Coq au Vin

This is an old French classic chicken dish, one that may go all the way back to the Roman Empire. Its name tells us that it began as away to use roosters past their prime. But now it’s almost always prepared with standard chickens, preferably older ones. There’s something about coq au vin that seems Creole to me. Perhaps it captures the state of French cooking at the time New Orleans was founded.

  • 1 chicken or hen, 4-6 pounds
  • 6 thick slices bacon, preferably on the fatty side, cut into squares
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp. basil
  • 1 tsp. black peppercorns
  • 1 small carrot, chopped
  • 1 rib celery with leaves, chopped
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped mushrooms (morels are best, but any kind will do)
  • 2 oz. brandy
  • 1 1/2 cups light red wine (Pinot Noir or Chianti)
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 4 Tbs. butter
  • 12 pearl onions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

1. Cut the chicken into eleven pieces (by cutting the whole breast into five pieces). Season it with salt and set aside.

2. In a roasting pan over medium heat, fry the bacon until crisp.

3. Raise the heat a little and add the chicken, along with the garlic, thyme, bay leaves, basil, peppercorns, carrot, celery, and mushrooms. Sear the chicken in the bacon fat until browned all over, turning it every two minutes or so. Cover the pot between turnings.

4. Pour off the excess fat from the pan. Add the brandy and (if your kitchen is safe for doing so) flame it if you like. Otherwise, let the brandy just simmer away to nearly nothing.

5. Add the wine, cover the pan, and put it in the oven at 425 degrees for about an hour and fifteen minutes. It will be ready when the chicken is falling away from the bone.

6. While the chicken is in the oven, make a medium-dark roux with the butter and flour. When it’s almost the color of an old penny, remove it from the heat. Keep stirring until it cools enough that it’s no longer cooking.

7. Remove the chicken and strain the solids out of the sauce. Whisk the roux into the sauce. You may not need all of it to give the sauce a pleasant consistency.

8. Remove the bay leaves and return the vegetables to the sauce. Add the pearl onions and cook over medium heat until the sauce bubbles a little.

9. Divide the chicken among four plates, and pour the sauce over it.

Serves four.

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