Sunday, August 21, 2011

Coq au Vin

Ahh, coq au vin. Literally translated as "rooster with wine," it's a classic dish that exemplifies the marriage of food and wine.

But more importantly, it's an excuse to cook with booze.

This recipe comes from the legendary Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck, but you can also find it here.  If you're wondering if you need this book, here's a simple quiz to help you:

Q: Do you own a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking?
A: Why are you reading this?  Go buy a copy.


3- to 4-oz. chunk of lean bacon
2 tbsp. butter
2.5-3 lbs. cut-up fryer chicken (what? fryer?)
salt and pepper
1/4 cup cognac
3 cups young, full-bodied red wine (book suggests Burgundy, Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhône, or Chianti)
1-2 cups brown chicken stock
1/2 tbsp. tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/4 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf
12 to 24 brown-braised onions (recipe follows)
1/2 lb. sauteed mushrooms (recipe follows)
3 tbsp. flour
2 tbsp. softened butter
sprigs of fresh parsley

Oignons Glacés À Brun (brown-braised onions)
18-24 peeled white onions, about 1 in. in diameter
1.5 tbsp. butter
1.5 tbsp oil
1/2 cup brown stock, canned beef bouillon, dry white wine, red wine, or water
A medium herb bouquet: 4 parsley sprigs, 1/2 bay leaf, 1/4 tsp. thyme tied in cheesecloth
salt and pepper

Champignons Sautés Au Beurre (sauteed mushrooms in butter)
2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. oil
1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, washed, well dried, left whole if small, sliced or quartered if large
salt and pepper
optional: 1-2 tbsp. minced shallots of green onions

Note: Some people argue that the chicken should be marinated in wine overnight before you start cooking.  This recipe doesn't call for that, but it's worth a shot if you're curious.

I'm not going to go over how to cut up a chicken, but it's a good skill to have!  Whole chickens are super cheap compared to packages of pre-cut pieces of chicken.

You also end up with various bones and random pieces that you can save to make your own chicken stock.  I decided to skin most of the pieces—the way I see it, you're going to be cooking the chicken in liquid for a while anyway, so you won't get a nice crispy skin if you leave it on.

Season your chicken and brown it.  The book says to cook down your bacon lardons in butter so that you end up with this fancy bacon fat+butter mix to cook the chicken in.  I forgot to buy bacon, so here's a shot of chicken browning in oil.  My heart feels (slightly) better already.

Don't worry too much about cooking the chicken all the way through, the point of this step is just to add a nice brown crust to your chicken.

Coq au vin is a fricassee.  In the section where this recipe is listed, the book is careful to distinguish between sautes, fricassees, and stews.  Turns out the key differentiating factor is liquid:

saute —  no liquid used in any stage of cooking (there's usually a little bit of fat involved though)
fricassee — food is browned first in some sort of fat, then cooked in liquid
stew — food is cooked in liquid from the start

Why does this matter?  To me, it comes down to tenderness.  When you saute meat, you end up with this nice, flavorful brown crust, and the meat is relatively firm (not necessarily a bad thing!).  In a stew, you're usually simmering the meat in liquid for a good amount of time, and you end up with tender meat that falls apart.  A fricassee gives you the best of both worlds.

Drink your Get your cognac...

...and your wine ready.

I totally ignored the suggestions from the book and bought a bottle of bordeaux.  I'm a wine noob, but it tastes good!

Once your chicken is browned, add the cognac...

...and light that sucker up.  THE CHICKEN, NOT YOUR HOUSE.  Shake the pan back and forth a few times until the flames subside.

If you cooked your chicken in a frying pan like me, transfer everything to a casserole dish, dutch oven, or anything big enough to stew in.  Add the bottle of wine, add chicken stock until the chicken is barely covered, and throw in the tomato paste, garlic, and herbs.  Cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes.

Before adding the wine, make sure you pour yourself a glass beforehand so that you can drink while cooking.
This is very important.

While this was going on, I made rosemary potatoes.  One of my favorite places to go to when I'm back home serves coq au vin with rosemary french fries, and it's awesome.

I don't have a deep fryer, so I'm going to attempt to be healthy and bake them.  Cut potatoes into a french fry shape, season with salt and pepper, toss with chopped rosemary and a bit of oil, and bake at 450F for about 40 minutes, turning the fries every now and then. Try not to crowd the potatoes in the pan like I did.

While the chicken is simmering, work on those two sub-recipes!  Heat up the butter and oil together in a pan, prep your mushrooms, and season them.

Brown the mushrooms.  Simple.

For the onions, start out the same way:  heat the butter and oil together, and brown the onions in the fat.

Once they're browned, add stock, season to taste, and add the herb bouquet.  I don't have cheesecloth, so I just threw the herbs right in.  Cover and simmer for 40-50 minutes.

...wait, 40 to 50 minutes?  For a recipe within a recipe?  I decided to just simmer the onions until the chicken was ready, then throw the onions in the pot with the chicken later.

By now, the chicken should be simmering for a while.  Remove the chicken and boil the remaining liquid until it's about 2.25 cups (hey, I'm just quoting the recipe).

To thicken the liquid further, we're going to add beurre manie, which is just equal amounts of softened butter and flour kneaded together.  Flour is an awesome thickening agent, but you can't add it directly to the liquid that you're trying to thicken—try it, and you end up with clumps of flour that won't dissolve.

Generally, you want to mix the flour with something to help reduce this clumping.  Some people mix flour with a little bit of water to make a slurry, which is then added to the liquid.  In the case of beurre manie, you're simply using butter instead of water to reduce clumping.  Add the beurre manie to the liquid and boil for a few minutes.

Put everything back in the pot.  From here, I like to keep at a low simmer until I'm ready to serve.


And enjoy.


  1. Are these pictures old? The timing is curious since I just made this--it is comforting that our coq au vin looks the same as the one you made. However my co-chef and I did not brown the mini onions as you did and agreed that it would provide the most benefit for the least additional effort. The beurre manie confused us; we (microwave) melted the butter and stirred the flour in. Also some direction on browning chicken well would help. Not sure what the best method is, but it seems like a greased (rather than a puddle) pan and patience will do it best.

  2. The pictures are a bit old, yeah--I finally got around to posting them.

    What exactly confused you about the beurre manie? I don't think I've seen it made with melted rather than softened butter, but it seems like it'd still work.

    Yeah, for browning, it just comes down to high heat and patience. I like to think of it like a steak--just set the meat down and step away for a few minutes. =D

  3. Great description Transon! I'll have to try this. Appreciate the references to your deviations from the recipe. Cooking is meant to be fun and flexible! :)