For me nothing feels more right to kick off these recipes than tackling that all-time super classic, both in making and drinking with wine, Coq au Vin.
Consisting of a rooster marinated and braised in wine-heavy stock, Coq au Vin’s simple concept twisted around carefully constructed French technique has vaulted it to the forefront as one of THE country’s dishes. And with SO MANY versions of it too: a Coq au Riesling made in Alsace; Coq au Blanc with Chardonnay; even a Coq au Vin Jura made from the small, tucked away region’s specialty, Vin Jaune (an almost sherry like wine that’s had HALF its volume disappear through evaporative aging). But the heart and soul of this classic, traditional dish will always lie in only one place with only one wine: Bourgogne Rouge (-cough- Red Burgundy).
One can actually speculate this rustic dish to go back multiple centuries. Its true origins ARE unknown, though it’s likely to date back to Gaul times (very old “kingdom” covering much of what is now France), after the introduction and spreading business and interest in wine of course. Many families, farmers or non, were known to have often kept at least one hen and rooster for themselves; once lived its life in full, the then-old rooster would be put to final use for a family dinner. With very tough meat, and times where people would most often have to stretch food out through stew and soup creations, it’s easy to see where the processes of marinating in the protein-softening-acidic wine (local of course, so easy to use) followed by long braising would come into play.
Of course, none of this was ever written down or recorded, so we can only speculate on how the dish officially started its footpath in this culture. Which many people have done, loudly, and with intent, enough so that we now have two little “myths” to how it began, which may or may not have ties to true events. Which, even if they do, it’s doubtful they are the origins of the dish itself, but a focal point to when coq au vin jumped into the public eye as a firmly rooted Burgundy recipe. Well, that and Julia Child (amazing how many foods in this list she’s brought to our attention).
The first Story starts with Napolean, who simply put arrived at an unexpected and ill-prepared Innmeal one night, the owner of which had little food (possibly due to a certain general’s wars) besides rooster and some cheap wine. One thing led to another as one would expect from these stories, and delicious food was born!
The second involved Julias Caesar, which stated that upon his conquering of the area was presented a rooster, which he had his chefs cook with wine, a popular drink with the Italians at the time. A myth which is most likely full bs, though the idea of Mediterranean culture interaction may bring about a clue as to why this dish is so often fond of Egg Noodles… either that or their past interactions with and geographic closeness to Germanic cultures.
Whatever the origin, the fact remains this recipe is delicious and proof to the epitomes of the simpler, rustic French culinary technique. I know I’m excited to finally dive into this classic, I do so hope those reading are too.
A Word On…
Chicken: the name of this dish truly does highlight the two components that separate it from other dishes and make it what it is. The Wine, and the Co-… er, Rooster. Any TRUE, proper, highly traditional coq au vin should use an old, beat-down, no-longer-useful-on-the-farm Rooster. Why? Because it’s a TOUGH F@#%^er, those muscles are tight and stringy and LAST through long, vigorous stewing so well, like a pork shoulder or leg or whatever section you stew. Not to mention all the flavor it’s developed through its years of walking and running and all that, which will allow it to stand out and accompany the very strong sauce we end up with. Take that next to a super-young, unhappy mass-produced hen one finds in a regular supermarket, with little to no flavor and flesh so weak and soft it’ll break apart and/or dry out before you’re even done cooking half of it.
That said, FINDING a rooster is a bitch. Good chances it won’t happen unless you live in Europe, California or New York. As for me, I called many a butcher, simply and high quality, and the best I could find was Capon (which is AWESOME, and a male chicken, but not used for something like this). What I ended up doing, and I suggest if you’re able, is getting a large Stewing Hen. They’re at least a year old, not so much as Rooster’s but definitely much better than regular chickens. Most often you’ll find it frozen but my local meat market gets some in fresh occasionally.
