In its original French inception, the coq referred to a rooster, typically mean old birds who have worn out their welcome in the hen house. The tough nature of their meat required a long simmer time to soften, aided by the sugar in the wine which helps to break it down. Classic recipes include mushrooms, pearl onions and lardons, small pieces of salted pork. I prefer use a quality bacon over lardons as it lends an earthier flavor. I’ve made this dish with both pearl onions and classic yellow and it’s good both ways. The pearl onions do impart a certain sweetness; they can also be wickedly expensive and can take a dreadfully long time to peel. If you feel you must use pearl onions, consider buying them frozen as they’ll be cheaper and already peeled.
Given that the odds of finding a rooster at your local Safeway are slim to none, I recommend employing chicken thighs and legs – or the full hind quarter piece with leg and thigh attached. They braise wonderfully as they can take the long simmering process where breast meat will come out as dry as a Christian county in the south on a Sunday.
So although this calls for wine, it’s still quite an economical dish. This is great for entertaining or to prepare weekday meals in advance on the weekday, as it taste better reheated. You don’t need an expensive bottle of wine, just one that you would drink. I’ve made this with inexpensive table wine and a spendy French red and both worked well.
I usually buy two bottles of wine for this dish – one to cook the chicken in, and one to drink with it when it’s done. This dish also calls for brandy or Cognac, and while optional, definitely adds something to the dish. In a rebel mood? Use white wine or an inexpensive sparkling wine in place of red. Seriously, this works. When Mike and I visited the Chablis region once, we ordered coq au vin and lo and behold, it came swimming in the regions famed white. The end flavor tends to be a bit sweeter and lighter, but it’s all good.
Paired with noodles or mashed potatoes, this easily serves six to eight.
3 1/2 pounds (1.5 kgs) boneless chicken thighs, skin removed
3 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces (250 g) pancetta or bacon, diced
2 medium yellow onions, chopped (about 2 ½ cups)
4 ribs celery, chopped (about 1 ½ cups)
2 medium carrots (about 1 ½ cups)
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons of flour
2 tablespoons brandy or Cognac
1 (750 ml) bottle of dry red wine, preferably Syrah
4 cloves of chopped garlic
10 sprigs thyme, tied together
or 1 tablespoon of dried thyme
2 bay leaves
3 cups (750 ml) chicken stock
½ sweet onion, sliced
8 ounces(250 g) brown mushrooms, sliced
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Mashed potatoes or wide noodles
Preheat oven to 350° F / 180° C. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. In a heavy Dutch oven, brown in batches in hot oil over high heat, set aside. It’s important to get the chicken nice and browned, as shown at left. Don’t rush this step; properly browned chicken is a key to the final outcome.
Turn the heat to medium-low and add the pancetta or bacon and cook slowly until slightly browned. Add the onions, celery and carrot and stir until tender. Add the brandy, reduce slightly. Sprinkle with flour and stir until coated.
Return the chicken to the pan. Add the wine, garlic, herbs and chicken stock. The liquid should mostly cover the chicken pieces. Bring the liquid to a boil, skimming off any foam or fat. Cover tightly and place in oven for about two hours or until meat is very tender.
Meanwhile, cook the sweet onions and mushrooms in a medium skillet in 2 tablespoons of butter. Before serving, add the mushrooms, onions and chopped parsley. Check seasonings, adding salt and pepper until it taste right to you.
Updated March 20, 2015