Wine belongs in every cook’s pantry. Near the salt. Try making a sauce or a stew or a spaghetti Bolognese with and without wine and see which is better. It’s like a scary movie minus the eerie music: bleached of vibrancy and stripped of soul. Wine adds depth to a dish, and there’s no better example than coq au vin.
Coq au vin, chicken braised in red wine, is theoretically made with an old hen, a tradition which seems a bit unnecessary; plain chicken is fine. However, it’s not something you whip up for a last minute supper: perfect coq au vin requires a 24-hour marination in red wine prior to being braised in said wine. The idea is a double wine bath, like a weekend of repetitive spa treatments, after which you’ve achieved dermatological clarity. The chicken should be winy and tender. That’s part one.
Part two involves the sauce. Let’s examine the final goal and work backwards. You should end up with (again) a deeply winy, very rich, dark sauce the consistency of paint: neither thick nor thin. Maybe I shouldn’t say paint, but that’s pretty accurate. However, there’s a twist. As with part one, which calls for a long marination, here you also need to put in a little extra effort.
In short, you need veal stock. As veal stock reduces, it becomes rich and unctuous. Combined with wine, the sauce develops into something breathtaking. Making veal stock is a major journey, beginning with locating a butcher who sells unfrozen, fresh bones, and ending with several swollen garbage bags full of lava-hot molten bones and an angry garbage man. However, a large batch can be frozen and pulled out as needed for months.
If you must use the store bought stuff, I’d recommend dissolving a few tablespoons of cornstarch in an equal amount of water, and whisking it in at the end. It’ll thicken the sauce.
Other than the two very important ingredients, coq au vin is a snap: a stew that, unlike, say braised veal shank, won’t take 4 hours. We used the Balthazar version simply because, well, coq au vin is what they do. What you should do is grab a bunch of wine in one arm and a sack of veal bones in the other and call it a day. At least you won’t need a hen. Unless you really feel like chasing one down.
True Coq Au Vin (adapted from Balthazar Cookbook)
For the Marinade:
6 chicken legs
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 head of garlic, halved horizontally
1 bottle red wine
bunch of thyme or rosemary
salt and pepper
For the Braise:
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons flour
3-4 cups veal stock
1 onion, diced ½ inch
½ pound smoked slab bacon, diced
1 pound mushrooms, stemmed, washed, cut in ½ inch pieces
3 tablespoons parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
- Combined the marinade ingredients in a large bowl, toss, cover, refrigerate for 24 hours.
- The next day, use a tongs to remove the chicken legs to a tray. Strain the marinade into a one bowl and reserve the vegetables separately. Season the legs with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large pot over high heat. Brown the legs in batches and remove to a bowl.
- Reduce heat slightly, add the reserved vegetables, cook until soft and a bit brown. Add the tomato paste, stirring, cook 2 minutes. Add the flour, stirring, cook 2 minutes. Add the reserved wine marinade and reduce by half.
- Add the chicken, pour in the stock, bring to a boil, skim any scum, reduce to a very low simmer, and cover. Cook for about an hour, until the chicken is tender.
- Meanwhile, in a large pan, render and brown the bacon. Remove to a bowl keeping about half the fat in the pan. Saute the onion until soft, remove to the bowl. Do the same with the mushrooms. Season lightly with salt and pepper and toss gently. Reserve.
- Remove the legs from the pot to a bowl. Strain off and discard the vegetables. Reduce the sauce by half, then return the legs along with your cooked bacon and vegetables. Simmer another 15 minutes until the sauce is smooth and delicious. Serve with chopped parsley.