Cock of the Walk: DIY Coq Au Vin

Cock of the Walk: DIY Coq Au Vin

Lobster isn’t the only food that has gone from poor man’s food to rich man’s delicacy. Take for example the French dish coq au vin. It was once considered peasant food, a necessary evil evolved because people didn’t waste any food. Ever.

Traditionally, coq au vin (which translates as “cock in wine,” get your tee-hee-hees out now) was a preparation where an old rooster was soaked in wine and then braised, turning a tough old bird into a juicy feast. Amended with brandy and thickened with blood, coq au vin was the go-to dish anytime a rooster had passed his prime.

As people soon found out, just about anything braised in wine, brandy, onion, bacon, and mushrooms is delicious. Out went the rooster, in came chicken, up went the popularity of the dish.

But as I learned back in 2007 during an episode of Top Chef, there are still coq au vin purists. In the infamous episode, contestant Casey presents a dish she says is her grandmother’s recipe for coq au vin. Unfortunately, the judges were French and as Tom Colicchio pointed out, Casey didn’t make coq au vin she made braised chicken. The distinction cost her the win. Shortly after, debates raged over message boards.

Had coq au vin progressed so much that it could be made with chicken or even capon? Julia Child’s iconic recipe makes no mention of rooster or blood. Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire gives no recipe for the dish. On the other hand, Jeffery Steingarten gives a four day, labor intensive recipe in his book It Must’ve Been Something I Ate: The Return of the Man Who Ate Everything, calling for two old roosters and a truckload of other ingredients.

As I see it, the recipe is time honored and cherished because it’s so good. If you live in an area where it’s easy to get a rooster, take on the challenge! If not, shoot for capon, the castrated (and distinctly more tender) rooster. If capon isn’t an option, use chicken.

After being told by one butcher I could only order capon if I wanted 30, and by another that there was no way they could find a rooster, I went for a nice spring chicken. That butcher not only cut it up for me, he gave me the chicken back and gizzards, great for a future stock.

If cooking with blood sounds like fun, try sourcing some at either a small butcher or Asian market. You’ll only need about a half cup. It should be used in place of a more traditional roux in the recipe when thickening the sauce just before serving. According to this article, add the blood slowly while stirring; adding it fast can cause the sauce to seize.
Modern coq au vin recipes are wide spread, and as fair warning, can be labor intensive. Look for one with copious amounts of red wine and a two-day process. Even though you might not have a rooster, the added time spent soaking in good red wine and stock will be much appreciated come dinnertime.

easy coq au vin

Coq Au Vin
Adapted from Alton Brown
24 to 30 pearl onions (learn how to easily peel these http://simmerandboil.cookinglight.com/2009/04/08/kitchen-tip-pearl-onions/here)
4 chicken thighs and legs, or 1 (5 to 7-pound) stewing chicken, cut into serving pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 to 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons water
6 ounces salt pork, slab bacon, or lardon, cubed
8 ounces button mushrooms, quartered
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 (750-ml) bottles red wine, preferably pinot noir
1/2 cup brandy
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 medium onion, quartered
2 stalks celery, quartered
2 medium carrots, quartered
3 cloves garlic, crushed
6 to 8 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 cups chicken stock or broth

Sprinkle the chicken on all sides with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place the chicken pieces into a large sealable plastic bag along with the flour. Shake to coat all of the pieces of the chicken. Remove the chicken from the bag to a metal rack.

Add the two tablespoons of water to a large, 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat along with the salt pork. Cover and cook until the water is gone, and then continue to cook until the salt pork cubes are golden brown and crispy, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the salt pork from the pan and set aside.

In the same pan, using the remaining fat, add the pearl onions, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and sauté until lightly brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the onions from the pan and set aside.

Next, brown the chicken pieces on each side until golden brown, working in batches if necessary to not overcrowd the pan. Transfer the chicken into a seven to eight-quart enameled cast iron Dutch oven.

easy coq au vin pre braiseAdd the mushrooms to the same 12-inch sauté pan, adding the tablespoon of butter if needed, and sauté until they give up their liquid, five minutes. Store the onions, mushrooms and pork in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Pour off any remaining fat and deglaze the pan with one cup of the wine. In a separate pan, heat the brandy and ignite, cooking for three minutes. Pour both the brandy and the wine into the Dutch oven along with the chicken stock, tomato paste, quartered onion, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf. Add all of the remaining wine. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place the chicken in the oven and cook for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until the chicken is tender. Maintain a very gentle simmer and stir occasionally.

Once the chicken is done, remove it to a heatproof container, cover, and place it in the oven to keep warm. Strain the sauce in a colander and remove the carrots, onion, celery, thyme, garlic, and bay leaf. Return the sauce to the pot, place over medium heat, and reduce by 1/3. Depending on how much liquid you actually began with, this should take 20 to 45 minutes.

Once the sauce has thickened, add the pearl onions, mushrooms, and pork and cook for another 15 minutes or until the heated through. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary, remove from the heat, add the chicken and serve. Serve over egg noodles, spaetzle or mashed potatoes.

The Chaser:
If you liked this – try coq au Riesling next. It’s the same basic idea, but with Riesling and morel mushrooms, just as decadent.

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