Coq au Vin

Not only is this classic French braise a wonderful way to make a tough old chicken tender but it is best made with a tough old bird full of flavor. (I used a retired laying hen from Sunny Hill Farm that had been languishing at the bottom of my freezer longer than I care to admit.) Use a full bodied dry red wine like a cabernet sauvignon or a merlot. Although some insist that one must use a good wine for cooking, I find that a reasonable box or jug wine is just fine. (I use Corbett Canyon cabernet sauvignon.) Pearl onions are best in this recipe. If you don’t feel like peeling dozens of tiny onions just use frozen ones. But don’t be tempted to use anything but fresh mushrooms. Traditionally the sauce was thickened with chicken blood mixed with pounded liver and brandy; modern recipes use beurre manie. Rice flour works well if you can to make the dish gluten-free. Be sure to allow plenty of time for the chicken to cook, especially if you are using an old layer otherwise it will be tough.

Note: coq au vin is almost certainly a peasant dish made from a young rooster (coq) or an old laying hen. It would have been made in a large cauldron over an open hearth and once an ingredient went in it did not come back out until the dish was done. Similarly the wine would probably have been rather rough and a few days past drinkability. I have tried to find a middle ground between the farm and the haute cuisine restaurant.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces bacon
  • 1 tablespoon oil, butter, or chicken fat
  • 1 chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces (see Ode to a Laying Hen)
  • 4 ounces pearl onions, thawed if frozen
  • 2 ounces carrot, diced
  • 2 ounce celery, diced
  • 4 to 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 8 ounces mushrooms
  • ¼ cup Cognac
  • 1½ cup dry red wine
  • About 1 cup chicken stock
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • A good grind of black pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon, ½ ounce, unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 Tablespoon, ½ ounce, flour

Method

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Cut the bacon into lardons, i.e. pieces ¼-inch on a side and 1 inch long. If you have sliced bacon cut the slices in half lengthwise and into 1-inch long pieces crosswise. Heat the fat in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and render the bacon until crispy. Remove to a bowl leaving as much fat behind as possible.

Turn the heat up a bit and, working in batches, brown the chicken pieces well on all sides. Remove to a plate and set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium. Sauté the onions, carrots, and celery until they begin to soften. Add the garlic and mushrooms. Continue to cook until the onions begin to brown and the mushrooms give off their liquid.

Return the chicken pieces to the pot and pour in the brandy. Turn off the vent hood if it is on and light the vapors with a long match. When the flames die down, add the wine and enough stock to just cover the chicken. Return the lardons to the pot and season everything with thyme, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, and place in the hot oven. Bake for about 45 minutes for a young bird or at least 1½ hours for an old one.

At the end of the baking time return the pot to the stove top. Combine the butter and flour into a smooth paste, beurre manie. Stir into the broth and bring to a boil to thicken.

Serve hot over noodles or potatoes. Or, best of all, by itself with some crusty French bread.

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2 responses to “Coq au Vin

  1. frugalfeeding September 19, 2011 at 18:49

    The perfect way to eat old birds. This sounds really divine. I’ve never cooked one of these but I shall get round to it in time! I want to do this to my chickens when they stop laying, but I don’t think mum would let dad kill and me cook them…

  2. Leo Cotnoir September 19, 2011 at 20:16

    Be certain to cook it a good long time. My first attempt resulted in a rather chewy bird–tasty, but definitely chewy.

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