Soothe your winter blues with this classic French recipe for wine-braised chicken
We have a foot of snow in our corner of the world. Time for comfort food! And what could be better than a meaty dish slowly braised in rich wine sauce?
Enter coq au vin, a classic French recipe. It requires some prep work, but the result is so worth it. Serve this at your next dinner party and bask in the adoring applause.
Adoration works for you, right?
Recipe: Coq au Vin
It’s traditional to use red wine in this dish, but you can substitute white if you prefer. In fact, one classic variation on this recipe uses a dry Riesling (and is called, fittingly, Coq au Riesling).
Originally, the chicken used in this dish was a mature rooster (a “coq”) that required long cooking to become tender. But we don’t find that kind of bird in our supermarkets today – the chicken we’re likely to see is much less tough.
Many cooks use a whole chicken in this dish, but we prefer to use just legs and thighs. They have a lot of flavor, and are ideal for braising.
Coq au vin traditionally is served with a garnish of braised pearl onions and sautéed mushrooms (we like to serve carrots too). We always cook these veggies separately, but toss them in with the sauce if you prefer (see Notes). The classic accompaniment to the dish is parsley potatoes, though we think it’s even better served on a bed of mashed potatoes (a bed of buttered noodles would also work).
Prep time for this dish is about 45 minutes. Cooking adds another hour. We often prepare this dish a day ahead, and then reheat it just before serving (the flavor is even better that way).
This recipe yields 4 to 6 main-course servings. Leftovers keep for a few days if refrigerated in an airtight container.
For the chicken:
- ~4 ounces bacon (slab bacon is best, but thick-sliced works too)
- 3 to 4 pounds chicken thighs and/or legs
- salt to season the chicken (about 1 teaspoon kosher salt for us; see Notes)
- freshly ground black pepper to season the chicken (a dozen or so grinds for us; optional)
- oil or butter if needed (see Step 3)
- 1 large onion
- 2 to 3 carrots
- 2 to 3 cloves of garlic (to taste)
- additional salt for seasoning the vegetables (about ½ teaspoon for us; see Notes)
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- ½ to 1 teaspoon dried thyme (to taste; see Notes)
- 1 bottle dry red wine (see Notes)
- ~2 cups chicken or turkey stock (preferably homemade; see Notes)
- 1 bag frozen pearl onions (usually about 10 to 16 ounces; see Notes if using unfrozen pearl onions)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil for cooking the onions
- 1 pound mushrooms (the ordinary white ones work well, but use another kind if you prefer)
- 2 tablespoons butter for cooking the mushrooms
- 2 tablespoons olive oil for cooking the mushrooms
- salt and pepper to taste (see Notes)
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme for the mushrooms
- ½ pound carrots (optional)
- 2 tablespoons butter for cooking the carrots
- 2 to 3 tablespoons cornstarch (for thickening the sauce; optional, see Notes)
- 3 tablespoons red wine or cold water (to mix with the cornstarch; we like to use port wine)
- 2 to 3 tablespoons parsley for garnish (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. If using slab bacon, remove the rind, then cut it into pieces (“lardons”) of about ½-inch by 1 inch. If using thick-cut bacon, cut it into pieces about 1-inch square. Place the bacon pieces in a large Dutch oven (one that holds about 6 quarts) on the stovetop and turn the heat to medium. Cook the bacon in the Dutch oven until it begins to crisp (about 5 to 8 minutes).
- While the bacon is cooking, dry the chicken pieces and season them to taste with salt and pepper (we often skip the pepper). Dredge the pieces in flour if you like (just enough to coat each piece very lightly; we often skip this, especially if we’re preparing a gluten-free dish).
- Once the bacon is cooked, remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain it on paper towels. Now brown the chicken in the Dutch oven – you’ll probably need to do this in batches so you don’t overcrowd the cooking pot. Place the pieces skin-side down and cook until the chicken is golden brown (5 minutes or so) and then turn the pieces over and brown the other side. Add oil or butter to the pan if necessary (it usually isn’t). When the chicken is browned, remove the pieces and place them on a plate covered with paper towels to drain the grease.
- While the chicken is browning, peel the onion, carrots, and garlic, then chop them roughly. Once the chicken has been browned, remove some of the grease from the Dutch oven, leaving just 1 or 2 tablespoons. Add the chopped onion and carrots to the Dutch oven, season to taste with salt, then cook for 5 minutes (the onions will be translucent, but not brown.) Then add the garlic and cook for one additional minute.
- Add the tomato paste and thyme to the onion mixture and cook for a minute or two. Then add the wine and chicken stock. Add the chopped bacon and the browned chicken pieces. Bring the wine to a boil. Then turn off the stovetop heat and drape a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil over the Dutch oven (the edges should extend over the side of the pot). Push the paper down so it almost touches the chicken, then put a lid on the cooking pot. Place it in the oven and set a timer for 45 minutes.
- When the timer goes off, remove the cooking pot from the oven. Using tongs, remove the chicken pieces and set them aside. Place a strainer over a large bowl and pour the contents of the Dutch oven into it (the strainer will catch the vegetables). Using a spoon, press down on the veggies to extract as much liquid as you can. Now either discard the veggies or reserve them for the cook to snack on. Note: We usually prepare the coq au vin ahead of time, stopping at this point. We allow the sauce and meat to cool, then place the chicken pieces in a bowl and pour the sauce over them. Then we cover the bowl with shrink wrap and refrigerate it for a day (or two) until we’re ready to serve. If you’re not making this dish ahead, just continue on with the recipe.
