If you're looking for straightforward French bistro recipes, try celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. His Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes, and Techniques of Classic Bistro Cooking (Bloomsbury USA 2004), which includes the recipe below, lacks the pretension and unnecessary complication you might find in other French cookbooks.
Makes 4 servings
1 bottle plus 1 cup red wine
1 onion, cut into 1-inch dice
1 carrot, cut into a 1/4-inch slices
1 celery rib, cut into 1/2-inch slices
4 whole cloves
1 tablespoon (about 14) whole black peppercorns
1 bouquet garni (1 sprig flat parsley, 2 sprigs fresh thyme and 1 bay leaf, tied together with string and used for flavoring (usually in stews or sauces); tying the bundle in cheesecloth makes it easier to retrieve from the pot)
1 whole chicken, 3 1/2 to 5 pounds in size
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1 tablespoon flour
1/4 pound slab country bacon, cut into small oblongs (lardons) about 1/4 inch by 1 inch
1/2 pound small white button mushrooms, stems removed
12 pearl onions, peeled
Pinch of sugar
3 large, deep bowls
Large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot
Small saute pan
1 sheet parchment paper
Deep serving platter
The day before you begin to cook, combine the bottle of red wine, the diced onion (that's the big onion, not the pearl onions), sliced carrot, celery, cloves, peppercorns and bouquet garni in a large, deep bowl. Add the chicken and submerge it in the liquid so that all of it is covered. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, remove the chicken from the marinade and pat it dry. Put it aside. Strain the marinade through the fine strainer, reserving the liquids and solids separately. Season the chicken with salt and pepper inside and out. In the Dutch oven, heat the oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter until almost smoking, and then sear the chicken, turning with the tongs to evenly brown the skin. Once browned, remove it from the pot and set it aside again. Add the reserved onions, celery, and carrot to the pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until they are soft.
Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and mix well with the wooden spoon so that the vegetables are coated. Now stir in the reserved strained marinade. Put the chicken back in the pot, along with the bouquet garni. Cook this for about 1 hour and 15 minutes over low heat.
Have a drink. You're almost there...
While your chicken stews slowly in the pot, cook the bacon lardons in the small saute pan over medium heat until golden brown. Remove the bacon from the pan and drain it on paper towels, making sure to keep about 1 tablespoon of fat in the pan. Saute the mushroom tops in the bacon fat until golden brown. Set them aside.
Now in the small saucepan, combine the pearl onions, pinch of sugar, a pinch of salt and 2 tablespoons of butter. Add just enough water to just cover the onions, then cover the pan with the parchment paper trimmed to the same size as your pan. (I suppose you can use foil if you must.) Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the water has evaporated. Keep a close eye on it. Remove the paper cover and continue to cook until the onions are golden brown. Remove the onions and add the remaining cup of red wine to the hot pan, scraping up all the bits of food stuck to the bottom of the pot. Season with salt and pepper and reduce over medium-high heat until thick enough to coat the back of the spoon.
Your work is pretty much done here. One more thing and then it's wine and kudos...
When the chicken is cooked through — meaning tender, the juice from the thigh running clear when pricked — carefully remove from the liquid, cut into quarters, and arrange on the deep serving platter. Strain the cooking liquid (again) into the reduced red wine. Now just add the bacon, mushrooms and pearl onions, adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, and swirl in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Now pour the sauce over the chicken and dazzle your friends with your brilliance. Serve with buttered noodles and a Bourgogne Rouge.