Best known as a rustic, peasant dish, legend has it that coq au vin originated when Julius Caeser conquered what is now known as France (then, Gaul). Cheekily presented with a tribute of a rooster, a symbol of Gallic valour, Caeser’s cook took the inhabitants’ ‘gift’, stewed it with some wine to tenderise the meat, and, voila! coq au vin was born. While there is no historical basis for the myth, interestingly, the emblem of France comes from a pun on Latin gallus, meaning both cock and Gaulish.
Although the recipe is at least 400 years old, it was not documented until the 20th century; however, a similar dish poulet a vin blanc appeared in the 1864 cookbook Cookery for English Households, by a French Lady. Much like beef bourguignon, coq au vin was widely popularised by Julia Child on her PBS show The French Chef in the 1960s, making it an instant hit with the English speaking world. Rarely found on bistro menus even in Burgundy, Alsace, Champagne and Auvergne, all of which claim paternity, made with a chicken instead of a cock, it remains an endearing classic of French cuisine.
Coq au Vin
1 large chicken (the older the better), butchered into 6-8 pieces
1 large white onion, 1 carrot and 3 ribs of celery, chopped to equal size
150 g pancetta, diced
45 g butter
2 tbl flour
2 2bl cognac
500-750 ml chicken stock
bottle of heavy red wine
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
5-6 sprigs ea. of thyme and parsley
3 bay leaves
200 g mushrooms, either button, morel or shitake
12-16 pearl onions (or shallots), peeled
salt and pepper
*To create an even richer sauce: 1) reduce the wine by a third, let it cool and marinate the chicken pieces in it with the vegetables, herbs and some peppercorns overnight; 2) Drain off the liquid, let chicken stand for 45 min and pat dry, separate the vegetables, reserve the liquid and prepare as below:
- Pour the chicken stock in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Sear the pancetta in 15 g butter in a thick-bottomed casserole (dutch oven, or cast iron is best), over medium heat until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon to a clean bowl.
- Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and place skin down altogether in the pancetta fat to colour, rotating when they turn golden rather than brown. Remove and add to the bowl with the pancetta. The depth of flavour comes from this crucial step of colouring the chicken and creating the rich pan drippings.
- Turn the heat down and add the chopped carrot, celery and onion. Cook slowly until the onion becomes translucent and begins to absorb the pan drippings; add the garlic at intervals throughout.
- Return the pancetta and chicken to the casserole, stir in the flour and let cook altogether for a minute or so. Pour in the cognac and tip the casserole slightly so that it just catches on fire and burns off. Add the herbs and pour in the bottle of wine and the simmering chicken stock until the chicken is fully submerged (add more water if necessary). Bring to a boil, then turn down to a very gentle simmer and partially cover with a lid.
- In a small saucepan, sear off the pearl onions and mushrooms until golden in the remaining butter. Season with salt and pepper and add to the chicken.
- Start checking on the chicken after about 45 min (35 min if you have marinated it), it should be tender yet still firm, not completely falling off the bone. When it is ready, remove the chicken and place in a bowl. Turn up the heat on the sauce to reduce, it should be glossy and slightly thicker. Return chicken to sauce and serve with roasted potatoes, green beans and a glass of the same wine used in cooking.