After my great mouthwatering (and absolutely addictive) success at Gratin Dauphinois, my flirtation with French cuisine bloomed into a full blown love affair. It was during this period that my friend Devika suggested that I try Coq au Vin, with which Julia Child initiated the sceptic Americans into the simple elegance of French cuisine. I was intrigued. And I just couldn’t rest until I tried it out for myself.
Now, this is not a dish for the faint hearted at all. It has got bacon, it has got butter, it has got copious amounts of wine, all blended together to create the most magical chicken dish that I have ever tried in my life. The flavours simply pop in the mouth and although my mother winced when she saw me pouring half a bottle of wine into the crockpot, she actually admitted to the fact that the dish was quite extraordinary. (Yeey!)
Coq au vin is a classic Burgundian dish that is quintessentially French. While some legends trace it back to ancient Gaule and Julius Caesar when his chef needed to create something edible for the king when they were given the rather questionable gift of chicken. Others trace it back to Henri IV of France when he declared “ une poule dans son pot!” in his political statement (of course not having the slightest idea of a dish in his head when he said this). Meats have been braised in wine for centuries and therefore it is not easy to trace the origins of this one. But we do know this for sure – it was Julia Child who popularized this dish and brought it out into the world (praise be hers!).
Don’t make this everyday as I have no intention of being responsible for anybody’s cardiac arrests. But once in a while on a Sunday, do try this out. And you will not look at any other go-to chicken recipe to impress your guests with on special occasions.
- Prep Time : 13h 00 min
- Cook Time : 2h 00 min
- Yield : 8 servings
- Chicken thighs or a whole chicken - 8 (I prefer thighs and I keep the skin on)
- Lardons (or thickly cut bacon or bacon bits) - 250g
- Butter - 1 tblsp
- Burgundy wine (Pinot Noir) or any other red wine with a robust body (like Baujolais or even a white wine like Riesling) - 750 ml (teehee)
- Cognac or Armagnac - ¼ cup
- Small onions, peeled (pearl onions if you have) - 15
- Garlic - 8 cloves, minced
- Apple cider vinegar (or apple juice) - 50 ml (100 ml if apple juice)
- Small button mushrooms, whole - 400g
- Chicken stock - 2 cups
- Thyme - 1 tsp
- Bay leaf - 1
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- The night before, toss the chicken in about 250 ml wine and 1tsp salt. Let it marinade overnight.
- Heat a wide, deep pan and once heated, add the bacon. Sauté well until the fat has rendered and the bacon is slightly crispy. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon, leaving the drippings in.
- Wipe the chicken pieces dry. Brown them on both sides. You may need to do this in batches if your pan is not wide enough. Once browned, remove from pan.
- Drain the drippings from pan leaving about 3 tablespoons in. add to this the onions and the mushrooms and sauté till they are slightly browned. Remove from pan.
- Arrange the chicken pieces in the pan in a way that they do not overlap. Arrange the onions around the chicken pieces and carefully pour the cognac on top.
- And now comes the fun part – strike a match and set it on fire! Let the flames burn for a few seconds for the bitter alcohol to be burnt out. To extinguish it, simply cover the pan with its lid.
- Season the chicken with salt and pepper, Add in the thyme and the bay leaf. Cover and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, turning over the chicken pieces once.
- Add in the bacon and the mushrooms. Add to this the remaining wine, the wine that the chicken has been marinating in and the apple cider vinegar. Mix well. Add in the chicken stock. The liquid must now cover the chicken.
- Cover and simmer for about 1 hour. When the chicken is done (when pierced, the juice should run clear).
- If the sauce is too watery, reduce it by heating it rapidly. If it is too thin, you can thin it by adding stock to the right consistency.
Et voila! Le Coq au Vin est servi!
I serve it with a plain rice lightly tempered with some butter, garlic and onions. You can opt for some creamy mashed potatoes or bread as well, but I prefer a bit of textural rice to truly capture all those yummy juices with.
Like all stewed meat, coq au vin tastes best the next day, so if you make it a day ahead and serve it the following day, more taste is guaranteed. This is the go-to chicken recipe that everyone should have at hand if in need to impress guests.
Coq au vin, in essence is a rustic dish and in this lies its beauty. I shall start with the star of the dish – the chicken. The pieces are nice and firm and at the same time when you bite into them, they practically melt in the mouth. The lovely browned chicken pieces give out a beautiful caramalized flavour that goes well with the caramel of the onion and sweetens the slight acridity of the wine. The wine has pierced right through the chicken and the flesh is almost scarlet and sweet and strangely, gamey, the wine brings out the natural delicateness of chicken and simply enhances it, instead of overpowering it.
The beauty of this dish is once you’ve finished with the chicken, there’s still more yumminess to be devoured. The mushrooms have absorbed all of those lovely juices and have become a nice sort of red juicy plump that they explode with deliciousness as you bite. Every spoonful is speckled with the lovely saltiness of bacon cutting through the richness of the stew and the pregnant earthiness of the mushroom enveloped in an intoxicating cloud of wine and aromatic spices. A warm bowl of this curled up on the couch while it’s pouring out? Bliss.
So try it out! This is the perfect weather for it too. The aromas that it gives out while cooking alone is enough temptation, but you don’t know that! Yet.
- Traditionally, roosters are used for this dish and if you can find roosters, it’s great and if not, the ordinary chicken would do.
- Also traditionally, the whole chicken is used for this. But I prefer chicken thighs and have no fondness for breasts. Therefore I use the thighs. Also, chicken breasts cook easily and therefore is not ideal for long cooking dishes as it tends to dry out in the process. Another excuse to use chicken thighs! Or legs if you prefer that.
- If you wish to, you can omit the wine and use apple juice instead. But then, it wouldn’t then be coq au VIN now, wouldn’t it?
- You don’t really have to use Pinot Noir or Baujolais, you can actually use any sort of wine as long as it’s got a robust body. This dish doesn’t have the floral bouquet that Pinot Noir has said no one ever after tasting a coq au vin. But choose a wine you would drink as this is the flavour that you are infusing into the dish.
- Don’t omit the bacon. I know I break the rules all the time when it comes to cooking, but bacon is essential for the coming together of the dish. And none of that crappy chicken bacon either!
- You can omit the apple cider vinegar if you wish. Add more wine instead. Or some apple juice.
- When it comes to mushrooms, I don’t really stop at the button mushrooms. Why? Because I’m mushroom-obsessed. I also used abalone mushrooms, 200g of it in this in addition to the wonderful button mushrooms. While it provided more texture to the coq au vin broth, it added oodles more flavour, somehow increasing the rustic-ness of the dish even more.