One of my earliest cooking memories revolves around a very old set of cookbooks. I want to say they were Time Life’s World Cookbooks or something like that. These cookbooks seemed so much fancier than our trusty red and white checkered Better Homes and Gardens’ New Cookbook. So, of course I poured over them more. The red checked book seemed so, well, American.
The cookbooks were divided by country and there was an entire cookbook dedicated to French Cooking. As a child who’s most exotic meals were tacos or spaghetti, these cookbooks seemed other worldly. So, one night I asked my mom if we could make something out of the French cookbook… and I kept asking for a while until she finally relented. The most exotic recipe to me (I was probably all of 8 or 9 years old) was Coq Au Vin. Chicken in Red Wine. To go with it, Chocolate Mousse. I’d never had chocolate mousse, but had heard of it. I had chocolate pudding, but was pretty sure mousse was somehow better. My parents were beer drinkers, so we got cooking wine for the red wine… I know, stop laughing. But this was the 70s and, well, we didn’t know. Why would they sell it if it wasn’t good?
So, that was my first foray into French cooking: making a recipe from Time Life with supermarket cooking wine. We weren’t exactly well to do, and, at the time it was a fairly expensive meal. So, my parents were very kind to indulge me. For the record, the chocolate mousse was amazing. To this day I remember that meal. I was so proud to make it. I felt truly grown up.
In the many years since then, cooking Coq Au Vin, made famous in the States by Julia Child, seems odd and quant. Like a 70s fondue party. I’m almost sheepish about telling people I eat this dish, much less make it. This is another recipe like my 40 Cloves of Garlic Chicken that really should be in the rotation. It deserves a spot in your repertoire! While it is an old dish, and old dishes are not fussy. There’s no crazy ingredient you’ll only use one and rue the rest of the time it’s in your pantry (looking at you walnut oil!). The ingredients are fairly cheap and easy to come by, depending, of course, on the type of wine you use.
Coq Au Vin is normally made with a tough, old bird. It’s rare to come across those nowadays, although my farmer’s market does have a great guy that sells “stewing hens”. So, I use chicken thighs. Today’s chicken breasts get woefully overcooked in this dish and can’t really stand up to the red wine. You also don’t have to simmer the chicken as long, because the chicken isn’t really “old” anymore and becomes tender rather quickly.
I will admit to a cheat. Julia Childs starts this recipe off by rendering the fat off of carefully sliced lardons. As someone who is always looking to maximize my food use, I fastidiously save the bacon fat every time I cook bacon. So, I can skip the rendering step and shave about 20 minutes off the cook time. If you don’t have bacon drippings, please render away!
Coq Au Vin
1/4 cup rendered bacon fat (may substitute any vegetable oil that can handle high heat, like canola)
6 chicken thighs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 stalks of celery, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
1 small onion, small dice
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 cups of red wine
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup of water or chicken stock
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Heat bacon fat in an enameled dutch oven over medium high heat. Sprinkle chicken thighs with salt and pepper and place in the pan skin side down when fat sizzles on contact with chicken. Cook chicken until the skin is a golden brown and flip over. Cook the other side until golden as well. Remove the chicken to a platter and set aside.
Saute celery, carrots and onions until the celery is soft. Reduce heat to medium. Add the garlic, stirring to prevent it from burning. When the garlic becomes fragrant, add the red wine, bay leaves and dried thyme and bring to a simmer. Return the chicken to the pan. If the wine does not almost cover the chicken, add the water or chicken stock. Otherwise, you can omit. Cover and place in the oven to finish cooking the chicken through, about 40 minutes.
Remove the chicken from the pot, cover and set aside. Combine flour and butter together. Whisk into the red wine sauce and cook until slightly thickened and glossy. Serve chicken with sauce.
Julia Child’s recommends serving this dish with braised mushrooms and brown braised onions. I made those by sautéing the onions in butter and adding quartered mushrooms and cooking them over medium heat for about 20 minutes. In the pictures, the vegetables in the back are roasted carrots and parsnips. I just heated the oven to 375, roughly chopped the vegetables, covered with oil olive and salt and pepper, and roasted for 20 minutes until browned. I shook the pan occasionally. All told, the dinner took about 90 minutes, but most of that was the chicken cooking in the oven, not active prep time.