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I’ve been cooking and eating Coq au Vin for as long as I’ve been cooking and that’s a pretty long time. It is not only quintessentially French, but fabulously delicious and dead easy to make. But, just like my most recent exploration of Coquilles St. Jacques, I wanted to reinvent the dish. I wanted to preserve the flavour while updating the presentation. I think I hit the right notes, but I’ll leave it to you to judge.
In order to know where you’re going you have to know where you’ve been. The traditional Coq au Vin is a tough old rooster braised with mushrooms in red wine, flavoured with the holy trinity of cooking, the mirepoix (onions, carrots and celery), seasoned with a little salt, pepper, thyme and just a bit of bacon. That’s it… that’s the whole recipe. How can something so simple be such a venerated icon of culinary history? The simple answer is flavour. Coq au Vin as endured because these humble ingredients combine to create one of the most satisfying meals in any cook’s culinary repertoire.
I really wondered if I should mess with perfection. I was certain I couldn’t improve on the original, but I was certain I could capture the essence of the dish and still inject my own gastronomic sensibility. So, where to start?
No matter how many times I make Coq au Vin, I always struggle over the decision of what to serve it with. Traditionally, there are potatoes cooked in the braising liquid and the dish is served as a stew. I have also served it ladled over egg noodles and rice. I have even substituted toasted slabs of garlic-rubbed French bread for the starch component. Today I considered serving it over potato gnocchi but finally settled on roasted vegetables… carrots, new potatoes and shallots tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper and a couple sprigs of thyme. So simple, yet so satisfying.
The next question was “what to do with the old bird?” I could have braised a stewing hen or a capon, but I really didn’t want all the bulk that comes with the skin. Sure, skin means flavour, but there are lots of ways to inject flavour. I decided on boneless, skinless thighs. Blasphemy you say? Patience, patience… you’ll see.
And what about the sauce? In the traditional version, the “sauce” is the product of hours of braising… rich, thick and flavourful. But how can you recreate all that flavour without all those hours? Yes, we can! And, here’s how.
Coq au Vin 2 – Son of the Rooster
- 4 carrots, cut into 2 inch lengths
- 4 shallots, peeled but left whole
- 8 new potatoes, cut in half
- 2 sprigs of thyme
Toss vegetables and thyme in olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake at 425 degrees for about 30 minutes.
- 8 boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into ½ inch strips
- 1 cup flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- Combine flour, salt and pepper. Dredge chicken strips in flour mixture. Set aside.
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 lb mushrooms, halve or quarter to bite sized pieces if mushrooms are large
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped fine
- 2 cups dry red wine
- 4 strips of bacon, chopped into ½ pieces
- salt and pepper to taste
In a sauté pan, cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon and leave fat in the pan.
If necessary add a little olive oil to make about 2 tablespoons of fat. Add chicken strips in a single, uncrowded layer. Sautee for about two minutes, until browned and turn to brown the other side – about another two minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
Add mushrooms to pan and sauté until lightly browned. Remove from pan and set aside.
Add chopped celery, carrots and onions to pan and sauté until softened. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add wine to pan to deglaze, scraping the brown bits off the bottom. Return bacon, chicken and mushrooms to pan. Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.
The flour from the chicken should be enough to thicken the sauce, but if necessary add a paste of flour and butter to the pan and cook until thickened. Salt and pepper to taste.
Serve over roasted vegetables.
So there you have it. The flavour lost from the skin and bones of an old coq are replaced, at least partially by the rich caramelized flavours developed in the pan by sautéing the chicken and roasting the vegetables. Instead of a stew, this is more of a thick sauce.
Would I do it this way again? Absolutely. Would I do it this way for a big group? Never. The Dutch oven is the perfect tool when feeding a crowd. The stovetop was ideal for a dinner for two or four.
I think I will always make Coq au Vin, but I won’t always make it the same way. Maybe next time I’ll use cippolini onions and serve it with potato gnocchi.