more conventionally.
Tomorrow I plan to make the dish Julia's way for guests in honor of her birthday, Aug. 15. Julia Child changed the way millions of women cooked and what Americans ate. And in honor of my Mom, who started a picky eater on a more adventurous path.