Coq au Vin

Coq au Vin is a prime example of classic French cooking. It is a lot of work, but worth it. “Coq” is French for rooster, and in times when people still ate roosters they were old and thus so tough that they needed to be stewed in wine to make them edible. Nowadays most chicken only gets to live about 6 weeks, so it is not needed to cook it like that anymore. But the flavor of the classic dish is so good that people keep making it anyway. Those old roosters had a lot of flavor, so this dish will benefit from using an older chicken like the one I discovered recently.

I have looked at various recipes online, most of them in French, and noted that they are all very similar. Chicken is browned, covered in red wine and stock, and then stewed until tender. It is served with sautéed mushrooms and braised pearl onions. Since Julia Child has been very important for introducing French cuisine to America, I thought it would be nice to follow her recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She made some adaptations to ingredients available in America, for instance she cooks the chicken only for a short time (because young chickens don’t need that long) and she blanches the bacon before using it (I think this is because bacon in America was — or still is? — too salty).

I believe the key success factors for a good Coq au Vin are: the quality of the wine, the quality of the chicken, the quality of the chicken stock, and cooking the onions and mushrooms separately and only adding them at the end. This will allow the mushrooms and onions to keep their own flavor. If you’ve never made braised onions before, I bet you’ll like them so much that you will make them again. Braised onions are very tender, flavorful, and sweet, and very different from raw or sautéed onions.
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Ingredients

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For 2 servings

2 chicken legs

50 grams (2 oz) bacon cut into lardons

375 ml (1/2 bottle) good quality pinot noir

250 ml (1 cup) home-made brown chicken stock

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 Tbsp cognac

1 tsp tomato paste

clarified butter, or regular butter and olive oil

1 clove garlic

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

1 bay leaf

fresh flatleaf parsley for garnish

30 grams (3 Tbsp) flour

30 grams (2 Tbsp) butter, softened

boiled potatoes (optional), to serve

For the mushrooms

175 grams (6 oz) small button mushrooms

1 Tbsp minced shallots

For the braised onions

8-12 pearl onions (i.e. very small onions, also called cocktail onions or boiling onions)

1 bouquet garni: fresh thyme and parsley tied together in a bay leaf

125 ml (1/2 cup) red wine

Preparation of the chicken

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Heat 1 Tbsp clarified butter in a casserole into which the chicken legs will fit snugly. Add the lardons and sauté until golden.

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Remove the lardons with a slotted spoon and set aside.

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Dry the chicken legs with paper towels to make it easier to brown.

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Brown the chicken legs in the hot butter and bacon fat on both sides.

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Season the chicken with salt and freshly ground black pepper on both sides.

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Return the lardons to the casserole.

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Cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes.

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Turn the chicken after 5 minutes.

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Pour in the cognac.

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Ignite the cognac with a match (being careful not to burn yourself). Wait until the flames subside, shaking the casserole gently.

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Pour in the red wine.

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Pour in the chicken stock. The chicken should be covered.

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Add the tomato paste.

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Add the crushed garlic.

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Add the thyme and bay leaf and stir.

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Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer.

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Cover and simmer until the chicken is tender. This depends on the age of the chicken (anywhere from 30 minutes for young chicken to several hours for an older chicken).

Preparation of the braised onions

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Prepare the onions and mushrooms while the chicken is simmering. To peel the onions, bring a pot of water to a boil and boil the onions for 1 minute.

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Plunge them into cold water. They should now be easy to peel. Try to keep them whole.

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Heat a generous tablespoon of clarified butter in a saucepan or small frying pan. Add the onions.

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Brown the onions over medium heat for about 10 minutes, rolling them about to brown them as evenly as possible.

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Lower the heat and add the red wine.

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Add the bouquet garni and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

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Let simmer over low heat for about 45 minutes until tender.

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Turn the onions now and then and check whether you need to add a bit more wine. Discard the bouquet garni and turn off the heat.

Preparation of the mushrooms

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Heat 2 Tbsp clarified butter in a frying pan over high heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté them for about 5 minutes until golden on all sides.

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Lower the heat to medium and add the shallot.

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Sauté for a few minutes longer until the shallot is golden and turn off the heat. With with seasoning the mushrooms until you are ready to serve them.

To finish the dish

Peel and boil potatoes, if using.

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Check whether the chicken is tender (with a fork). Take out the chicken and set it aside.

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Bring the sauce to a boil and reduce it to about 300 ml (1 1/4 cup). Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

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Combine the flour and softened butter in a bowl.

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Knead them together to make beurre manié.

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Remove the bay leaf from the sauce.

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Add the beurre manié and whisk to thicken the sauce.

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Simmer for a few minutes until the sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.

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Return the chicken to the casserole to warm it back up. Also warm up the onions and mushrooms if needed. Season the mushrooms with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

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Arrange the chicken with the mushrooms, onions, and potatoes on warm plates.

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Spoon over the sauce and garnish with parsley.

Wine pairing

This pairs well with a light to medium-bodied red wine, especially a pinot noir from Bourgogne. A strong red wine would overpower the chicken. The wine pairing will work very well if you use the same or a very similar wine for the sauce.

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22 thoughts on “Coq au Vin

  1. Another great post! I get chickens from a local farmer and they are wonderful and full of flavor. I agree that traditional grocery store chickens do not have much flavor. You can use fat back which they have at Whole Foods here in colorado instead of bacon and it is not too salty. Great tip on adding onions and mushrooms to the end.

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  2. Julia’c coq au vin has been on my “to cook” list for a while now and I should really make time to make it as it looks delicious. While, I love Julia’s recipes, they usually require quite some time and pot washing…how many pots did you have to clean? 🙂

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    1. 1 for the chicken, 1 for the onions, 1 for the mushrooms. And an additional one for the potatoes, if you want to include those. With a dishwasher it is not such a big deal anyway 😉
      Thanks for leaving such a nice comment!

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  3. Excellent post and technique, Stefan. I always love to see the different approaches to classic dishes. I have never tried Julia Child’s version of coq au vin but probably should, especially before it gets too hot and I don’t want the oven on for long periods of time. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks for the nice compliment Richard. By the way, Julia Child’s recipe (or my rendition) does not require the use of an oven.
      I’ll be posting about a sous-vide version soon, which should warm up your house even less.

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  4. I’m familiar with this recipe, Stefan, as I am with that cookbook. Both are very good and yours would certainly make Julia proud. Speaking of her, I got an unexpected chuckle as I was gazing at your photos and reading their captions. When I came upon the sautéing mushrooms, I could almost hear Julia’s voice warning us not to “crowd the mushrooms!”. You want them to “brown not steam.” Yes, I watch her whenever one of her cooking shows is broadcast on television. And always with a smile.

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    1. I didn’t specify the “not crowding” part because for me that is implied in the term “sautéing”. I don’t explain everything in every post, because that would make it boring for both me and my regular readers. But in honor of Julia it is great that you include her advice here. Thanks for that and the nice compliment 🙂

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  5. I love to read your blog. And so I was flashbacked to your coq au vin. I live in the Rheingau and maybe you tried while being here the local interpretation of it: Woihinkelche (Woi = Wein, vine and hinkel = Huhn, chicken, che = diminutive – we like it cute 😉 ), it’s prepared with Riesling instead of Pinot noir. Thank you for your inspiring blog! Bernd

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    1. Hi Bernd! I have visited the Rheingau and love the wines, but I have never tasted Woihinkelche. It sounds nice and I should try it! Thanks for visiting and taking the time to leave such a nice comment.

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