Gene Kelly's Favorite Recipe Was A Complicated Twist On A Classic

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Hollywood's Golden Era was filled with famous foodies. From Frank Sinatra's specific order of Jack Daniel's on the rocks to Alfred Hitchcock's legendary steak dinners, the scene was made by folks with an appreciation for the finer things in life — things that might not always have been especially fancy but were done well. As for legendary actor-slash-dancer Gene Kelly, he loved coq au vin and had his own take on the classic recipe.

Coq au vin is a classic French dish, an elevated stew packed as much with wine-braised chicken as inherent glamor and old-style sophisticated intrigue. It emerged as a popular dish during the early 1900s (Gene Kelly was born in 1912). In Kelly's recipe, via Dinah Shore's 1966 publication, "The Celebrity Cookbook," he wrote, "The extra steps that make this version so good include browning the chicken and vegetables, adding brandy (flamed as it is put into the stew) and, most crucial of all, removing the finished chicken and vegetables from the sauce to about half its former quantity by a quick boil." He goes on to explain, "This last intensifies the flavor of the sauce immeasurably. 'Beurre manié' is added to make the sauce a little richer still — and thicken it slightly."

Gene Kelly made his coq au vin with some fancy tailoring

Traditional coq au vin uses a mixture of red wine (often Pinot Noir) and brandy, but Gene Kelly added his brandy at a key moment, enhancing its naturally smoky flavor by flaming it. The cold-weather comfort food is packed with mushrooms, pearl onions, and garlic, plus meaty French lardons and chicken. But while some recipes boil the veggies, Kelly chose to brown his, adding a unique texture to his presentation. Then, to complete the meal, quoth Kelly in his recipe, "Serve with rice that has been fluffed up with butter and parsley."

Beurre manié is French for "kneaded butter" and is commonly used to achieve the soups so quintessential to French culinary styles with their rich texture and glossy finish. Kelly stuck to some of the classic coq au vin steps, but his use of the ingredient (and the fact that he had a personal coq au vin recipe at all) suggests that he had some familiarity with traditional French cooking in general. While this area of his background was never something Kelly expounded upon in great detail (he grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Pittsburgh born to an Irish-German family), Kelly was an outspoken gourmand throughout his life. During one appearance on "The Danny Kaye Show," he told the host "Danny, you can dance to anything that's beautiful," before breaking out into an elaborate tap dance number while reciting a recipe for linguine.