If still having trouble finding these, your wallet is a bit tight, or you just prefer working with regular chicken, then I implore you to skip getting a whole chicken and just buy a bunch of thighs and legs, preferably at a co-op from organic and/or free range chickens (they’ll have a BIT more flavor and exercise).
Wine: “Coq au Vin should be cooked with Burgundy.” That’s the underlying idea anyway, as is any wine-stewed dish with the regional wine of choice. Fact is though, it barely matters; the flavors and structures of any wine will change drastically once it’s cooked as-is, let alone reduced tremendously along with a strong stock, herbs, veggies, and chicken. It is definitely all right to just find and use a cheap Pinot Noir, which is the same grape that Burgundy is made from (and you should use the same “level” of red wine, don’t want a really big and tannic bottle like Cabernet or Nebbiolo). Other decent substitutions would be Merlot, Chianti, Valpolicella, lighter Red Blends, etc.
That said, if one wanted to keep the flavors traditional with how much wine is being used, there are some cheaper, competitively priced “Bourgogne AOC” wines out there for about $12-14 a bottle (or less) if one looks hard enough. These bottles have grapes which are basically sourced from wherever throughout the whole region of Burgundy and as such do not qualify for any Village-level designations. Often they will actually print “Pinot Noir” on the levels, which any QUALITY Burgundy should never be allowed to. As such it makes the perfect wine for cooking in volume! Because you never want to use a delicious, quality wine for this; all that complexity and subtlety WILL go out the window in this dish.
Cured Pork Fat: One of my favorite ingredients, in this dish and in life. Keeping traditional, one should try to find “Salt Pork,” which is easily available at any butchery of quality. Noting, you don’t want this for the actual meat; you want this for the fat, so get a block of the most fatty you can find, good chances there’ll be at least one that looks like almost pure lard (like mine!).
Though due to popular trends and ease of finding, there are many recipes that just use Bacon instead of Salt Pork, which if one wants to keep the PROPER flavors of the dish they should never use. The smoking of the pig and the particular cures used in bacon make its final flavor wildly different than a pure, simple salt pork. Not to mention it’s much harder to find one that’s pure fat.
However, I myself also like the idea of using bacon to thus impart that Smokey flavor and highlight the darker, earthier flavors of the stock and wine even further than classically designed, so it’d still make a very tasty and delicious meal. Just different.
Stock: unless you’re gathering random animal bones in your house on a semi-constant basis, it can be hard to try and make a proper animal stock; which for those unaware is made by simmering leftover bones with water (and maybe veggies and herbs depending) for hours on end. Even when I’ve had a chicken carcass to work with, leaving overnight, the resulting liquid probably had only half the concentration as opposed to what a restaurant could get (this is mainly due to the ratio they’re able to get between cramming so many broken up chicken carcasses into a giant pot and then filling the remaining space in water. Versus one chicken in a single pot, filled to the top with water, much higher ratio difference). If you’re able to achieve a stock you’re satisfied with at home, then congrats and all the power to you.
If this is still out of your reach though, that’s fine. Both simple and higher end markets do sell Stock, and Chicken Broth is a very acceptable substitute (they’re practically the same thing): just make sure you buy one that’s Low Sodium, otherwise when reducing it like this recipe does will get you a pretty salty sauce. What I ended up doing, since the broth is still lighter than I want, is poured it in a pot with the leftover Chicken Carcass, which I roasted, and simmered overnight (adding water back in as it evaporated), thus reinforcing and adding even more rich chicken flavor. It’s a great option for any cook.
Mushrooms: the fungus of choice for coq au vin always has been and always will be White Buttons, which are great for home cooks. Simple, readily available and price friendly. I do have to say though, I couldn’t help but want to use some form of Wild or other Quality Mushrooms when I made this, and considering all the end result does is help to emphasize the mushroom-y qualities even further I think it’s an alright and justified recipe change even when keeping traditional. Since it was winter when I attempted this, I ended up with a mixture of both buttons and King Trumpets (no wild mushrooms on the shelves, sad).
