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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.

Vegetables ready for the oven.

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.

Ingredients for Coq au Vin

Coq au Vin 2 – Son of the Rooster

Serves 4

  • 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.

The finished product - no skin, no bones but lots of flavour.

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.

Bon appétit.

Della

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Coq au vin… The name conjures romantic images of checked tablecloths and candles flickering in wine bottles, arrogant waiters, and accordion music playing softly just around cobblestoned corners. The French have a way of turning rustic ingredients into glorious food that makes everyday life deliciously glamorous.

Coq au vin is no exception, especially when eaten for lunch at a long table outside in the Normandy countryside as I had the luck to do a few years ago, crickets chirping and the warm air redolent with sage and lavender.

A lovely alchemy created by simmering chicken in red wine with bacon, onions and mushrooms, coq au vin guest stars in “Kafka’s Soup: A Complete History of World Literature in 14 Recipes” by Mark Crick, who presents recipes in the voices of famous novelists. The recipes, which include Lamb with Dill Sauce à la Raymond Chandler; Tarragon Eggs à la Jane Austen; Tiramisu à la Marcel Proust; Cheese on Toast à la Harold Pinter; and Onion Tart à la Geoffrey Chaucer, present today’s dish as a Columbian, rather than French, favourite.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in the person of Father Antonio del Sacrament de Altar Castaneda, prepares coq au vin for a condemned prisoner, Fidel Agosto Santiago: “Santiago would eat his last supper the following night, and since the condemned man refused to accept food from his wife, the priest had taken on the responsibility.”

The ancient Romans may have been partial to this homely yet courtly dish, thanks to their traditional rivalry with Asterix and co. Legend has it that Julius Caesar’s cook created the first coq au vin recipe after the Gauls gave Caesar a tough old rooster as tribute for his conquering them; Caesar’s cook made the bird into a meal to serve back to the Gauls. Perhaps revenge is a dish best served hot after all…

But it’s more likely that coq au vin simply evolved as a local recipe in France. In 1864, a similar recipe – poulet au vin blanc – appeared in Cookery for English Households, by A French Lady. In one of the earliest printed recipes, published in 1913, the text claimed the recipe dated to the 16th century.

Delicious, glamorous, rustic, simple, historic, evocative, classic – a literary star; a historical gesture – on top of all of these attributes, the best thing about coq au vin may be that it’s easy to make, and the leftovers just get better in the fridge.

Bon appetit!

~Deb
Ingredients
1 x 5 lb (2.25 kg) chicken, cut into 8 joints (I used chicken breasts)
1¼ pints (725 ml) red wine
1 oz (25 g) butter
1 rounded tablespoon softened butter and 1 level tablespoon plain flour, combined to make a paste
1 tablespoon oil
8 oz (225 g) unsmoked streaky bacon, preferably in one piece
16 button onions
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
8 oz (225 g) small dark-gilled mushrooms
Salt and freshly milled black pepper

Method

Melt the butter with the oil in a frying pan, and fry the chicken joints, skin side down, until they are nicely golden; then turn them and colour the other side. You may have to do this in three or four batches – don’t overcrowd the pan. Remove the joints from the pan with a draining spoon, and place them in the cooking pot. This should be large enough for the joints to be arranged in one layer yet deep enough so that they can be completely covered with liquid later.

Now de-rind and cut the bacon into fairly small cubes, brown them also in the frying pan and add them to the chicken, then finally brown the onions a little and add them too. Next place the crushed cloves of garlic and the sprigs of thyme among the chicken pieces, season with freshly milled pepper and just a little salt, and pop in a couple of bay leaves. Pour in the wine, put a lid on the pot and simmer gently for 45-60 minutes or until the chicken is tender. During the last 15 minutes of the cooking, add the mushrooms and stir them into the liquid.

Remove the chicken, bacon, onions and mushrooms and place them on a warmed serving dish and keep warm. (Discard the bay leaves and thyme at this stage.) Now bring the liquid to a fast boil and reduce it by about one third. Next, add the butter and flour paste to the liquid. Bring it to the boil, whisking all the time until the sauce has thickened, then serve the chicken with the sauce poured over.