Few chicken dishes provide the satisfying flavor and texture of authentic coq au vin. There are many takes on this classic French chicken dish, some are easy, some are difficult, some alter the ingredients and some recommend different cooking methods. I’ve tired many of them, including the classic Julia Child version all in an effort to find that fine line between authentic taste and minimal work while attempting to please both the finicky eaters and traditionalists in the family.
A French country dish, coq au vin translates to “rooster in wine” and traditionally uses a rooster who is too old to be useful the farmer. Stewing the old, often scrawny rooster in wine gives the bird flavor and softens the meat. As the recipe originated on the farms in France, the ingredients were often altered to include whatever was handy when the old rooster was ready for the pot. Lardons, or strips of pork fat, were originally used in the dish and while in these modern times, most of us use plump, store-bought chicken and bacon, some traditionalists still insist that at least lardons should be used in the dish.
Below is the recipe we have tweaked in our family. It uses a slow cooker, rather than a Dutch oven and achieves the mouthwatering authentic taste to please coq au vin traditionalists while making preparation adjustments for ease and convenience.
Some adjustments can be made but here is a list of dos and don’ts that might come in handy before you attempt to make this dish.
Coq au Vin Dos and Don’ts
1. Do invest in a good quality bacon and do not use turkey bacon, it will ruin the flavor.
2. Do not substitute with non-alcoholic wine and definitely do not use a cheap wine. The rule of thumb when cooking with wine is do not cook with something that you wouldn’t drink. Find a good, inexpensive wine but be sure to taste it first to ensure that it is pleasing to your senses (we use a California burgandy that tends to sell for less than $10).
3. Do not use boneless chicken. The bones from the chicken add to the flavor of the dish and the result is simply not the same if you use boneless (believe me, I’ve tried). Also, even though turkey is cheaper, do not substitute with turkey. Again, the result will be different.
4. Do use a whole fryer chicken and either have the butcher cut it into pieces for you or do it yourself at home (it is not difficult). Using a whole fryer chicken will lower the cost of the dish, as a suitable, 3-pound bird tends to sell for only a few dollars.
5. Do use a traditional bouquet garni combination to achieve the right flavor. A bouquet garni is simply one bay leaf, four sprigs of parsley and three sprigs of thyme tied together but, for this dish, the herbs may be simply sprinkled into the pot. Having the herbs tied together will not impact the final result of the dish.
6. Do use whichever onion feels right. Pearl onions are traditionally used in the dish and help to achieve an impressive presentation. But we tend to use onions and garlic from our garden. It’s easy and inexpensive and delivers similar flavor.
7. Do not skip Step 3. The chicken must be browned before it is placed in the pot.
8. Do prepare the dish one night ahead and refrigerate overnight if you can. Allowing the chicken to sit overnight, before placing on the slow cooker gives the ingredients time to get to know one another and helps create a more richly flavored dish.
1 whole fryer chicken, about 3 to 4 pounds, cut into pieces with bones left in place
1 pound bacon
2 to 3 cups of good red wine
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
½ cup of flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
5 cloves of garlic
2 medium onions peeled and cut into quarters
1 pound bag of peeled baby carrots, washed but unchopped
8 ounces sliced mushrooms (optional)
Step 1. Cut chicken into pieces and dredge through flour. Set aside.
Step 2. Fry half of the bacon on low heat. Spoon grease into container if the pan becomes too crowded with grease. Save the grease and either discard the cooked bacon or use it in another dish.
Step 3. Brown chicken in frying pan that bacon was cooked in, using the bacon fat as cooking oil. A little bit of vegetable oil may be added to the pan if necessary. Do not cook the chicken all the way through. The chicken should only be partially cooked to a deep golden color, when it is placed in the cooking pot.
Step 4. Add wine and chicken broth to cooking pot and stir. Add chicken, remaining uncooked bacon, onions, garlic, carrots, bouquet garni and mushrooms (if you are using you are using them). Sprinkle with salt and pepper if desired.
Step 5. Place in the refrigerator overnight if possible, then cook chicken in slow cooker on low heat for eight hours.
Step 6. If non-mushroom eaters will be consuming this dish, the mushrooms can be left out of the cooking pot and sauteed separately. True coq au vin connoiseurs will probably cringe at that suggestion, but when you have finicky kids, there are often few other options. Mushrooms can be served only to mushroom eaters with the final dish.
Step 7. Serve. Coq au vin goes nicely served over baked potatoes, mashed potatoes or even a medley of roasted sweet and russet potatoes. It could also be served with egg noodles, rice or pasta.