Oh, and I’d suggest not using rehydrated Dried Mushrooms. Though they’d be great to soak in and flavor the stock, they just don’t get that “right” texture that the fresh mushrooms do once sautéed. Can be sorta springy methinks.
Pearl Onions: they’re a pain in the ass to peel. I decided to follow the advice of Alton Brown and blanch in boiling/simmering water for about a minute, stems cut off. As you can see they just squeeze right out of the skin with a bit of pressure so easily.
Days: there are some that say a true Coq au Vin takes 3-4 days to properly create and marry the flavors… let me just say that I may be a bit snobby at times in keeping things traditional here, but even that’s too much damn useless work. Ignore the stuck-up Frenchies in this case!
That said I also don’t really like the idea of making this dish in under a day unless I have to. If one is able to, I ultimately prefer the middle of the road technique displayed from Alton Brown’s recipe of completely everything up to searing and deglazing the day beforehand and then letting the chicken, wine, and broth sit and marinate together overnight. It really best allows for a bit of development and mingling with a hands-off approach, and you don’t need to wait most of the week till you can finally chow down.
Coq au Vin
1 Whole Rooster or Stewing Hen (7-9lbs)
6oz Salt Pork
¼ cup Flour
Salt n Pepper
8oz Mushrooms (Button and/or Wild), quartered/chopped
2 Tb Tomato Paste
1 ½ Bottles Red Burgundy
1 ½ cups Dark Chicken Stock
1 stalk Thyme
3-4 cloves Garlic
Braised Pearl Onions (recipe follows)
- Separate chicken into desired components; suggested 8-piece of legs, thighs, and split airline breasts.
2. Dice Salt Pork into cubes, throw in crockpot (or other one-pot cooking pan) with 2 Tb of water, cover and heat to medium/med-high, turning it back to med-low as water evaporates and the fat starts to render.
3. While it’s cooking, season and toss chicken pieces into a bag with the Flour, tossing to lightly dredge and coat. After about 15-20 minutes, the cubes of pork will have shriveled and crisped up into crunchy, fatty Cracklings. Scoop these out and reserve in separate container.
4.Your pan now filled with a thick layer of hot, delicious pork fat, lower the chicken in to slowly sear, back on Med heat, for about 3-5 minutes a side, until the skin and flesh have achieved a crispy golden brown layer. For obvious reasons, this should be done in batches.
5. Reserve seared chicken on the side and add Mushrooms to hot oil, sautéing until shrunken, browned, and tender while still retaining a small bite. Remove and reserve.
Note: If you would like to keep a lot of this fat for future use, I suggest pouring most off BEFORE adding the mushroom. The soak up a LOT of that stuff, and only gave back a little afterwards.
6. Pour off any remaining fat and add Tomato Paste, quickly stirring to very briefly “cook/caramelize.”
7. Deglaze with small amount of wine, thoroughly scraping up all the deliciously developed Fond on the bottom of the pan.
8. Remove from heat and layer the bottom with large cut or whole Mirepoix (onion, celery, and carrot), thyme, garlic, and bay leaf. Stack reserved chicken over (white meat, if used, being kept on top) and fill pot with Stock and remaining Wine.
9. Cover tightly and chill in fridge overnight, along with the reserved mushrooms, cracklings, and braised onions if already made (many recipes have these three mixed together in the same bag, but I like keeping them separate so as to better keep the pork crispy).
- 10. Heat oven to 325F next day, transferring the crockpot (which I let come to room temperature beforehand), still tightly covered to cook for at least 2 ½ to 3 hours, stirring occasionally, until “tender.” (not falling off the bone)
Note: Even being a stewing chicken, the breasts can still get a little dry, so I suggest either taking it out 1-2 hours early or add in during the last hour of cooking.
