Much as it pains me to say it, the French do get some stuff right. Very right indeed. And if you’ve ever had a decent chicken in wine you’ll know why it has survived the taste test of time to become a bona fide classic. There are rumours it first came about shortly after Julius Caesar conquered those troublesome Gauls and was presented with a rather manky old rooster as a ‘yeah, thanks for that’ gift from his new minions. His cook boiled it in booze for some time then gave it back to the new recruits.
There is scope, as always, to argue furiously about the minutiae of a perfect and classic coq au vin and if you have the time to research back to that day and come up with the authentic absolutment, good for you. I don’t. This is how I make it, and it is good (good enough for Caesar infact), and you can make it too.
Coq Au Vin
10 assorted chicken thighs and drumsticks (or 5 whole legs) and a couple of wings if available
Butter & sunflower oil for frying
5 thick slices smoked back bacon
cheap red plonk wine
300ml chicken stock
3 medium onions
3 cloves garlic
2 large carrots
2 celery sticks
300g closed cup mushrooms
2tbsp tomato purée
Start off with a big, solid pan with about 70g butter and a good glug of sunflower oil. Slice up the bacon roughly and cook off in the melted butter and oil- and leave the fat on the bacon for the love of Jupiter. You cannot go low fat on this dish. It’s pointless. Don’t panic, it’s not like you’re going to eat it every day.
Before it starts to brown remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Take your various chicken bits a couple at a time and brown lightly in the fat, which will start to darken and gloop up as you progress. This is normal, and good, just watch the heat doesn’t get too high. Remove the chicken when browned and set aside- try to work quickly.
Once the chicken is done roughly chop the onions and garlic and fry off in the meat fat- add a little more oil if needs be. Once the onions begin to go translucent add the celery and carrots- remember you’re aiming for chunky and rustic. If you slice too finely (due to the long cooking period) you will end up with chicken in boozy mush.
Once the celery is softened, return the chicken to the pan and arrange on top of the vegetables, then add the red wine.
Yeah, about the wine, someone once told me you should never cook with wine you wouldn’t drink. I don’t hold with this, partly because I’m a stuck up old pedant about my drinking wine and I’m not going to bloody well cook with a nice bottle that could be in my glass! Let your conscious or your wallet be your guide, but I have always had a fine result with a £3.50 bottle of Sainsbury’s nondescript Red Wine.
So anyway, put in the wine now and top up with chicken stock to well cover all of the meat and veg. Season well, bring to the boil then simmer with the lid on for 20 minutes.
While that’s going, roughly chop your mushrooms and fry off in some butter and a lot of black pepper. Once these are nicely browned, add to the pot with the tomato purée also and stir/jiggle the pan gently to mix.
The hard bit is to now leave it for the best part of another hour to do it’s thing. You can stir occasionally but there shouldn’t be much need. The chicken will be beautifully tender and once ready to serve more or less fall off the bone with little encouragement, so if you bother it too much towards the end of cooking it will start to come apart leaving you with a dish of separate meat, sauce, and bare bones. Season to taste and add some freshly chopped thyme if you like it.
Serve with crusty white bread or roasted or mashed potatoes, with a glass of wine that is too good for the pan if at all possible. If desired, say mon dieu or wear a toga. This can only enhance enjoyment.
Variations- Not many to be honest as in effect there are too many to mention! If the sauce is too thin by serving time take out about a cup of the liquor and mix with some cornflour to make a paste, then add back in to the pot and cook for another couple of minutes.