- When you’re ready to serve the coq au vin, you’ll need to do the following: Reduce the amount of sauce to 2 or 3 cups; prepare the garnish of pearl onions, mushrooms, and carrots (if using); and reheat the chicken (especially if you’ve cooked it ahead of time). So first pour the sauce into a cooking pot large enough to hold the chicken, place it over stovetop heat, and reduce it to 2 or 3 cups.
- While the sauce is reducing, place the pearl onions in a microwave-safe covered dish and nuke them on high until they’re barely cooked – usually about 8 minutes. Then pat them dry with a paper towel. Take a skillet just large enough to hold the onions in one layer and place it on medium stovetop heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and heat until it shimmers. Then add the pearl onions. Sauté them until they begin to brown (about 10 minutes). When done, set them aside, keeping them warm.
- Prepare the mushrooms: Wipe them with a damp paper towel. Use the mushrooms whole or cut them into halves or quarters. Add 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil to the skillet. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, then add the thyme. Cook until the mushrooms are well browned. Set them aside, keeping them warm.
- Peel the carrots and cut them into pieces an inch or two long. If the carrots are very thick, cut them in half. Place the chopped carrots in a covered microwave-safe dish. Add a tablespoon or two of water and about 2 tablespoons of butter. Microwave on high until the carrots are done (8 minutes or so). Set them aside, keeping them warm.
- By now, the sauce should be reduced to 2 or 3 cups. Add the chicken pieces to the sauce and bring it to a simmer. Cook the chicken until it’s warm (usually about 10 minutes if you’ve cooked the chicken ahead and refrigerated it).
- Get ready to serve the coq au vin: Using tongs, remove the chicken pieces from the sauce and place them on serving plates (we like to serve the chicken over mashed potatoes). Remove the sauce from the heat. If you want to thicken the sauce, stir together equal quantities of corn starch and wine or water. When you’ve formed a slurry with those ingredients, stir it into the sauce a bit at a time until the sauce reaches the consistency you desire.
- Garnish the plated chicken with the pearl onions, mushrooms, and carrots (serve them on the side or put them on top). Add a big spoonful or three of sauce. Mince some parsley, if desired, and sprinkle it on top. Serve and enjoy.
- You can substitute salt pork for bacon if you like. Many people like to blanch bacon or salt pork in water for 5 minutes before cooking it (Step 1). We haven’t tried this, but it’s supposed to remove the smoky flavor.
- Some cooks like to dredge the chicken pieces in flour before browning them. If you do this, you probably won’t need to thicken the sauce with corn starch at the end. After dredging, make sure to shake off the excess flour – you don’t want to use too much.
- BTW, flour (not corn starch) is traditionally used for thickening the sauce in this dish. We prefer corn starch because it’s quick and easy to use, and just a bit healthier.
- Some cooks prefer to remove the chicken skin after browning and before braising. That’s not us, but if it’s you, feel free to do so.
- We generally use frozen pearl onions because they’re easy to manage. If using regular unfrozen ones, you’ll need to peel them. To simplify this process, first cut off the root ends of the onions. Then blanch the onions in boiling water for 45 seconds or so, remove them from the heat, and plunge them into ice water. The peels will slip right off.
- As noted in the recipe, we prepare the pearl onions by first microwaving them, then sautéing them in olive oil. Want to try an alternate method? Brown them first in a small frying pan. Then add water or wine and cover the pan. When the liquid has evaporated (this will take about 20 to 30 minutes), the onions should be done. If you use wine, they’ll have a particularly nice flavor.
- It’s not traditional to use carrots when cooking the chicken for this dish. But we like how the flavors of carrots and red wine work together, so we always use them.
- As noted, we like to serve pearl onions, mushrooms, and carrots as garnish for the chicken. We generally prepare these veggies separately when we’re getting ready to serve, but you can just add them to the sauce (Step 7) while you’re reducing it. By the time the chicken is warm (Step 11), they should be done.
- This dish tastes best when you use homemade poultry stock (chicken or turkey). That’s because a stock made with plenty of bones has natural gelatin, which adds body. But canned stock or chicken base will work OK.
- Which wine to use when cooking this dish? Burgundy is traditional. Or you could try pinot noir. But we prefer to use a Côtes du Rhone – you can get a good cooking bottle for $10 or so. Or ask your friendly wine merchant for a recommendation. Most of them love helping their customers (and if they don’t, find a different wine merchant).
- We like to use dried thyme in this dish (or fresh, if available). But other herbs would work, too. Fresh rosemary is wonderful.
- We use kosher salt in cooking. It’s less salty by volume than regular table salt (the crystals are larger, so they pack a measure less densely). If using regular table salt, start with about half as much as we suggest. But always season to your taste, not ours.
- Interesting fact: Traditional coq au vin is made with some of the blood from the rooster that’s being cooked (this started as a farm dish, so it was assumed that the cook was also the one who slaughtered the chicken, and could collect some of the blood that drained from the bird). Fresh rooster blood isn’t available in our modern supermarkets (and most of us wouldn’t want to use it anyway). So cooks sometimes add a bit of chicken liver to the sauce to give it some of the earthy flavor that rooster blood would add.
Nobody Here But Us Chickens
“Love this dish!” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “And as chef, you’re entitled to strut like a rooster.”
“Whoa, don’t want to throw my back out,” I said. “I’m no spring chicken.”
“But at least you can still crow about your accomplishments,” said Mrs K R.
“Cock-a-doodle don’t,” I said. “Our cat, Kitty Riffs, might see me as prey.”
“She already does, of course,” said Mrs K R. “So there’s no option but to make it again. No chickening out!”
Guess there’ll be a chicken in every pot around here.
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