Coq au vin is another easy dish that looks like it’s hard. It’s not. In fact, this is the kind of dish you might enjoy spending a leisurely afternoon with. There are plenty of opportunities for breaks. It’s durable, delicious, and the perfect illustration of the principles of turning something big and tough and unlovely into something truly wonderful. I know it looks like a lot of ingredients, and that the recipe might be complicated. Just take your time. Knock out your prep one thing at a time, slowly building your mise en place. Listen to some music while you do it. There’s an open bottle of wine left from the recipe, so have a glass now and again. Just clean up after yourself as you go, so your kitchen doesn’t look like a disaster area when you start the actual cooking.
You should, with any luck, reach a Zen-like state of pleasurable calm. And like the very best dishes, coq au vin is one of those that goes on the stove looking, smelling, and tasting pretty nasty, and yet later, through the mysterious, alchemical processes of time and heat, turns into something magical.
1 bottle (1 liter) plus 1 cup of red wine
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, cut into ¼-inch slices
1 celery rib, cut into ½-inch slices
4 whole cloves
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
1 bouquet garni (bundle of aromatic herbs)
1 whole chicken, about 3½ lb “trimmed”–meaning guts, wing tips, and neckbone removed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
6 tbsp butter, softened
1 tbsp flour
¼ lb slab or country bacon, cut into small oblongs (lardons) about ¼ by 1 inch
½ Ib small, white button mushrooms, stems removed
12 pearl onions, peeled pinch of sugar
The day before you even begin to cook, combine the bottle of red wine, the diced onion (that’s the big onion, not the pearl onions), sliced carrot, celery, cloves, peppercorns, and bouquet garni in a large, deep bowl. Add the chicken and submerge it in the liquid so that all of it is covered. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Remove the chicken from the marinade and pat it dry. Put it aside. Strain the marinade through the fine strainer, reserving the liquids and solids separately. Season the chicken with salt and pepper inside and out. In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter until almost smoking, and then sear the chicken, turning with the tongs to evenly brown the skin. Once browned, remove it from the pot and set it aside again. Add the reserved onions, celery, and carrot to the pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and golden brown. That should take you about 10 minutes.
Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and mix well with the wooden spoon so that the vegetables are coated. Now stir in the reserved strained marinade. Put the chicken back in the pot, along with the bouquet garni. Cook this for about 1 hour and 15 minutes over low heat.
Have a drink. You’re almost there…
While your chicken stews slowly in the pot, cook the bacon lardons in a small sauté pan over medium heat until golden brown. Remove the bacon from the pan and drain it on paper towels, making sure to keep about 1 tablespoon of fat in the pan. Sauté the mushroom tops in the bacon fat until golden brown. Set them aside.
Now, in the small saucepan, combine the pearl onions, the pinch of sugar, a pinch of salt, and 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add just enough water to just cover the onions, then cover the pan with parchment paper trimmed to the same size as your pan. (I suppose you can use foil if you must.) Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the water has evaporated. Keep a close eye on it. Remove the paper cover and continue to cook until the onions are golden brown. Set the onions aside and add the remaining cup of red wine to the hot pan, scraping up all the bits on the bottom of the pot. Season with salt and pepper and reduce over medium-high heat until thick enough to coat the back of the spoon.
Your work is pretty much done here. One more thing and then it’s wine and kudos …
When the chicken is cooked through—meaning tender, the juice from the thigh running clear when pricked—carefully remove from the liquid, cut into quarters, and arrange on the deep serving platter. Strain the cooking liquid (again) into the reduced red wine. Now just add the bacon, mushrooms, and pearl onions, adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, and swirl in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Now pour that sauce over the chicken and dazzle your friends with your brilliance. Serve with buttered noodles and a Bourgogne Rouge.
If you are a bold adventurer, and live near a live-poultry market or friendly pork butcher, you might want to play around a bit after doing this recipe a few times. By cutting back on the flour and thickening with fresh pig or chicken blood, you will add a whole new dimension to the dish. Be warned, though: add the blood slowly. It doesn’t take much to make the sauce sit up like a rock. (Blood freezes nicely, by the way, so you might consider keeping a stash in small, individual packets. You never know when you’ll need it.)
© Anthony Bourdain, 2004, Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes, and Techniques of Classic Bistro Cooking, Bloomsbury Publishing Inc.