11. Carefully take out and move chicken into a covered pan to keep warm, best left in a 160-170F oven.
12. Strain the liquid from remaining veggies and herbs and return to the now empty hot, now moved onto med-hi to high heat. Reduce by at least 1/3 to ½ the liquid until thickened and sauce-like. This can take 20-45 minutes depending.
Note: it’s possible the liquid may not properly thicken up as desired no matter how much is reduced, despite the flour in the sautéed chicken supposedly being used to help this. If so, squish together equal amount of soft butter and flour and add a few tsp sized balls, whisking in. This should help much like making a roux for a sauce.
13. Mix in the reserved braised onions, salt pork cracklings, and sautéed mushrooms, stirring until warm. Add back in the warm chicken, turning to coat in sauce.
14. Serve chicken and stew over warm egg noodles, and Enjoy.
Braised Pearl Onions
1 Tb Butter/Fat
1 small bag Pearl Onions, peeled
1 clove Garlic
2 twigs Thyme
1 Bay Leaf
½ Cup Wine, Stock, or other flavorful liquid of choice
- Heat sauté pan to medium/med-high and add in butter or other fat of your choice (I used some of the rendered Salt Pork Fat from earlier).
2. Toss in onions to coat in fat, stirring very often in hot pan to better get an even browning around the spherical surface.
3. Once nicely golden and crispy-looking, add rest of the ingredients, turn heat down to medium-low, cover, and simmer until onions are tender and liquid has reduced down to a thick sauce. Depending, this can take up to 1 hour and a half or just 20 minutes.
4. Season carefully according to taste and reserve until needed in Coq au Vin or any other desired dish.
Chicken. This actually tastes like flippin’ chicken, as any properly cared for, farm raised hen should. And despite the rich, concentrated stewy flavors of the wine sauce (which just blankets the firm and crispy meat and veggies so nicely, keeping that subtle earthy and vine-y taste of the wine nicely), the old stewing hen was able to keep the integrity of its flavors and identity so well.
THEN there’s the mix-ins: the earthy and savory al-dente like mushrooms, the rich little balls of stocky onions, and of course the super crispy-crunchy pieces of cooked pork fat. With the noodles it almost felt like one of the best earthy-winey Italian pasta dishes ever, if of course my attention wasn’t always drawn to take big bites out of that bone-in chicken. And though MY final outcome ended up saltier than I wanted (‘twas quite noticeable, though nothing a chocolate cookie-vanilla milkshake couldn’t fix), I believe the true worth, highlights, and potential of this classic dish was able to shine clearly, so I’m very satisfied with the final outcome.
Not to mention how damn good it is eating cold from the fridge the next day (and it only lasted one)… or in the middle of the night wearing pjs.
Primary Pairing – Red Burgundy
Is it cliché? Yes. Is there a reason for that? Oh HELL Yes, because it WORKS. As do almost all regional pairings with European Wine and Food; they grew up together, those making the food drank wine and those making the wine ate the food, each unconsciously adjusting each other through the centuries to ensure they had two things and tasted amazing together.
This is the prime example. A bottle of decent burgundy has a solid, weighty Medium body, enough to match this heavier version of Chicken, and a firmness in Acid to “cut” the richness (which isn’t technically a thing in any way, but when I have any rich or fatty dish I want some acid to juxtapose it, otherwise it’s just flabby) and match the tangy wine. Then there’s the nose: the almost concentrated, earthy aromas, often affected with some ageing in an old barrel (not new barrel, we don’t want any raw oak flavor in this), that just helps it stand up but not overpower the round intensity of the dark chicken stew. Finally, they contain that perfect middle-ground of tannins; not light but not super big and sandy and overpowering, which is much better for OTHER dishes.
As for choice, I like to think Village-level (or is it Sub-Regional? I forget) Burgundy is where you want to go; this is not where one gets that cheap Bourgogne AOC we just used for cooking. At the same time, Premier and Grand Crus are not only really expensive but probably a bit too complex, containing certain subtle and delicate aromas that aren’t likely to survive long with this dish. Simple but deep and powerful is where we want.
