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True Coq au Vin

For those who don’t know, “coq” means “rooster” in French. Therefore, “Coq au Vin” means “Rooster cooked in wine”. The dish is a staple of French provincial cooking, a dish originally made by using extra roosters culled from the chicken yard or an old chicken (aka a stewing chicken), the local red wine and available aromatics. Of course, in those areas that produce only white wine (Alsace), they have versions using white wine or beer (excellent beer is made is Alsace). In Normandy and Brittany, which are too cold for wine but where hard apple cider or perry (pear cider) have been made for century, there are versions of the dish too.


It’s like curry, or chili or Brunswick stew. Nobody has a monopole on it: many versions have evolved over time in different parts of the country. I am sure the Spaniard and the Italians have their own way to slow-cook chicken in wine, too. What those many dishes have in common is that they were born of necessity and ingenuity and that they use wine as a simmering base. Don’t kill the chicken as long as it’s laying eggs, but once that’s over, find a way to eat it. It’s the essence of peasant/country cooking: you use what you have, and make the best of it. So, no fryer, no tender little poussin for this dish: Save your fryer for frying or grilling, and your poussins for quick braising or spit-roasting! Your old chicken, however, will be perfect simmered for hours in an acidic (wine) sauce with aromatics. It will keep its shape and provide an incomparable aroma (something maybe even too strong for those palates who like their chicken really mild! Be warned).

With temperature dipping in the single digit (Fahrenheit/ -13 C) and with the holidays, long slow cooked hearty dishes that simmer for hours on the stove with tantalizing aromas are just about perfect now. mmm… coq au vin….I was recently reading a post (December 11, sorry I can’t seem to get the permalink!) from Matt of Matt’s Kitchen who relates his disappointment of making the Barefoot Contessa’s version of Coq au Vin, and how vapid and insipid it turned out. Now, I am a great admirer of Ina Garten… but that recipe – as reported and photographed on the few blogs I looked at – sure does not lood like Coq au Vin. Not even remotely. The chicken swims in broth! It’s pallid! It looks like soup …. Several posters and commenters complained of a strong unpleasant wine taste: well… no wonder, that wine did not simmer long enough to let the alcohol evaporate and it never had a chance – along with the mushrooms, onions & bacon – to meld into a gooey mess of thick and silky luscious succulence that is the essence of Coq au Vin – a dish made to savor slowly, sucking all the bones clean, and eating up all the last bits of that thick silky unctuous sauce.

On Barefoot Bloggers (a group of bloggers who cook and comment on Barefoot Contessa recipes) there are suggestions for replacing the wine and brandy for which the recipe calls. Proposed substitutions vary from grape juice, to verjus, to apple cider, to vinegar, to chicken broth etc. All fine and dandy: many of those substitutions might produce tasty chicken dishes (although looking at some of the associated post – it did not), but what they do not do is producing coq au vin. With vinegar, it’s Chicken with Vinegar (Poulet au Vinaigre is also a French country classic); with hard cider: it’s chicken with hard-cider (even Normandy Chicken, if one adds a little cream); with broth, it’s chicken stew… you get my drift. Those wineless versions may be called coq au vin by their authors, but they are no more coq-au-vin than Velveeta is cheese!

By the way, no offense to Matt, Karen & others who reported great disappointment with the recipe. They followed it. They did not fail. It’s just not a good coq au vin recipe.

Ok. Enough for the rant. Here is my recipe for Real Coq au Vin! Read more