[Editor’s Note: Autumn is upon us, meaning cold weather days are just around the corner. We’ve invited Anna Watson Carl, a Nashville-based freelance writer and private chef, to share a hearty recipe, adapted from her popular Yellow Table blog, that’s perfect for the season. Bon appetit!]
One of my fall dinner party favourites is a classic French dish that never goes out of style: coq au vin. Though the name might elicit giggles, coq is the French word for a rooster. Traditionally the dish was made with a tough old bird, as the red wine would slowly tenderize the meat over several days as it marinated and simmered, making a lusciously flavorful stew.
I don’t remember when exactly I first tried this hearty dish, but I do remember the time I ate it four times in one week (something I do not recommend). It was in November 2003 and I was writing a story for a magazine on the best coq au vin in Paris. So for the sake of research, I ate it at out at three restaurants and made it once at home. It was interesting seeing the difference between dishes: some were served with potatoes, some with noodles, some sauces were lighter in body, and one had a sauce so dark and velvety, it almost looked like melted chocolate. Each was unbelievably fantastic, though I think it took me a year or two before I could look at it on a menu again. (My favourite, for the record was at Chez René at 14 Boulevard Saint-Germain in the Latin Quarter.) Several years later, working for cookbook author Anne Willan, I learned even more about this French classic. It’s now one of my favorite cold-weather dishes.
If you have a Le Creuset Dutch oven, this is the time to pull it out. Feel free to use any type of chicken (an old hen isn’t necessary) and if you’re short on time, as I usually am, you can skip the overnight marinating. The chicken pieces are slowly simmered with red wine and aromatics until the apartment smells heavenly, and garnished with sauteed lardons (the French version of bacon), pearl onions, mushrooms, and chopped parsley just before serving. (I confess, in this recipe, I substitute shallots for pearl onions, as pearl onions are much less time-consuming to blanch and peel. But feel free to use either!) It’s absolutely decadent with the rich wine sauce, and is perfect served with mashed or roasted potatoes and a big green salad. Or a lighter accompaniment, I love serving it with a pile of blanched green beans tossed in a Dijon vinaigrette. But best of all, coq au vin can be made completely in advance–in fact, it actually tastes better if you make it the day before and slowly reheat it before the party. Which is ideal for the host or hostess who actually wants to spend time with their guests rather than cooking up until the minute everyone sits down at the table!
COQ AU VIN
This is not a purely traditional version, as the chicken is not marinated overnight. I also–perhaps scandalously–substituted shallots for the pearl onions as the peeling process is so much easier! I find this to be just as delicious, and much quicker to make.
8 sprigs parsley (plus 2 tablespoons chopped parsley)
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 pound slab bacon*, cut into 2-inch long slivers
1 5–6 lb. free-range chicken, cut into 8 pieces
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 ribs celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 onion, peeled and diced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
3 cups dry red wine (I like Gamay or Cotes du Rhone)
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
16 medium shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise (or you can use the traditional pearl onions, peeled)
1 lb. button or cremini (baby bella) mushrooms, halved
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Tie parsley stems, bay leaves, and thyme together in a piece of cheesecloth, set aside.
Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat and saute the bacon until crisp and browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set on a paper towel-lined plate.
Pat the chicken pieces dry and season with salt and pepper. Add a tablespoon of oil to the bacon grease and increase heat to medium-high. Working in batches, brown the chicken on all sides, about 6-8 minutes; set aside.
Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and add the celery, carrot, onion, and garlic. Saute until softened, 6-8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring to coat evenly. Whisk in wine and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat; add chicken pieces, and herb bundle, nestling them into the vegetables. Cover and bake in the oven until tender, about 1 1/4 hours.
While the chicken is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Saute the shallots for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender; season with salt and pepper. Set aside with the bacon. Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet and saute the mushrooms until tender, about 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper to taste.
Carefully remove the Dutch oven from the oven – it will be very heavy and very hot!! Transfer the chicken to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Strain the sauce, discarding the vegetables and herbs. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Keep in a small saucepan to warm before serving.
Place the chicken back in the Dutch oven (or on a large serving platter) and top with the bacon, shallots, mushrooms, strained sauce, and chopped parsley. Serve with mashed or roasted potatoes, and green beans or a green salad.
TIP: This can be made a day or two in advance (minus the final parsley garnish) and reheated in a 300 degree oven before serving. Just don’t store it in the Dutch oven in the refrigerator. A cold Dutch oven going into a hot oven will break! Store coq au vin in tupperware and just pour it back into the Dutch oven before reheating. Garnish with chopped parsley right before serving!
*If you can’t find slab bacon, just use extra-thick packaged bacon and cut into 2-inch slivers.
Anna Watson Carl is a Manhattan-based freelance food and travel writer, private chef, and the author of The Yellow Table blog. Her work has appeared in TIME, WSJ. Magazine, Food & Wine, New York, Travel + Leisure, and Anthology. An avid francophile, Anna gets her fill of croissants, crémant, and raw milk cheeses (not necessarily in that order!) on her yearly visits to France.