We did it again. We went back to the Master, none other than Julia Child, and whipped up another of her amazing, hearty, perfect-for-fall meals. This time we tackled the timeless Coq au Vin, also known as Chicken in Red Wine with Onions, Bacon, and Mushrooms. After the delicious success we achieved with Boeuf Bourguignon and seeing how similar this recipe was, there was no choice but to get in the kitchen and start cooking.If you’ve tried Boeuf Bourguignon already, this recipe is strikingly similar, but requires much less time, and a less expensive protein, to cook. One of the beautiful things about this dish is that the chicken called for, namely thighs and drumsticks, is incredibly cheap as compared to beef or boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Now, in all honesty, I am not a fan of chicken-on-the-bone. I don’t really know why that is, but I don’t even consider myself a fried chicken fan, unless it’s a little boneless chicken strip. Once, Francisco and I decided to make homemade fried chicken with a wonderful electric skillet that my mother had so graciously gifted me with. It was great, because we were able to cook the chicken outside on the patio at my old place to avoid turning the kitchen and living room into a greasy, stinky mess. We spent quite awhile preparing and cooking the chicken, and then when we sat down to eat it, I took a bite and sheepishly said, “you know, I don’t really like chicken-on-the-bone.” Francisco laughs about it to this day. But, back to the point – this dish is different. I’ve always heard that chicken thighs are some of the most flavorful parts of the chicken to cook with, and I know for a fact now that’s definitely true. I had absolutely no problem digging into this chicken, bone, skin, and all.
There’s a couple of important things to note about this recipe. In the original recipe, Julia suggests that you boil the bacon to remove the smoky flavor before frying it (apparently French bacon isn’t smoked, but most of what you can find here in America is heavily smoke-flavored). We decided to skip this step, opting to use the thick-cut hickory-smoked bacon we bought as is, and the dish was delicious without even the tiniest hint of smoke or over-the-top bacon flavor. Also, this recipe calls for fire, a la the flashy flambé method. Please, be careful if you decide to tackle this part of the recipe! I’ve never lit anything on fire in the kitchen before (on purpose), so I decided to do a little research and figure out just how necessary this step really was. Here’s what I uncovered: although flambéing is employed by high-end restaurants as a theatrical bit and a way to kick up the price of certain dishes, there is a real reason why you light a sauce on fire during preparation. When utilizing brandy, cognac, or similar liquor at least 80-proof in strength in sauce-based recipes, lighting the liquid on fire will successfully burn off the alcohol, but allow the flavor of the liquor to lend itself to the sauce. Many blind taste tests of dishes made with and without the flambé step show that adding fire while cooking actually enhances the flavors, allowing for a sweeter and richer final taste. Once I read all this, we decided to go for it, but Francisco was completely in charge of the ignition step. I can’t vouch for what this dish would taste like without the flambé step, but if you’re a little wary of using open flames and burning liquor in your kitchen at home, I think you can safely skip this part and still create a delicious dish.
4-ounce chunk of thick-cut bacon (~ ¼ inch thick) [160 calories]
2 tablespoons salted butter [200 calories]
2 ½ – 3 pounds cut-up frying chicken (We used 4 chicken thighs and 4 drumsticks, weighing about 3.5 pounds total without an issue. There was plenty of sauce to go around.) [1112 calories]
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
¼ cup cognac or brandy (We found out that cognac, much like champagne, is just a particular kind of brandy from the Cognac region of France. We bought the cheapest small bottle of generic brandy at the liquor store.) [280 calories]
3 cups full-bodied red wine [600 calories]
2 cups beef stock [15 calories]
½ tablespoon tomato paste [15 calories]
2 garlic cloves (mashed)
¼ teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
18-24 Brown-Braised Onions [457-497 calories]
½ pound Sautéed Mushrooms [320 calories]
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour [75 calories]
2 tablespoons salted butter, softened [200 calories]
Salt and pepper, to taste
Calories per serving: 858 (for 4) or 572 (for 6) [heavily dependent upon amount of onions and which part of the chicken you eat; this is only a rough estimate]
Cut the bacon into lardons, small pieces ¼ inch thick and 1 inch long. In a large (9-10 inches in diameter) cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat and once the butter starts foaming, add the bacon pieces. Sauté the bacon until lightly browned, then remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon.
Rinse the chicken with cold water, then dry completely (if you skip the drying step, the chicken won’t brown). Heat the bacon fat to medium-high heat, then carefully arrange the chicken skin-side down in the hot fat. Let chicken brown sufficiently, 5-10 minutes, then remove the chicken to a platter and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Return the bacon and chicken to the skillet/Dutch oven, cover, and then cook slowly (medium heat) for ~ 10 minutes, turning the chicken once.
Uncover the skillet/Dutch oven, turn off the flame and/or remove pan to a cold burner, and make sure you know where your kitchen fire extinguisher is. Carefully pour the brandy down over the chicken and bacon. DO NOT POUR ALCOHOL INTO A PAN OVER AN OPEN FLAME. Standing at a distance and/or averting your face, ignite the brandy with a lighter or lit match. The alcohol should immediately catch on fire, at which point you should shake the pan back and forth until the flames subside (about 30 seconds or less).
Once flames have subsided, turn the burner back on (medium-high heat) or move pan back onto active burner. Pour wine into the skillet/Dutch oven, and then add enough beef stock to completely cover the chicken. (We needed the full 2 cups of beef stock for this step, but if you’re using a shallower dish, you might not need as much.) Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, and herbs, then bring the sauce to a simmer. Cover the dish, then slowly simmer (medium heat) for 30 minutes. You can check for doneness by using a meat thermometer and making sure the internal temperature of the chicken thigh is at least 160 degrees F. Once chicken is fully cooked, remove to a side dish.
While the chicken and sauce is simmering, prepare the Brown-Braised Onions and Sautéed Mushrooms separately. You can then combine the finished product of these 2 recipes to one bowl until you’re ready to add to the chicken dish.
When you’re ready to combine the cooked chicken and onions/mushrooms, simmer the sauce only over medium heat for 1-2 minutes. During the simmer, use a large spoon to skim the fat off the top of the sauce and discard. Raise the heat to high to allow the sauce to boil rapidly for ~ 3 minutes. Taste the sauce and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Discard the bay leaf and lower the heat to medium.
In a small bowl, blend the softened 2 tablespoons of butter and 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour with a whisk to create a buerre manie (thick paste). Beat the mixture into the hot sauce with the whisk. Bring the sauce to a simmer (medium-high heat) and stir for 1-2 minutes. The end result should be a sauce thick enough to lightly coat a spoon.
Arrange the chicken in the sauce, then place mushrooms and onions around the chicken. Baste chicken and vegetables well with the sauce. If you won’t be serving this dish immediately, you can pour a little stock on top of the sauce or add a few pads of butter to the top of the sauce, then set aside. When ready to serve, bring the dish up to a simmer, basting the chicken throughout, and allow to cook for 5-10 minutes, or until the chicken is heated through.
As with the Boeuf Bourgignon, we served this dish with thin whole-wheat spaghetti noodles, cooked al dente, then tossed with 3 tablespoons of butter and some chives for color.
This recipe was originally adapted from Julia Child, where it has appeared in her classic book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. We weren’t able to use the original, but made use of a number of renditions provided by people who had access to the original cookbook. If you’re interested in these links, you can start looking here
Smitten Kitchen, The Endless Meal, or PBS.