Coq au Vin. Revisiting a Classic: No. 1

Coq au Vin, such a classic French dish, and one that I adore. Recently I realised it’s a dish you don’t see around much anymore, and certainly not on restaurant menus. Maybe its gone out of fashion, considered boring perhaps – who knows? I tend to think however, no matter what the latest food fad, classic dishes like this are important to have in your repertoire. They are perfect with the right glass of wine, and are not too hard to make, provided you have a great stock, which I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about; I know I go on about it, but it’s important, so I have included it in the recipe below. Just remember, it’s a stew… really it is. I decided, or actually my husband did, that every now and then, I should write a post about one of the classics, well, my take on them actually, so I’m starting with Coq au Vin.

Now, I never use a whole chicken cut into pieces because I’ve never found the breast to be juicy or tender enough when cooked this way, and as much as I love a cold roast chicken leg, again, I don’t like them in a stew. I like to use trimmed chicken thighs. They’re juicy, with a lot of flavour, they’re perfect for slow cooking, and everyone gets the same cut. I also don’t marinate the chicken overnight, and don’t add any flour. The sauce will be a little thinner because of this, but still with great flavour. The lardons, mushrooms and onions are all cooked separately because I like them to retain their character, texture and crunch, particularly the lardons.

This is the dish I can cook and eat all year round, as it’s not too rich and heavy. And for a change, try serving it with fresh peas and broadbeans in spring, with tarragon leaves scattered on top, instead of the creamy garlic mash. Such a gorgeous classic, and for me, one that will never go out of fashion.

Coq au Vin

Serves 4-8 depending on appetites

  • 8 large trimmed chicken thighs
  • 2tbsp butter
  • Olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Bouquet garni made of 3 fresh bay leaves, a few sprigs of thyme and rosemary and a few parsley stalks
  • 200g piece of speck or pancetta
  • 24 French eschalots
  • 400g mushrooms, cut in half if large
  • 3tbsp brandy
  • 2/3 bottle red wine
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 150C. Pat chicken dry with kitchen paper and season well with salt and pepper. In a large casserole melt 1tbsp butter and a little olive oil and brown the chicken thighs on both sides. Remove, and drain well on kitchen paper. Put the chopped onion and garlic in the casserole and sauté for a couple of minutes until soft. Replace chicken in casserole, pour in brandy and ignite with a long match. Please be careful of your face! When flames have died down, put bouquet garni in the pot, and pour in the red wine and the chicken stock to just cover. Season, and bring to a simmer over a medium heat, pop on the lid and place in the preheated oven. Immediately turn down the oven to 140C, and cook for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel the ecshalots, and cook them in boiling salted water until just tender. Drain and set aside. Cut the speck into lardons, place them in a small saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil.  Immediately drain, and pat dry with kitchen paper. Now heat a fry pan over a medium heat and add the lardons. Fry until crisp and brown, remove from pan and drain on kitchen paper. In the rendered fat from the lardons, brown the onions, set aside, and then fry the mushrooms, adding the extra butter, and season when golden brown.

After 45 minutes, check the chicken, if tender, remove to a warm dish with the lardons, onions and mushrooms, and reduce the sauce over a high heat to a light syrup consistency, skimming off any matter that rises to the surface. Then check seasoning, and strain through a fine sieve. Discard bouquet garni and other solids. Pour back into the pot, add the chicken, lardons, onions and mushrooms and reheat gently in the sauce, Serve scattered with parsley, and big spoonsfuls of garlic mash.

Garlic Mash

Serves 4

  • 1kg potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 100ml milk, heated
  • 4tbsp butter, plus a few extra knobs
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the potatoes and garlic in a salted pan of cold water and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until they are tender and can be pierced with a knife. Drain well, and put potatoes through a ricer back into the saucepan. (If you don’t have a ricer, just mash very well).  Over a low heat toss the mashed potatoes to dry out a little, then add the heated milk and butter, and whisk well to combine. Season well, and whisk in a few extra knobs of butter for a rich, silky finish.

Chicken Stock

  • 1kg chicken wings
  • 3 chicken carcasses, chopped into pieces
  • Olive oil
  • 1 leek, cut in half, split lengthways and rinsed
  • 3 celery stalks, cut into pieces
  • 2 carrots, rinsed and cut into pieces
  • 1 large brown onion, rinsed and cut in half
  • ½ head garlic, crushed
  • A few sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 fresh bay leaves
  • Stalks from 1 bunch parsley

Preheat oven to 200C. Toss the chicken wings and carcasses in enough olive oil to coat and transfer to a large baking tray. Put in the oven and roast until they are a golden brown, shaking the tray occasionally so they don’t stick. When golden, remove tray from oven, and transfer bones to a large stockpot. Pour 1 cup of water into the tray, and deglaze the tray on the stovetop over a medium heat. Tip this mixture into the stockpot with the bones. Add the vegetables, herbs, and enough water to cover the bones. Bring to a boil over a medium heat, skimming off any grey scum that rises to the surface as you go, then reduce the heat and allow to gently simmer for 4 hours. Turn off the heat and let cool. Skim off fat and gently ladle the stock through a fine sieve and portion it into even batches to store. The stock will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days, and freezes for 2 months in the freezer.