A rooster, having lived out his useful days fending off foxes and chasing after hens, would be dispatched from the barnyard. It seems that just about every culture, no doubt from necessity, has created a tasty means of utilizing a tough, old bird and getting him onto the dinner table. Americans have their chicken and dumplings; the Hungarians, chicken paprikash. Scots enjoy cock-a-leekie while the French elevated this practice to the level of Coq au Vin; literally, "rooster with wine."
While red wine is often associated with this dish, any wine can be used. I’m sure that French farm wives utilized whatever was on hand; those near Dijon used Burgundy while others in the Alsace region braised it in Riesling.
Coq au Champagne? Probably.
Julia elevated this dish to even higher levels with the employment of browned mushrooms in butter, braised pearl onions and a dramatic splash of flaming Cognac. In other words, she “bourguignoned” the chicken.
I’ve prepared other recipes for Coq au Vin, most recently, that of Brian Boitano’s. It was lean and bitter, (not that there’s anything wrong with that), while others seem to border on being too “winey.”
I’ve prepared Julia’s Coq three times now and my favorite resulted from the use of half red and half white wines. (a Pinot Noir and a Sauvignon Blanc) It really gave the dish more complexity and the flavor of the chicken wasn’t hidden behind a cloak of darkness. It’s not like I was adulterating Julia’s inerrant word – she even gives permission to use non-red wines.
But red and white together? Why not? After all, we’re Americans.
We have California.
Rather than give the complete recipe here (which I don't think would be legal) I'll simply provide some Coq insights I've gained along the way. First of all, open your bibles to page 263 and reverence the page. Meditate upon it.
The Supreme Author has made this recipe foolproof, resulting in a dish that is delectable as possible. I've learned not to tamper with her Inerrant Word; believe me, she's done her homework. The first time I made her Coq, I took shortcuts and the results, while tasty, were not what they could have been.
With that in mind, I'll begin with changing a major ingredient of this dish -- the chicken.
She calls for a 3 lb frying chicken, cut up. While I've no problem cutting up a chicken, I do have a slight aversion to eating one. Bones, cartilage, and poultry skin are not the most appealing things to a closeted vegetarian like me. I use 2 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, each one cut into four pieces. Like Julia, I've done my homework, too. I have prepared it with the whole chicken and this works fine.
I would refrain from succumbing to the boneless-skinless chicken breast craze, though, unless you particularly enjoy dry, tasteless, non-chickeny results.
(By the way, chickens don't suckle their young and, therefore, have no breasts -- they're chests.)
The recipe also calls for a 3-4 ounce chunk of lean bacon, simmered in water for 10 minutes, rinsed, dried, diced, and sauteed in butter. Do this. Simply frying bacon as you would to accompany breakfast pancakes just won't do. (Hint: Each slice of bacon equals about an ounce. Use 3-4 slices.)
Now, you get to brown the chicken in the hot bacon fat/butter mixture. But remember, we're not creating Chicken Nuggets here so don't get carried away.
Now, the fun part: Flambé the chicken with Cognac.
It seems that some folks are intimidated by flambéing. Don't be. Cro-Magnons employed the technique; flambéing is in our DNA.
The most important thing to remember is this:
Turn down the lights so you can see it. We're creating high drama here, folks, so embrace it for all it's worth. Summon everyone into the kitchen for the event, especially the kids.
Flick your Bic and jam in right in there. Remember, you're the boss.
Pour the wine over the chicken and about a cup of chicken stock. Don't forget the garlic, tomato paste and herbs. I forgot the tomato paste one time and the results were very disappointing.
You'll need a flour-butter mixture with which to thicken the dish; a beurre manié.
While the chicken is simmering in its wine-jacuzzi, prepare the mushrooms by sautéing them in butter. But remember, don't crowd the mushrooms or they won't brown.
Braise the pearl onions in butter and chicken broth until it has reduced to a syrupy glaze. I've never really liked pearl onions until I tried them this way.
Whisk some of the hot, winey broth from the chicken into the beurre manié, little by little. This prevents it from going lumpy when you mix it back into the chicken.
Fold everything together: mushrooms, onions, chicken.
I love this -- Julia says that if you're not serving it right away, dot it with butter. I'd do that anyway and I'm fairly certain she didn't refrain from extra butter either.
If any of your friends or family are adamant about their diet, then simply don't invite them.