So look for names that just say Santenay, Aloxe-Corton, Chorey-les-Beaune, Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-St-Denis, and the like. Maybe even a “Haute Cotes de Beaune/Nuits,” which are from a larger and “lower quality” region on the golden slopes of Burgundy, but do hold possibilities of good, tasty deals. I’m sure the particular Wine Staff would be happy to point you in the right direction.
As for Burgundy Substitutions, which I almost don’t understand why even bother at all at this point (but hey, wallets are wallets), I think German Pinot Noirs (Ahr is a great region) are fun, Chateneuf-du-Papes and Chianti blends can provide the same features (if you find the right ones), but I think Valpolicella would probably be my favorite non-French choice. You can find all of them at much better prices, and you’re still staying to the Old World (very important, as New World wines focus more on fruit and barrels and basically have absolutely no real flavors of “earth” in them like Old Worlds).
My Bottle: 2010 Givry, Domaine Voarick
Being a bit price conscious, I decided to choose this little gem from one of the Five AOC villages of the Cote Chalonnaise, the large region just south of the main Cote d’Or section of Burgundy (the center of the “quality” wine production, not counting Cru Beaujolais of course). Givry is located on the Eastern edge just in the center of the not-so-tight escarpments, and along with the rest of the reds from the area produces a slightly lighter concentrated, “rustic” Pinot Noir. Though they’re seen as lower quality, one can find some of the best price-to-flavor/experience deals throughout the whole Region (the Norther region is notorious for being complex to navigate quality through different villages, making for a dangerous dice roll of overpriced wine for those not familiar with the producer).
For $20 I was very happy. It still held a beautifully simple, concentrated nose with all the main aromas of Burgundy I look for, with a strong enough flavor and body to stand up to the meat. I swished and chewed and sat back in a happy daze, with no off qualities distracting my enjoyment. When it comes to wine, that’s sometimes all that I find important; just need a proper bottle to get me there.
Secondary Pairing – Nada Yamahai Junmai Sake
I LOVE getting into Sake and being able to pair it with non-Asian fare. For many of those who aren’t aware, the potential complexities and flavor molecules in sake actually reach even higher peaks than wine. Thus enforcing its ability to be matched with so many different foods, so long as one knows which bottles to look for.
With a dish like coq au vin, I would really want to be able to get the more masculine, earth and mushroom-based sakes, one with a bit of quality complexity and depth in that department, but still kept back somewhat so the body and flavor isn’t overpowering (like a Bordeaux would be).
Nada, and other more southern regions in Japan, present with some of the bigger, rounder, earthier styles of sake as opposed to the north. Pair that with a Junmai sake, where the rice is milled down to at least 70% its original grain, keeping some of the raw, naturally tight, earthy grain qualities from the outer rind but cutting its power and rawness down considerably. Thus it has developed very little, or none, of the more delicate and weaker fruit, floral, and other aromas that a Gingo or Daigingo (milled down to 60 and 50% grain) would have.
Finally we bring in the Yamahai style of developing the Koji mold (a very important process of inhibiting certain bacteria, developing enzymes to convert rice starch to carbohydrates, and influencing final flavors), a mid-way method that’s not so old and classic as Kimoto but rougher than the super-lazy modern, and is known for creating some of the most earthy rich, dense and complex styles of the three.
Combined we have a sake that inhabits much the same earthy, barnyard characters of a traditional Burgundy with a wonderfully complex, medium-heavy nose, a body enough to match the stew and a mouthfeel to go along with the heavier but tender chicken meat. As for qualities such as acid, sweetness, etc, there is sure to be a few sakes in this category that fill the final criteria. But that’s less a thing of regionality and more knowing the producer (as is much of the sake world; it’s fun a super complex).