Coq au Vin

It was a drizzly, chilly early Autumn evening when I arrived in Paris, red-eyed from the long flight. The cobbled pavements were glistening under the street lamps. With a hazy head and restless legs, I hurried and huddled into a no-named bistro on rue de la Gaité, just a few blocks from an apartment which would be my home for the next two years. Inside, the steamy air filled with cigarette fume invited me to my first Parisian eating experience. After settling down with a glass of vin de maison, rouge, naturellement, came the humble dish of Coq au Vin before me.

Wait a minute! I think I'm in the wrong story -- my first meal in Paris was an overcooked burger at the airport because I was too darn hungry and the cobbled pavement? They were littered with les crottes de toutouTant pis.. but Coq au Vin is what we cooked today.

The truth is, just as I am turned-off by glorification of anything Parisian/Parisienne -- I'm not an old cynics yet, the city is magical but not the sort of instagram-kind of way -- I got turned-off by recipes that aim to recreates masterpieces of Michelin-studded restaurants. Recipes that read:
1 tablespoon of chopped cornichon, drained
2/3 of a cup finely julienned carrots
1/8 of a teaspoon minced garlic
just screams "Oh I'm so precise, I'm scaling it down for you, people at home." I'm cutting a whole carrot, or two, whatever, and if I'm only needing 2/3 cup of it, what the heck am I going to do with the rest of them?

In fact, the best recipes are those that are truly authentic, born out of necessities from normal, ordinary, muggle households all around the world, using accessible ingredients to make ends meet. The recipes may spell as, "Oh, yay-big of a carrot, a smidgen of herb, a glug of wine, yeah.. something like that!" Such is, what I believe, the spirit of Coq au Vin: a drunken rooster stew, using an old, tough rooster because a plump, fat hen coûte les yeux de la tête.

The proportion below is the result of trial-and-error chez moi. It is the friendly version for modern home-cooks, using items that you can easily find at your normal, modern grocery stores aka the plump, fat hen. This stew can be done in a dutch oven or slow cooker. Either way, do what's best for your family and I'm sure they'll appreciate it quand même.

Coq au Vin

Serves at least 4

A whole chicken, cut up into your preferred size, about 4-5 lbs, including bone, skin, neck and back (giblets can be included as well)

4 oz of bacon -- uncured/unsmoked would be nice, peppered variety is great, chopped

1 whole onion, roughly chopped

2 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled

4 carrots, peeled and largely diced, divided

8 oz button mushrooms, quartered or halved

2 cups of dry red wine (like Burgundy)

Approximately 2 cups of chicken broth (water + bouillon cubes will work in a pinch)

Dried herbs of choice such as thyme, bay leaves, marjoram, sage, or even Herbes de Provence, amount approximately 1/2 - 1 teaspoon total. The classic ones are thyme and bay leaves, but I like the fragrant twist of marjoram and sage just goes so well with poultry.

1 to 1-1/2 tablespoons of tomato paste (a trick I learned from Julia Child's rendition. It adds a nice acidity and sweetness to the sauce. I have also used tomato ketchup in a pinch and it worked! Julia may approved, being the home-cook and all)

Few knobs of butter, reserved bacon fat, or olive oil, pick your poisson.

Fresh parsley, if you have some. Crusty bread, buttered potato, rice or pasta to serve.

I like to marinade the chicken using about 1 c of wine while preparing the rest of the ingredients. The wine steeps a layer of flavor into the chicken. If you wish, you can put the chicken on the kitchen counter but the safest way is to pop them back into the fridge while marinading.

In a heavy-bottomed pan or a dutch oven, render the bacon nice and crispy, about 8-10 minutes on medium-high heat. Reserve bacon using slotted spoon, and fat, if you wish.

Drain chicken pieces, reserving the wine. Pat dry, season each with salt and pepper. Brown chicken in batches, about 5-8 per side until skin is crispy and golden brown. Set chicken aside.

Add a drizzle of bacon fat/olive oil or a knob of butter. Reserve about a handful of chopped carrot and set them aside with the onion and garlic (I call this sacrificial carrots -- for this carrots will be used to flavor the sauce). Sauteé the rest of the carrots with mushrooms 5-10 minutes or until half-way cooked. Season with thyme, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Add yet another drizzle of oil into your pan. Sauteé the reserved, sacrificial carrots, onion and garlic until translucent, about 10 minutes, scrapping the pan of the brown bits. Deglaze the pan with wine and the reserve wine marinade, continue scrapping. Add the dried herbs, bacon (I usually reserve some because the boys like to crumble them on top for extra crunch), and tomato paste, stir and bring to boil.

At this time, if you are using slow cooker, you can move the content of the pan into the slow cooker. Adjust your slow cooking timer to manufacturer's suggestion for poultry dishes. Mine would be about 4-6 hours long. Continue on until the part where you take the chicken pieces out and reduce the sauce.

Arrange chicken pieces in single layer, preferably, with chicken breasts right on the very top, skin side up. The reason I do this is because I like my chicken breast nice and tender, instead of tough and overcooked. They are the first to be taken out, just as soon as they are done, falling off the bones yet still juicy inside, about 45 minutes of cooking/slow simmer. The rest can simmer much much longer. I even added the chicken breast bone & skin back into the pot to further infuse the sauce with the rich collagen.

Put everything in a gentle simmer for at least 1 hour to 1 hour and 30 minutes, depending on the size of your chicken.

Take out chicken pieces, set aside -- at this point, I usually go ahead and de-bone and de-skin them for easy eating.

Skim as much fat and sacrificial vegetables off the sauce as you wish (sometimes I leave them if I'm too lazy). Continue reducing the liquid in half, another 10-15 minutes over high heat. At this point, you can thicken the sauce using flour slurry (1:1 ratio of flour and melted/softened butter, kneaded together, about 1 tablespoon of flour per cup of liquid), or just leave it as is. Yet another version is to use immersion blender to blend the chunky vegetables into the sauce. Either way, don't forget to fish out your bay leaves before doing so. Tip the sauteéd carrots and mushrooms into the sauce to reheat them. Throw in chopped parsley and stir.

Plate buttered potato, rice or pasta. Pile the tender chicken pieces on top. Drizzle with sauce and imagine yourself sitting in some un-named bistro somewhere in Paris. Or on your own dining table with your loved one. Bon Appétit!


  1. Claire, your Coq au Vin and the story of your first true Parisian meal are wonderful! Thank you for sharing. One of the more memorable meals I remember eating in Paris when I was a child was chicken a la Basque, with tomato and other veggies. It tasted so different from what I was used to! I'm thinking I could try to make it for when we have a house guest next month; my husband is a picky eater and won't eat any other parts of the chicken apart from the breast, while I really like all the dark meat :)

    1. Oooh, that sounds good! Let me know how it goes or maybe if it is a success, then the recipe! I'm like you, dark meat is the best!