When I first considered this post, I almost gave it the title “Classic” – and then I realized just how foolish “Classic” would be. Coq au Vin is such a diverse dish – regional differences, techniques and acceptable variances in ingredients. In my modest collection of recipes; I have 16 difference “Classic” recipes for Coq au Vin – including Julia Child’s famous presentation by which all others are compared. After all, it was Julia Child that brought the delights of true French cooking to America. I am sure my little collection of Coq au Vin recipes represent only a small fraction of the “Classic” renditions of Coq au Vin that abound. Each recipe is exquisite in its own right. (In case you haven’t guessed Coq au Vin 01 is the first Coq au Vin recipe in my continually growing collection).
Most Americans think of Coq au Vin as French for Chicken cooked in Red Wine. While the wine part is true (although some of the modern recipes call for white wine), the chicken part isn’t completely accurate. Chickens are the birds as a whole, hens the female and roosters the male. What we buy in the market (here in America) are hens. Americans would be hard pressed to find a rooster hanging by its feet in our neighborhood markets. The “Coq” in Coq au Vin isn’t French for chicken as in “hen” – it’s French for Cock – as in rooster. Roosters, by nature, are tough and need all the braising time they can get to render a piece of meat that is even remotely tolerable. I suppose one could use a Capon. However; at the price per pound and the fact that Capons generally aren’t available except during the holidays, these rather expensive roosters aren’t very practical. Besides, Capons are wonderful all on their own, with wonderfully large breasts. Chickens – as in hens don’t require a long, slow cook as a means of tenderizing the meat. This is especially true for the white meat portions, that can easily be over-cooked. The slow cook method of braising a hen is more a way to bring flavors of the “stew” together and infuse their richness into the meat. Think of Coq au Vin as the chicken counterpart of another French “Classic” – Boeuf Bourguignon. Like Boeuf Bourguignon, this beautiful chicken stew braised in red wine is quintessence of French cuisine throughout the world.
The first time I made Coq au Vin it was for a dinner party of sorts. Way back in the stone ages (1980s) Murder-Mystery Dinner Theater and Murder-Mystery Dinner Parties were all the rage. One of the very first such dinner parties Hubby and I hosted was set in France. For those of you who have never hosted one of these murder mystery parties in a box, each game comes complete with bios for the players (usually four men and four women), a script of sorts (clues that are only known to particular characters, meant to be reveal along the way) and a recipe book with a step by step preparation instructions so that the dinner unfolded and becomes woven into the tapestry of the mystery itself. Everyone is suspect, and no one knows identity of the “killer” is until dessert. Guests come in costume fitting of their character and time period. It was a real hoot. While these fun parties aren’t the hot ticket these days, games can still be had and even down-loaded from the internet. While I no longer have the game (I can’t even recall its snappy title), I saved the wonderful recipe.
My son and his fiancée are coming for dinner over the holidays. Ever since we firmed up our plans, I’ve been racking my brains to come up with something that is wonderfully-special for the occasion while affording me some “down” time between prep and presentation to put the final touches on our post-holiday table. That’s when I remembered how much I love Coq au Vin. It’s flavorful, special (anything French always is – even the “peasant” food) and oh so delicious. One of the things I like most about Coq au Vin is that you can easily double or even triple the recipe to feed a crowd. And if you want to wow people at your next pot luck, transfer the finished dish to a crock pot or chafing dish to keep everything warm and away you go.
Coq au Vin 01
1 Large Chicken (about 3-3 ½ lbs), back removed, cut into 8 pieces
Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 Tablespoon Butter
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
5 Slices of Bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces
10-12 Pearl Onions, Trimmed
2 Carrots, peeled and chopped into bite size pieces
2 Cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons Cognac
3-4 Sprigs Fresh Thyme or ½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crushed
10-12 small mushrooms, cleaned
2 Cups Chicken Broth
2 Cups Hearty Red Wine such as Burgundy
3-4 Bay Leaves
½ Tablespoon Tomato Paste
Flat Leaf Parsley or Thyme Sprigs for garnish
Preheat oven to 350-degrees.
Remove back from chicken, then cut into eight pieces. When cutting breasts, leave about 1/4 of breast meat attached to the wings. This will give the chicken pieces a more balanced size. Pat chicken dry, set aside.
Blanch Pearl onions in boiling water 1 minute, drain and let onions cool enough to handle. Peel outer skin from onions and set aside.
In a large oven-proof skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add olive oil. Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Cook chicken pieces skin side down to start until well browned on all sides; about 3 minutes per side. Remove chicken to plate.
Add bacon to the now empty pan and cook until golden but not yet crisp. Reduce heat to medium, add onions, carrots, garlic and mushrooms. Sauté until onions and carrots are lightly browned and bacon begins to crisp.
Deglaze the bottom of pan with cognac, stirring all ingredients well to lift browned bits off bottom of pot.
Add chicken stock and tomato paste and simmer 5-6 minutes. Return chicken to pot, add red wine, Thyme and bay leaves; cover and place in oven.
Cook 1 ½ hours or until chicken is tender and cooked through.
Coq au Vin can be served as is, or over mashed potatoes. Be sure to warm some French Bread to lap up all the wonderful juices.