The first thing I want to say about Coq au Vin is that it’s not for weanies.
Let me rephrase, it might be fine for weanies, just not people with small children. Oh, okay, it's fine for people with small children, just the kind of small children who sit quietly with a book in their laps and read to themselves while you cook.
That or you'll need a kid-proof recipe.
Oh don’t get me wrong, the Coq was great and the 4 kids and 6 neighbors ate like crazy and I’m thrilled I made it. It’s just that I was working off this recipe that was riddled with problems for a cook who has one child driving her tricycle into my leg while I’m at the stove and the other pelting me with raisins until I give her some boob. So, I re-jiggered the recipe to meet my needs.
But here are some things I learned while making Coq au Vin:
- It's not really Coq. Coq au Vin generally requires a rooster - an old bird with lots of sinewy connective tissue that gets you a better broth. This is great except I don’t live on a farm and the nearest organic chicken is like 30 blocks away and I barely was able to drag myself downtown to get 2 organic birds, much less a rooster that spent his long, pastured life meandering around the barnyard, nibbling corn off the ground and chasing the hens at some hippy farm in the Catskills… and sells for $40 a carcass. Puh-lease. This Coq au Vin was made with a young (organic) chicken. And I reduced the cooking time. So sue me.
- There are several recipes for this dish that require multiple pan changes and sauteeing vegetables separately. Are these recipe writers high on crack? Do they have so much time on their hands that three extra pans and separate cooking time is no big deal? Are they childless? Because I think if they had children and they had to clean the floor in front of the sink 10 times a day like I do, the idea of 3 extra pans would be akin to wearing a hair suit.
- Jointing a chicken takes approximately 6 steps and about 10 minutes (with the usual interruptions for juice and boo boo kissing). Maybe more if you are a complete mess with a knife. In my world, an extra 10 minutes can mean the difference between getting dinner on the table or having to stop dinner because one little person tried to stab another little person with a Sleeping Beauty Princess Wand and one of them is screaming and bleeding and the other is pissed because her wand is broken and is demanding that I procure some sticky tape and fix the magic implement, so they both come screaming and crying into the kitchen, dripping blood and demanding justice. As I know these things happen while I cook, I asked the meat guy in the market to joint my chickens. Seriously, I’m like a genius.
- Did you know that flambe is a part of making Coq au vin in some recipes? Like one of the ones I was using last night. Funny. Because dousing the chicken in brandy and setting it on fire and purposely igniting a column of alcohol-soaked flames shooting three feet into the air and burning off my eyebrows and possibly igniting several nearby flammable pink tutus is definitely going to put a damper on dinner. I ignored directions to set things on fire. And you should too unless your kids are on the other side of the house, dressed in Hazmat suits, ready to stop, drop and roll and have a clear path to the fire exits.
I re-jiggered the recipe using the best strategies from three recipes (one from amazing cook and fellow food blogger Anita at Married With Dinner, another from Gordon Ramsey, who is always extraordinary and reliable) and one from Martha Stewart, who can joint a chicken, throw a clay pot and weed her prize-winning daffodils all at the same time) and came up with this highly do-able version. I also broke it into steps so you can prep ahead or divide the steps into different parts of the day, so you don’t have one big hunk of cooking right before you eat. For instance, you can do step 1 and 2 in the morning and step 3 and 4 right before you pop the dish in the oven.
This is great meal for Sunday lunch, but it’s a wee bit complicated for a week night meal unless you do steps 1 and 2 in advance. Last night I cooked and served the whole thing in a big paella pan which looks mighty impressive when you bring it to the table all hot and steamy.
This recipe makes dinner for 6 and change (I fed 6 adults, 4 small kids and had leftovers for lunch for David and the girls.)
I wrote this recipe on the fly this morning, so don't be afraid to add or subtract to your taste. Don't worry. I trust you.
Crazy-Kid-Proof "Coq au Vin"
- 2 chickens jointed or 4 breasts, 4 thighs, 4 wings, 4 legs
- 2 cups full-bodied red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 cup butter
- 2 cups chicken stock (home-made if possible. If not, College Inn organic which was judged by Cooks Illustrated to be the best store-bought brand)
- 8 ounces slab bacon, cut into 1/2-inch dice (sliced bacon or pancetta will do in a pinch but slab is better)
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 8 ounces of small onions (pearl or cippolini) or 3 medium onions, finely chopped
- 8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced (if the kids are climbing up your legs begging you to watch the Wiggles with them, use pre-chopped garlic. Who the hell is gonna know?)
- 1/2 pound small cremini mushrooms
- 2 handfuls of flour
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 coursely chopped tomatoes (you can use a tinned chopped tomatoes in a pinch)
- 4 celery stalks, cut into 1 1/2 inch lengths
- 6 to 8 good size carrots cut into 1 1/2 inch lengths
- 2 tablespoons
(optional, but no need to flame it. Please.) Cognac
- 2 bay leaves
- 8 fresh thyme sprigs
Step 1Mise en place: Cut celery, carrots, tomatoes, garlic, bacon and mushrooms and have them ready for later cooking. This will probably take you 10-20 minutes depending on how good you are with a knife.
Heat the butter and oil in a large ovenproof casserole (or a big paella pan, if you are feeding a crowd). Fry the bacon pieces in the butter/oil until browned, and remove to a plate with a slotted spoon. Lightly brown the onions in the same pan, and likewise remove them to the plate.
In a ziplock bag, add chicken pieces and flour (salt the flour a little) and shake until pieces are covered. Shake off excess flour, tapping them slightly and working in batches, brown the chicken in the bacon-butter-oil juices until they are golden on all sides. (You may have to add a bit more oil if you are browning 2 chickens instead of 1). Remove to a platter when they are browned.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Add the red wine to the casserole, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan to remove any stuck-on bits. Add cognac. Add the stock to the pan and heat to a simmer. Return the bacon, onions, and chicken to the pan along with the herbs, garlic, and tomatoes. Salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook in the oven for about an hour and a half until the meat is completely tender.
An hour before serving, throw carrots, onions and celery in the pot.
About a half hour before serving, saute the mushrooms in a bit of olive oil. Anita suggests salting at the end so your mushrooms are tastier. I agree.