Coq au vin

There are few dishes that are as iconically French as coq au vin, and we were kind of appalled that we both had not yet tried it (even in a restaurant). The preparation is somewhat involved, as the chicken marinates for at least a day but potentially up to 3 days, but we were game to try and tackle this classic dish.

Recipe

from The Country Cooking of France
Serves 6-8

Marinade
1 onion, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 garlic clove
1 tsp peppercorns
1 bottle (750 ml) red wine
1 tbsp olive oil

Chicken
one 5- to 6- lb stewing hen or large roasting chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1 tbsp vegetable oil
6-oz piece lean smoked bacon, cut into lardons
3 tbsp flour
2 cups chicken broth, more if needed
2 shallots chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large bouquet garni

Garnish
2 tbsp butter
16-18 baby onions
8 oz button mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
salt and pepper
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

For the marinade, combine the onion, carrot, celery, garlic and peppercorns, and wine in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer for 5 minutes. Let the marinade cool completely. Pack the chicken pieces in a deep, nonmetallic bowl and pour the cooled marinade over them. Spoon the olive oil on top to keep the chicken moist. Cover and leave pieces to marinate in the refrigerator for at least a day, turning them from time to time, and up to 3 days if you like a full-bodied wine flavour.

Take the chicken pieces from the marinade and pat them dry with paper towels. Strain the marinade, reserving the liquid and the vegetables separately. Heat the oven to 325 F. To cook the chicken, heat the oil in a sauté pan or flameproof casserole over medium heat. Add the lardons and sauté until browned and fat runs, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken pieces, skin side down, to the pan and sauté over medium heat until thoroughly browned, at least 10 minutes. Turn them and brown the other side, 3-5 minutes longer. Remove the chicken pieces and set aside.

Add the reserved marinade vegetables to the sauté pan over medium heat and fry until they start to brown, 5-7 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook over high heat, stirring, until it browns, 2-3 minutes. Pour in the marinade liquid and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens. Simmer for 2 minutes, then stir in the broth, shallots, garlic and bouquet garni. Replace the chicken, pushing the pieces down under the sauce. Cover the pan, transfer to the oven, and cook, turning the chicken occasionally, until the pieces are tender and fall easily  from a 2-pronged fork, 1-1¼ hours for a roasting chicken and at least 30 minutes longer for a stewing hen. If some pieces are tender before the others, remove them and set aside while the rest continue to cook.

Meanwhile, cook the garnish. Melt the butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and brown them, shaking the pan from time to time so they colour evenly, 5-7 minutes. Lower the heat, cover, and cook the onions, shaking the pan occasionally until just tender, 8-10 minutes more. Lift them out with draining spoon and add to reserved lardons. Put the mushrooms in the pan with a little more butter if needed and sauté until tender, 3-5 minutes. Add them to the lardons and onions.

When the chicken is cooked, remove the pieces and set them aside. Wipe out the sauté pan, add the garnish, and strain the sauce on top, discarding the vegetables and seasonings. Reheat the garnish and sauce on the stove top over medium heat. If the sauce seems thick, add a little more broth, taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the chicken pieces, pushing them well down into the sauce, and heat gently for 3-5 minutes so the flavours blend. Coq au vin improves if you keep it, well covered, in the refrigerator for at least 1 day and up to 3 days, so the flavours mellow.

Musings

A few notes on preparation: We used a smaller chicken (3.5 lbs) and marinated it for 2 days. For the garnish, we just made mushrooms, as we didn’t have baby onions.

The sauce was wonderfully rich and mellow. It felt almost like the kind of sauce you get in a beef stew, dark with a full-bodied flavour. The chicken, while it had a lovely flavour, was a bit on the dry side, somewhat surprisingly. D noted that he’s never had much luck with long cooking times, and that there’s this magic point at which the chicken is moist and tender, and he suspects we may have gone past that a bit. The recipe did call for a long cooking time, until the meat was falling of the bone, and D tried doing that, but it didn’t reach that texture. So we definitely would want try it again with perhaps a different cooking time.

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