Since Christmas is coming soon, and I’ve been a very good boy, I decided to buy myself a little present.
I went ahead and bought myself a fancy pants French braising pan. I’ve had my eye on one for years so I decided that I deserved to treat myself this year. I justified the cost (to myself) with the knowledge that I love braising, especially in cooler months, and this pan is so sturdy and solid that it should last a life time if I take care of it.
And it’s pretty.
I knew before I even got it home that I wanted Coq au Vin to be the first meal I prepared in my new favorite toy. I’ve made countless variations on chicken braised in wine, but I’ve actually never made a classic coq au vin before and I knew that that had to change.
We had a lot of red wine left over from our Thanksgiving celebration, so the timing couldn’t have been better. I really don’t know how this happened, by the way. I’m more than a little disappointed in myself and my dinner guests for not sucking down every last drop of booze that night.
I don’t own a copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking (for shame, I know), so instead I looked to the modern queen of classic cooking, Ina Garten. As it turns out, her recipe is reaaaallly similar to Julia’s anyway. I made just a few tiny tweaks to make her recipe my own, and to thicken up the sauce just a wee bit.
I’m going to channel my inner Ina and tell you that if you’re going to make this recipe, it pays to splurge on good ingredients. Use good wine, fresh thyme, and nice plump fresh mushrooms. If you can, get a nice thick whole chunk of bacon and dice it into thick lardons yourself. The size and texture just stands up better to low and slow cooking. If you can’t though, don’t let the bacon stop you. Seriously.
And, if you can, get a really really good chicken. If you can find an organic air-chilled chicken, go for it. They’re a little bit pricier but they have a much better flavor and the fat renders out of the skin better since the chicken hasn’t soaked in (and absorbed) water during processing. I won’t get into the specifics of chicken processing, but rest assured that (for many reasons) it’s worth your while to look for chicken that says “air chilled” on the package.
I was looking forward to butchering the chicken myself and showing you the process, but my market was out of whole air-chilled chickens but did have them pre-butchered for the same price. Sorry guys! Some other time.
If you don’t want to butcher your own chicken, your butcher will probably do it for you. Ask them to split the breasts. If you don’t want to use all the parts of the chicken, you can also do this with a mix of breast and thighs, or all thighs, or all breasts. It is important for flavor though, that everything is still on the bone with skin, and for even cooking you’ll need to have all the breasts cut in half.
This recipe is definitely worth all the hype. It’s rustic and homey and rich and sublimely satisfying.
I know that people always assume that all French food is fussy and stuffy and unattainable, but it’s not (always) true! French country dishes like Coq au Vin or Boeuf Bourguignon are actually really simple, comforting and filling. If you’re completely unfamiliar, Coq au Vin is a country chicken stew made with carrots, bacon, red wine, and mushrooms. It’s incredibly hearty and earthy, like some of the best comfort food you could ever want; like a warm cozy blanket made of chicken braised in red wine. The chicken is falling-off-the-bone tender and bursting with the rich bold flavors of the wine and thyme and mushrooms, and the sweet tender carrots and pearl onions balance the richness perfectly.
Just make sure you have enough wine to last you while you’re cooking and still have some left for serving!
Classic Coq Au Vin
4 ounces thick cut bacon or pancetta, diced
1 (3 to 4-pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces (breasts sliced in halves)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound carrots, cut into thick rustic pieces
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup Cognac
2 cups good dry red wine (preferably Burgundy)
1 cup chicken stock (homemade if possible)
10 fresh thyme sprigs
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 pound frozen pearl onions
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, stems removed and thickly sliced
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.
Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels and season liberally on both sides with salt and pepper.
Heat a large heavy-bottom Dutch oven or braising pan over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp. Remove the bacon to a plate with a slotted spoon. If you have more than a tablespoon or two of bacon fat in the pan, pour off and reserve to use later in place of the butter.
When the bacon is removed, brown the chicken pieces in batches in a single layer for about 5 minutes, turning to brown evenly. Don’t crowd the chicken, just do two batches. Remove the chicken to the plate with the bacon and continue to brown until all the chicken is done. Set aside.
Add the carrots and sliced onions to the pan with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper and cook over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the Cognac and put the bacon, chicken, and any juices that collected on the plate back into the pot along with the wine, chicken stock, and thyme. Bring to a simmer on the stovetop, cover the pot with a tight fitting lid, and place in the oven for about 40 minutes, or until the chicken is just done. Remove from the oven and move back to the stovetop.
Mash 4 tablespoons of butter (or reserved bacon fat) and the flour together and stir into the stew. Add the frozen onions and bring the stew back up to a very low simmer. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter (or bacon fat) to a separate medium saute pan, and cook the mushrooms over medium-low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until browned and liquid cooks off. Stir the mushrooms into the stew and simmer for another 10 minutes. Season to taste.
Serve over mashed potatoes, rice, pasta, or cous cous.