Coq au Vin

Immediately after my first trip to France in 1992, I made 10 batches of Coq au Vin in the months subsequent to my trip trying to replicate my delicious Parisian meal. Unfortunately, my efforts came up short and I abandon my attempts. Over the years I would occasionally make a mediocre Coq au Vin. My only modest success was a “Modern Coq au Vin” that I cooked for my parents, brother and sister in 2007; which was this recipe from Chris Kimball (different version than I cooked today). Today, I finally discovered where I had gone wrong all these years. I hadn’t been reducing the sauce far enough, so the flavors were not sufficiently concentrated.  My 2007 attempt reduced a bottle of wine down to 3 cups. Today I reduced the sauce down further than I ever have (down to 2 cups), create an extremely rich and velvety consistency. The sauce was the best 5-star sauce imaginable. Unfortunately, I still believe that chicken does not have the inherent richness to match this amazing sauce; certainly not super-market chicken breasts. Next time I’ll try thighs which can be cooked longer and are more flavorful. Still, I give today’s recipe 4-1/2 stars; better than any restaurant chicken in Paris.

After 20 years of trying, a home-run Coq au Vin

Comments:

  1. Coq au Vin is usually translated as chicken with wine, but I know enough French to know that chicken is Poulet. This translation is just being polite, because coq obviously translates into cock (or rooster). Most old-time recipes called for old barnyard fowl because they required a long braising to make them tender. Today’s supermarket chicken needs to be handled more gently, so do not cook past 160-degrees for white meat and 175-degrees for dark meat.
  2. Chris Kimball says to use 24 frozen pearl onions, and to thaw, drained, and pat them dry with a paper towel. In the past I have been unable to find frozen pearl onion, except sold in a disgusting pre-made cream sauce. I did try the cream sauced variety (from Birds-Eye) once, but will never use them again. Today, I did see that Birds-Eye also sells a larger bag of un-sauced, frozen pearl onions. But I already had 8 ounces of boiler onions in my kitchen from another French stew I made last month. So I used my fresh boiler onions and saved the $4. I’m still not sure if there is difference between boiler onions and pearl onions.
  3. I used 2 cups of small, fresh boiler onions, and tried a new technique which was a good alternative to the 40-minute braise that Julia Child recommends. First, roll the boiler onions between your two hands to remove as much of the papery exterior as possible. Next, slice of the stem and root end. It’s a lot of slicing because I had 30 small boiler onions. Boil them in water for 1 minute, drain them in a strainer and shock them in an ice water batch. That let me peel away any remaining exterior.
  4. Chris Kimball says to chop the bacon medium in step 1, but I cooked the bacon whole and crumbled it into small pieces after cooking. There doesn’t seem to be any real difference between the two techniques.
  5. While I do own a splatter screen, I didn’t use it today. After seeing the mess that the bacon and chicken made on my stove-top, I’d certainly remind you that this will be a good time to use it.
  6. Finally, I’d also like to mention that Julia Child adds 1/4 cup cognac. She does that to a lot of her stews, but I don’t have cognac. I didn’t add it, but it sounds like it could add some great complexity. Chris Kimball recipe doesn’t call for any cognac either.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $23.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time: 4:30 PM. Dinner time: 7:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s version of this recipe was in his 10th Anniversary America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook. The descriptions of how I prepared the recipe today are given below:

6-oz Thick-cut bacon
4-lbs Bone-in chicken pieces
8-oz Pearl Onions (Labelled boiler onions in my supermarket)
10-oz white mushrooms
2 medium cloves of carlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 bottle medium-bodied red wine
2-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaf
Salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons minced parsley
10-0z wide egg noodles or 2 pounds russet potatoes.

  1. Cook the bacon in a dutch oven for 10 minutes over medium heat until crispy, using a spatter screen if you have one (which you will also use for the chicken). When crispy, remove bacon to paper towels and pat to remove any excess grease. Crumble bacon as set aside until ready to serve. Remove pot from heat.
  2. Meanwhile while the bacon is cooking, prepare your chicken by trimming away any excess fat. If you are using chicken breasts, remove the ribs and cut each breast in half. Dry the chicken using paper towels and season both sides with salt and pepper.
  3. If you have less than 2 tablespoons of bacon fat, add vegetable oil.Put the Dutch oven with the bacon fat over medium-high heat until begins to shimmer. Cook the chicken in two batches, cooking for 8 minutes per side (a total of 32 minutes). After each batch is complete remove to a plate and set aside. Again, use a splatter screen if you have one.
  4. While the chicken cooks prepare pearl onions and quarter mushrooms. If using fresh pearl onions, roll the onions between your hands to remove as much of the papery exterior as possible, then slice off stem and root ends. Add the onions to boiling water for 1 minute, empty to a strainer then shock in an ice water bath. This will help you remove any remaining outer skin.
  5. Remove all but 1 tablespoon fat from the pan, and cook the quartered mushrooms and pearl onions over medium burner for 10 minutes
  6. Press garlic cloves directly into pot and add 1 tablespoon tomato paste. Cook for 30 seconds, then add flour and cook for 1 additional minute.
  7. Add wine, chicken broth and deglaze the bottom of the pot. Add thyme, bay leaves add 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
  8. Return the chicken to the pot, nestling them so that they are all submerged. Cover pot and cook chicken over medium-low burner until chicken reaches correct internal temperature; 160 for white meat (20 minutes) and 175 for dark meat (40 minutes). Use a slotted spoon to remove the chicken when done, placing in a large bowl and tent with aluminum foil to keep warm.
  9. While the chicken cooks, put a large pot of salted water on the stove-top and begin heating for your eggs noodles (or mashed potatoes).
  10. Reduce sauce, uncovered, for 20 minutes until the sauce has reduce to about 2 cups and is thick. If you only cooked white meat then that may take 35 minutes. Replace the chicken in the pot for last 5 minutes to reheat.
  11. Remove pot from heat and put chicken on serving platter. Fish out the 2 bay leaves, whisk in the butter and adjust salt and pepper according to your taste. Pour sauce over chicken and spring with bacon and parsley.

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