There are lots of recipes for coq au vin out there, but for me, this one–from an old, red, tattered copy of Julia Child’s The French Chef Cookbook –is the only one that will ever matter. The book was published before I was born and has been on the cookbook shelf in our house for as long as I can remember. We apparently bought my Dad an updated copy in 1985 when I was just beginning to learn how to write my name.
While I’m sure he loved it, it never took the place of the original. When we were little, it was the one he and my Mom turned to over and over to knock out spectacular Sunday dinners. I can still see my Dad standing in our kitchen, left hand on his hip, kitchen towel over his right shoulder, peering into whatever was simmering on the stove and talking about the “critical part” of tonight’s recipe. Coq au vin was always one of our favorites. It’s warm, comforting, and for me at least, just tastes like home. It’s a perfect Sunday dinner and also just about the best thing to take to a friend in need of a home-cooked dinner, a glass of wine, and a big hug. Sunday, I set out to do just that, and spent the whole day in the kitchen chopping, browning, and braising until it was just like I remembered. Hopefully the finished product would have done my Dad proud and hopefully it also made my sweet friend feel loved. As I said, there are a lot recipes and shortcuts out there, but if you really want to make coq au vin correctly, this is the only way to do it.
Coq au Vin
Browning and braising the chicken:
3 to 4 oz. center cut bacon, cut into 1/4 inch lardons
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 whole chicken cut into pieces
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
1/4 cup cognac
1 bottle Burgundy
1 to 2 cups chicken or beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. fresh thyme leaves plus a few additional sprigs
1 bay leaf
In a large heavy-bottomed pan or dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat and add in the bacon. Sauté until bacon is lightly browned and remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon, leaving the fat in the pan. Dry chicken pieces thoroughly and season with salt and pepper. Add chicken to the pan and brown on all sides over medium-high heat, working in batches if necessary. Turn down the heat to medium, add all the chicken and the bacon back to the pan. Cover and allow to cook for about 10 minutes. Remove the cover, add in the cognac, and ignite with a long kitchen match.
Once the flames subside, add in the wine, tomato paste, garlic, thyme, bay leaf and enough stock to cover the chicken. (I think it’s easiest to add the tomato paste and the garlic to the stock and stir to combine before adding it all to the pan together. )
Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes until the chicken is tender and cooked through. While the chicken is simmering, prepare the onions and the mushrooms.
For the mushrooms:
1/2 to 1 lb cremini mushrooms
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
Rinse the mushrooms, and wipe clean with a dry kitchen towel. Remove the stems from the caps, and cut in half diagonally. Cut the caps into quarters. Melt butter in a large skillet, add the olive oil, season, and sauté mushrooms until golden brown. Remove from the pan and set aside.
For the onions:
About 2 dozen small pearl onions
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
Drop the onions into boiling water and boil for about a minute. Drain into a colander and rinse in cold water to cool slightly. Cut the ends off of each onion and peel carefully. Cut a small cross into the bottom of each onion. According to Julia, this helps the onions stay intact during the cooking process. Heat butter and olive oil in the large skillet, season, and brown onions on all sides. Pour water in the pan about half way up the sides of the onions, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes or more depending on the size of your onions. Test one to make sure it’s tender. When they’re all cooked through, remove and set aside.
Finishing the chicken:
3 tablespoons butter, softened
3 tablespoons flour
Once the chicken is cooked through, remove it from the pan, leaving the braising liquid behind. Bring the liquid to a boil and allow to simmer and reduce for a bit to concentrate the flavors. Carefully skim as much of the fat from the top as possible. Taste, and adjust seasonings as necessary. Mix the flour and the softened butter together in a small bowl. (If the butter isn’t warm enough to mix well with the flour, you can add in a little of the braising liquid to heat it up.) Add the butter and flour mixture to the braising liquid, whisk to combine, and simmer until thickened slightly. Add back in the mushrooms, the onions, and the chicken and admire all your hard work.
At this point, it can be set aside and reheated when you’re ready for dinner. Allowing the flavors to meld for a bit only enhances the finished dish. You can serve it with parsley potatoes per Julia’s request, buttered egg noodles like we had when we were little, or mashed mixed red and yellow pee wee potatoes like I did this time around.
Just boil potatoes until fork tender, and mash with a few tablespoons of butter and a 1/4 cup or so of heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper and top with minced parsley and chives. For something green, Julia requests buttered green peas, but skinny french beans sounded pretty good too. Just sauté a small, diced shallot in some butter, toss in cooked green beans, season and finish with a sprinkling of lemon zest.
Serve and enjoy with someone special. If you’re really feeling indulgent, hot French bread is delicious dipped in the sauce.