Coq au Vin is a classic French dish that is a rather simplistic recipe at heart but like so many dishes in the genre there is the good, the bad, and the ugly. Everyone seems to have their own variation of Coq au Vin. If you were to order Coq au Vin in seven different restaurants on seven consecutive nights you would likely find seven variations.
Coq au Vin is a dish that can easily be constructed at home. It doesn’t require any special equipment or skill, just a little patience and the willingness to sacrifice a good bottle of wine for the effort. Using inferior wine, or the wrong wine, will surely wreck the dish so don’t do that.
The Right Wine for Coq au Vin
The old-guard recipe you will unearth calls for Red Burgundy, which is of course, Pinot Noir. Burgundy is not a wine that you will find on many wine drinkers value list so I suggest that you find a substitute. For me a young, fruity Pinot Noir from California does the trick.
If you shop any big and reputable wine merchant you will find at least a couple of good choices in the $10 range. It’s a good idea to have a relationship with your wine seller – they will happily steer you towards their favorite value Pinot.
Other good choices for Coq au Vin include a fruity, low oak Shiraz, Beaujolais-Villages, Montepulciano, or Grenache.
Bad choices include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or any wine with a heavy dose of oak. You simply want to avoid any wine with moderate to high tannins and a generous dose of new oak. These wines will absolutely kill your Coq au Vin. (As a rule, I would never use a wine like this is a braised dish).
- One Whole chicken divided as you like
- 8 – 10 ounces thick-cut bacon
- 3 carrots, peeled, chopped
- 3 celery stalks, minced
- 1 onion, minced
- 1 bottle red wine (see instructions above)
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon five-spice powder
- 1 quart of your best chicken stock
- 12 sprigs thyme
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 pound mushrooms cut into halves or quarters (depending on size)
- 3 tablespoons of butter and 3 tablespoons of flour to make a roux
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Salt and pepper the chicken pieces. In a heavy pot or casserole brown the chicken pieces in batches being careful to not overcrowd the pot. When browned, transfer to large bowl. After the chicken has been browned and removed add the vegetables and cook until the onion is translucent. Remove the vegetables transferring them to the bowl with the chicken. Add the whole slices of bacon to the pot and cook until crisp and then remove and drain on paper towels.
Drain all of the fat from the pot and wipe it clean with a few paper towels picking up stray grease and loose debris. Return the pot to the heat and add the tomato paste with a bit of olive oil and the five-spice powder. Cook for a few minutes until it becomes quite fragrant. Add the wine (reserving a few ounces) to the pot and stir well to incorporate the tomato paste.
Reduce the wine volume by half and then add the stock followed by the herbs tied in a bundle. Return the chicken and vegetables to the pot along with half of the bacon broken into pieces. Cover the pot and place in the center of the oven.
In a very hot pan add the mushrooms in a single layer and do not disturb (no stirring or shaking) for three minutes. Now add two tablespoons of olive oil and a generous dose of sea salt and black pepper. Sauté until browned well and most of the liquid has evaporated from the pan. Set aside in the warm oven.
In 40 minutes check the white meat pieces for doneness. If done remove to a pot or crock with a lid and cover. The dark meat will likely need another 10 minutes but you should check them now as well. When the chicken is all fully cooked and removed from the pot switch the oven off and place the crock of chicken in the oven to keep warm.
Meanwhile on the stove, top bring the liquid to a hearty boil for 5 minutes. Switch off the burner and remove it from the heat. Strain the liquid from the solids. Discard the solids and separate the fat from the rich wine stock.
In a clean pot – you can give a quick clean to the pot that you have just used to braise the chicken – prepare the roux. Cook on medium heat until the smell of raw flour has gone but be sure not to brown the roux.
Add 1 cup of your rich wine stock to the roux along with the reserved wine. The mixture should become quite thick in a minute. Slowly add the remaining rich wine stock stirring to incorporate. Bring the sauce to a boil. After boiling for a few minutes reduce the heat to low and add the reserved chicken, mushrooms, and bacon breaking into bite size bits. Continue testing on low for 10 to 15 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. Serve immediately or allow the pot to cool and serve it later or the next day. It does get better if allowed to set for a few hours.
Serve with your choice of starch such as potatoes (boiled, mashed, or roasted), pasta, or polenta. Of course, serve with a great bottle of red wine.