Coq au vin is one of those quintessential French dishes that is so popular that virtually every French family has its own coq au vin recipe. Although I’m by no means French, this is one of my favorite meals and this is my version of coq au vin. It made for a stunningly delicious meal the other night. I used a beautiful Malbec from Argentina for the red wine which produced a dark, inky purple sauce. It’s rather regal in color don’t ya think?
Coq au vin actually translates into rooster in wine. Traditionally, it called for old rosters who had long past their prime to service the barnyard. Since they were no longer adequately serving the hens, they were served for dinner. 😮 These old roosters, having strutted their stuff for so long, were tough but flavorful. Consequently, in order to eat them, braising was the cooking technique of choice which is how this dish came about. If it were chicken in wine, it would have been called poulet au vin and, in fact, there is a recipe for poulet en vin blanc. As time passed, society changed along the way. The result is unless you live on a farm, where are you going to find a rooster? If you look real hard in your frozen freezer section, especially around Thanksgiving, you may find a capon but a capon is not quite the same as a rooster. It’s the same as the difference between a steer and a bull but I am beginning to digress. Because chickens were more available, people started using chickens as opposed to roosters but the name of the dish never changed.
In addition to using chickens as opposed to roosters, the traditional dish has changed in other ways. Indeed, one of the ways the dish was traditionally thickened was through the use of fresh blood. Because many people’s initial reaction to using fresh blood to thicken the dish is eeewwww, not to mention the unavailability of fresh blood in the marketplace, that, too, was omitted from the dish. Also, a traditional coq au vin was marinaded overnight. While you can still marinade the chicken overnight, most newer versions of the dish omit this process, as well. In my version, I omit the marinade and, not surprisingly, don’t use blood. I also don’t use a whole cut up chicken. Instead, I use bone-in chicken thighs. I feel they are perfect for this type of cooking. If you want to bother with cutting up a chicken or capon, don’t let me stop you. I just don’t do it. If you are interested in a more authentic (except for the use of a rooster), traditional coq au vin, Anthony Boudain’s cookbook Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes, and Techniques of Classic Bistro Cooking, has a nice recipe. Regardless of which approach you take, there is a lot of love that goes into this dish so don’t try it if you are pressed for time. The total prep and cooking time will be roughly 3 to 3-1/2 hours. The net result for your effort will be an amazingly delicious meal more than worth the time and effort you put into making this dish.
- 6 slices bacon cut into lardons (1-by-1/4-inch strips), blanched
- 5 – 6 chicken thighs (roughly 2-1/2 lbs)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 tsp fresh thyme
- 2 medium white onions, diced
- 1 carrot, small dice
- 1 rib celery, small dice
- 2 whole cloves
- 1/2 cup canned plum tomatoes, diced with juice
- 2-1/2 cups Malbec (or another fruity red wine, i.e. Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, etc.) – This translates into 1 bottle minus a healthy glass for the cook 😮
- 2 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
- 1 cup cognac
- 20 pearl onions, braised
- 1/2 lb small to medium cream mushrooms, capped and sautéed
- Corn starch slurry (3 Tbsp corn starch & 3 Tbsp water)
- Rice pilaf, for serving
- Fresh parsley sprigs, for garnish
Blanch the lardons. In a large dutch oven over medium heat, add the lardons.
Cook the lardons over medium heat until they begin to take on color. You do not want them crisp. You are merely rendering out some of the fat.
When done, remove from dutch oven and set aside.
Brown chicken. Season the chicken with salt and white pepper. I use white pepper for this dish because it is not as bold and has a winey character to its flavor.
Add the chicken to the dutch oven over medium heat and brown the chicken on both sides.
When you turn the chicken, away from the heat, carefully add 1/2 cup brandy. Return to heat and flame the brandy. Remove the chicken from the dutch oven and tent.
Add the onions, carrots, and celery to the dutch oven and sauté until tender, roughly 5 – 6 minutes.
When tender, pour veggies, fat and all into a sieve and drain all the fat from the vegetables. You will wind up with roughly 2/3 cup of rendered fat from the chicken and lardons. Reserve the fat because you are going to use it. Inasmuch as you have it there is no sense in using butter or olive oil for the other steps in this recipe. Just use the rendered fat.
Return the chicken to the dutch oven.
Add 2-1/2 cups red wine. Now, I used a $17 Malbec I had on hand. You can use a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Zinfandel, a Pinot Noir or any other fruity wine. Just make sure you use a wine that you would drink. Like the brandy, however, that does not mean to use an aged, first growth Bordeaux wine. Use common sense. I would never use a $30+ bottle of wine on this dish, even though the wine is a primary ingredient. Remember, you are cooking the wine and many of the nuances that make a wine worth $30+ will be lost in the cooking process. I would, however, use a good value priced bottle of wine in the $20 range, something I would drink but not one of my finer wines.
Now add enough chicken stock to just cover the chicken, roughly 2 cups.
Add the sautéed vegetables, thyme, tomatoes, garlic, whole cloves, and bay leaf.
Turn heat to medium high and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat, cover and simmer or 20 minutes or until chicken is tender to the touch.
Make the braised pearl onions. Previously, I did a post on Braised Pearl Onions. If you have never used braised pearl onions in a dish or as a side, you’ve really missed something. They are incredibly delicious. Peeling the little suckers is somewhat time consuming but…Now, in my previous recipe, the braised pearl onions were used as a side dish for a Christmas meal. They will work beautifully for any holiday meal so I encourage you to consider them during this holiday season as you will definitely enjoy them, as will your family. In this dish, however, the technique is different.
While the chicken is braising, add 1 Tbsp of the rendered fat to a small sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the peeled pearl onions.
Cook the onions over medium high heat, stirring or tossing them until they begin to turn brown.
Once they have browned, away from the heat, add 1/4 cup of a good, drinkable brandy/cognac. Now, don’t get carried away and use a Remy Martin XO cognac or something like that. Use the best brandy that you can justify. Just don’t buy the cheapest brandy available or cooking brandy. Return the onions to the heat and ignite the vapors to burn off alcohol. Then add enough chicken broth to almost cover.
Bring to a boil, add a couple sprigs of fresh thyme.
Reduce heat to a low simmer, cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside until the end.
Sauté the Mushroom Caps. While the chicken and onions are braising, In another small sauté pan, add 3 – 4 Tbsp of the reserved rendered fat (mushrooms absorb lots of oil/fat) and heat over medium-high heat.
Add mushroom caps and toss to coat with rendered fat.
Add remaining 1/4 cup of brandy and flame. Sauté mushroom caps until they turn a nice brown. Set aside until ready to finish dish.
Once the chicken has become tender, remove chicken from dutch oven and tent to keep warm. Bring sauce to a boil and reduce it to strengthen the flavors. When you get the sauce to the flavor you want, thicken the sauce. You have 2 ways to thicken the sauce. The traditional French method is through the use of a roux (equal parts of flour and softened butter). The dish, however, has enough fat in it so you will lose no velvety mouth feel by using a corn starch slurry which is what I did. Once you get the sauce thickened, return the chicken to the sauce to heat through.
Add the mushrooms.
While the chicken and mushrooms are reheating, reheat the braised onions. When everything has heated through and you are ready to serve, place a cup of rice pilaf in the middle of the plate. Place a chicken thigh on top of the rice. Add some of the mushroom caps and braised pearl onions on top of the chicken thigh. Garnish with a little fresh parsley. Serve & enjoy.