Cooking inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes a stroll through a verdant farmers market on a warm spring day sets the gears of creativity in motion. Other times, it's a six pound bag of Costco chicken, a half-full bottle of Côtes du Rhône, and some odds-and-ends lurking in the dark recesses of my fridge. A rummage through the deli drawer revealed a loosely wrapped package containing the remains of slab of pancetta, and the vegetable drawer coughed up some button mushrooms that had seen better days. It didn't take an English -> French dictionary to figure out I had the makings for Coq au Vin.
Yes, technically the Coq in Coq au Vin means "rooster", but the last time I checked, my local grocer wasn't in the business of selling tough old cocks. If you want to be a purist though, by all means, go bag yourself a rooster. The tough connective tissue breaks down while cooking, and the well-exercised meat is definitely more flavorful than a chicken that's spent it's whole life cooped up.
The other half of the name, au Vin, literally means "in wine" and I honestly can't think of a better marriage of ingredients, especially with a little bacon, onions and mushrooms thrown into the mix!
Despite vast regional difference in ingredients I more or less stuck to a "classic" coq au vin, but I introduced some different techniques and my own sequence to try and maximize the flavour and minimize the work. I used the bacon as the fat to fry the chicken and mirepoix in, all of which create a very thick layer of delicious brown fond at the bottom of the pan. The cognac deglazes the pan and adds it's own smokey flavour and then the chicken braises in a 50/50 mixture of wine and stock. When the chicken is done, mushrooms and sweet cipollini onions are added along with a roux (made with the bacon/chicken fat) to finish the sauce. If you feel like being adventurous, adding dark chocolate at the end takes the resulting Choc au Vin to another level.
This yields fall-off-the-bone tender chicken, with perfectly cooked mushrooms and onions smothered in a rich sauce with depth that you just wouldn't expect in a chicken dish. I love having coq au vin over a bed of creamy mashed yukon gold potatoes, but it's just as good served as a stew with a crusty baguette.
- In a large chef’s pan or dutch oven, fry the lardons over medium heat until most of the fat has rendered out (but not until it's crisp). Transfer the lardons to a bowl with a slotted spoon.
- Generously salt and pepper the chicken thighs and place in the hot pan, skin side down. Leave undisturbed for 6-7 minutes or until skin is golden brown, then flip the chicken over, allowing it to brown lightly on the second side. Transfer the chicken to the bowl with the lardons.
- You should no have a nice thick coating of brown "fond". This is what gives the dish much of it's depth. Remove 2 tablespoons of fat from the pan and set it aside in a small bowl. Add the chopped onion, celery and garlic and sauté until soft, scrapping the fond off the bottom of the pan so it doesn’t burn.
- Hit the pan with a generous splash of Cognac to deglaze the pan. Allow most of the liquid to evaporate, then add the red wine, chicken stock, bay leaf, thyme, and tomato paste. Return the lardons and chicken to the pan and turn several times to make sure each piece is well coated and submerged in the liquid. Cover with the lid slightly askew (so steam can escape) and simmer over medium low heat until the chicken is tender 35-45 minutes.
- Add the flour to the fat you’ve reserved and stir until there are no lumps. When the chicken is tender, transfer to a plate and tent with foil. Add the mushrooms and cipollini onions to the pan and turn up the heat to medium, simmering uncovered for about 15 minutes or until the onions are cooked and the sauce has reduced a bit. Add a few tablespoons of sauce to the fat/flour mixture and stir to make a slurry. Add the slurry to the sauce in the pan one spoonful at a time, mixing well after each addition to make sure there are no lumps. I don’t like my sauce too thick, so I stopped about 2/3 of the way through, but if you like a very thick sauce, you can add all the roux. Salt and pepper to taste, then return the chicken to to pot to reheat and coat with the sauce.
- Garnish with the parsley, and then serve the coq au vin over mashed potatoes, egg noodles, or as a stew with a crusty baguette. I also like to sprinkle a little finishing salt like Fleur de Sel on top.