Saturday, January 28, 2012

Recipe: A French Classic – Coq au Vin

In France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport. – Julia Child

As classic as the French countryside.
This recipe is a French classic and probably one of the best known of French recipes – at least by name.

Up until the early 1900s it was common for French families to raise chickens for eggs and meat. Of course to have eggs one must have a rooster. The rooster would do its “duty” until it became too old. Then it would be killed and eaten.

Marinate the chicken with the wine and vegetables overnight.
Since an old rooster is quite tough, it was simmered with wine to soften the meat. Because of these origins Coq au Vin was long considered poor people’s food, as those other than peasants could afford to eat better quality meats.

The translation of Coq au Vin is “rooster of the wine”. Of course modern versions use commercial chicken, not only because of availability but because old poultry of any sex are quite tough. The name, though, has stuck.

There is a story about the recipe being made for Napoleon at a campaign stop over. The innkeeper was rather stretched for ingredients because of the war so had to make up a recipe on the spot.

Not surprisingly, like many recipes associated with Napoleon, it’s completely untrue. Napoleon recipes are the French equivalent of the American stories of beds Washington slept in.

The truth of the matter is that there is documentation of this recipe being made for centuries before Napoleon. It’s truly a French countryside classic.

The recipe did not gain popular acceptance until the early 1900s when the availability of chicken (without raising it) and good quality wine increased. Then it was transformed magically into fine cuisine.

This recipe is actually extremely easy to make. It just takes time. Try it and fall in love with Coq au Vin!

This is the liquid level. You don't have to add any more.
Classic Coq au Vin
Prep: overnight  |  Cook 2 hrs 10 min  |  Serves 4
8 chicken thighs, skin on and bone in
1/2 bottle good quality Burgundy (or Côtes du Rhône) red wine
2 medium onions, chopped large 
3 cloves of garlic, mashed 
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut quite large 
1 tsp thyme
2 bay leaves
6 slices of bacon, chopped
1/2 lb (250g) white mushrooms
2 tbsp flour mixed with 1/4 cup water
salt and pepper, to taste

The day before cooking place the chicken in a pot with the wine, onion, garlic, carrots, thyme and bay leaves. Leave the carrots in fairly large pieces. If not they will disappear when simmered for 2 hours.

The result of 2 hours cooking.  I thickened it with a
little flour and water to make a thin sauce. Fantastic.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight.

The next day remove the chicken, reserving the vegetables and wine.

Brown the chicken pieces in a Dutch oven or other large pot with a lid. Remove the chicken and drain off the collected fat.

Add the bacon and mushrooms to the pot and sauté until the bacon is cooked. Add the chicken back in and pour the reserved wine and vegetables over the top. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp of salt and 1 tsp of pepper.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover. Let cook for 2 hours. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust.

Add the flour and water mixture. Let simmer for an additional 10 minutes to thicken slightly. Sprinkle the dish with parsley and serve with mashed potatoes or rice.


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