Coq au Vin is my favorite food on earth, hands down. This is also one of the best recipes that I make. A little background: when I started falling in love with cooking again (no, I was not always a recipe junkie, though food has always been an important part of my life), I fell in love with Julia. Yes, that Julia. I think that a lot of women admire her for the fact that she was just an ordinary woman who picked up cooking later in life and became one of the most influential cooks of an entire culture. So I made her Coq au vin recipe. Coq au Vin is a very old concept — like back from the Romans — but her recipe was straight forward. I have made variations on her it for 5 years now, each time changing it until I have come up with what I consider perfection. I have learned a lot about cooking since I started — like knowing you shouldn’t add all the wine at once otherwise all the tanins end up ruining the dish, or by adding ground dried porcini, the umami flavor is boosted (doesn’t make it taste more mushroom-y). Anyway, I love this recipe. Be forewarned: it takes a minimum of 3 hours. You can stop just before the rue-making stage though, if you need to divide the effort over 2 days.
1/2 pound fatty bacon, diced
5 pounds chicken*, in pieces, but still on the bone, skin on
1 teaspoon herbs de Provence
1 ounce cognac
3 medium onions, quarters
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, ground to a fine powder
6 tablespoons tomato paste
1 bottle merlot,** divided
4 cups chicken stock. divided
5 cloves garlic, crushed but mostly whole
5-6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
8 tablespoon butter
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons flour
4-5 cups chicken stock
1 cup pearl onions, peeled
3 cups crimini mushrooms, halved if large
1 cup French Demi-Glaze Stock “puck”***
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
1. Prep your onions (peel and quarter), pearl onions (peel) and mushrooms (remove stems, peel if desired) but do not discard the “trimmings” (outer most layer of onions and all the mushroom pieces). Add these, along with the chieken stock to a pot and simmer while you prepare the chicken. I know that this seems a little odd, but the trimmings have flavor and this boosts the stock intensity. It doesn’t matter is there are papery onions skins and such in there. Once you have simmered this for the chicken browning part (20 minutes or so), pour off through a fine mesh strainer. You will use this intensified stock in step 5.
2. In a large Dutch oven (or heavy bottomed stock pot) over medium low heat, render the bacon but be careful not to burn any of the bits. Remove the bacon pieces (you are done with the actual bacon; feel free to snack on it) and pour off the bacon grease to a small bowl (you will use this throughout the cooking process). Wipe out the pot of any random bacon bits as they will burn, but do not wash the pot as you are building the fond base.
While the bacon is rendering, pat the chicken dry and rub with salt and pepper and the herbs de Provence.
3. Return 2 teaspoons of the bacon to the pot and heat on medium until shimmering. Brown the chicken until much of the skin has given off fat, approximately 6 minutes per side. You may have to do this in batches as you do not want to crowd the pot too much. If you do batch it, remove chicken to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Pour off some of the excess grease in between batches if there is a lot of fat (some chickens are fattier than others). With the last batch, flambé the chicken with cognac. Once the flames subside (be careful!), remove all the chicken to a plate and pour off all the grease. It can be discarded. At this point, a brown fond should be starting, but be careful not to scorch the pot as this is all flavor.
4. Preheat oven to 320F.
5. Return 1 tablespoon of the rendered bacon grease to the pan and heat on medium until shimmering. Add the onions (not the pearl onions!), and a pinch of salt and pepper. Sauté for 6-8 minutes until they are lightly browned. Clear a section in the middle of the pot, add another teaspoon of the bacon grease, the porcini powder and about 15-20 second later, the tomato paste. Mix well. After about another 30 seconds, mix in the onions from the sides. Add in 1 cup of the wine and using a wooden spoon, scrape up all the fond from the bottom of the pot. Don’t miss out on all this flavor! Turn off the heat, add the chicken (nestle all of it in there), the garlic cloves, the thyme and bay leaves. Add 1 more cup of the wine, and then add another stock to cover the chicken (about 2 cups). Turn on the heat again and let come to a simmer on the stove top. Once simmering and the oven is hot, cover tightly with the lid and place in the oven to braise for 90 minutes, checking at 30 minute intervals to stir.
6. In the meantime, prepare the mushroom and pearl onions. Heat large skillet, with 1 tablespoon butter and 2 tablespoon olive oil. Add the onions and sauté until lightly caramelized. Remove to a work bowl and cover. Add 1 more tablespoon butter, 2 tablespoons olive oil and the remaining bacon grease to the skillet. Sauté the mushrooms for approximately 8-10 minutes, until tender. Remove to from heat and set aside in the same bowl as the pearl onions. Add a bit of salt and pepper.
7. After 90 minutes, take the pot out of the oven. Remove the chicken to a bowl and carefully (don’t burn your hands) remove the skin (it will be very gross and flabby by now) and remove the meat from the bone. While traditionally coq au vin is served on the bone, I find this is more hassle than it warranted, so I remove the bones at this step. Strain the sauce through a fine mesh strainer to remove all of the solids, which you can discard. Let liquid sit for 5 minutes in a fat separator until the fat rises to the top, approximately 5-10 minutes. At this point, you should actually wash out the pot – you will need it again in a minute, but at this point, it needs a clean.
At this point, do a sanity check: you should have one bowl with chicken, now off the bone, one bowl with the pearl onions and mushrooms and the fat separator (or bowl) with the liquid. You should also have 2ish cups of chicken stock, the rest of the bottle of wine (about 1/2 cup) and your beef stock puck remaining. Combine the liquid from the braise and the chicken stock; you should have about 4 cups total.
8. Return the Dutch oven to the stove over medium-low heat. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter. Add 6 tablespoons of flour, stirring all the time and toast for a minute or two to cook off the raw flour flavor. Add chicken stock mixture bit by bit to the rue until paste forms, then briskly stir in remaining of that liquid until you have a luscious sauce about the consistency of heavy cream. Add the remaining wine and stock puck and stir until dissolved. It should be a very smooth mahogany color.
9. Finally, add the chicken, pearl onions and mushrooms back to the Dutch oven. Let simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes. Re-season with salt and pepper if necessary. Add the frozen peas (optional) and chopped parsley. Serve with potatoes (traditional), noodles, spätzle or even rice.
* You can use a whole chicken, cut to pieces, but I prefer to use more dark meat so lots of chicken thighs, less breast meat and only some – if any – drum sticks.
** You can use whatever wine you like, red or white, but I use merlot, you’re reducing, so strengthening the flavor so don’t use garbage wine.
*** What is this? A company called More than Gourmet makes these stock “pucks” (they are a little smaller than a hockey puck. (http://www.morethangourmet.com/pantry-stock-sauces-gourmet-soups/meat-stock-and-sauces/french-demi-glace) While they make many types, and even though this is chicken dish, I use the traditional French demi-glaze, which is actually beef. More Than Gourmet products can be found at Whole Foods, Wegmans, other higher end grocery stores and online through Amazon.