The traditional Burgundian dish of rooster or chicken slow-cooked in wine might seem like a doozy to pull off in a curry nation like ours, but time and again, I found that I was crap at it. Maybe because I had never made the stuff before and relied on old, often unreliable recipes, my stew always ended up tasting too acidic and not the least bit pleasant. As is the case with old shorthand recipes, it has been adapted many times by several great chefs who have seasoned the chicken with their own experience to produce strikingly good results. This recipe took almost three months to come together, and it’s from all over the place. Purists will disagree with most of what I’m about to report in my findings, but take this recipe out for a spin nonetheless and you might just find something new to bring to the table for dinner.
WHAT WINE WORKS FOR COQ AU VIN?
If you google what wine works best for coq au vin, the internet will throw your way some very expensive choices of Pinot Noir which would yield a great stew, no doubt, but the differences are subtle and not worth the price tag, especially since you’re going to be spending on a whole bird and bacon. You can use any Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot instead. Do you have a bottle of wine that you’re sure has gone bad and is smelling vinegary? Just use that. The wine gets cooked off and still leaves you with a delicious stew.
BRINE WITH WINE
All those Thanksgiving recipes that require you to brine your turkey overnight? It’s because the salt seeps into the chicken and tenderises it. Wine does the same thing, and what’s better- you don’t have to wait the whole night. Just marinate the chicken in wine for a few hours, or if you’re pressed for time, just until you’re done with the rest of your mise en place.
KEEP THE SKIN ON
Skin-on chicken always for a coq au vin. We depend on the browned bits of skin stuck to the base of the pan to build flavour in the dish from the ground up.
NO BUTTER, NO OLIVE OIL
I’ve made versions of a coq au vin with one or the other fat and a combination of the two, but the best coq au vin is one that’s made with shudh (pure) desi ghee and the fat rendered from softening the bacon.
BUILDING LAYERS OF FLAVOUR
The first layer of flavour comes from the browned meat, then bacon, then the holy trinity of carrots, onions, garlic and celery. This is followed by an umami bomb of mushrooms, a bouquet garni and more chicken stock. That’s so much flavour, you’d think they were compensating for some fowl play. That was a bad pun, sorry.
STEWED MADRAS ONIONS ARE THE BEST
The small, silky-sweet Madras onions add that extra je ne sais pas to the dish. They stew slowly as the chicken finishes its cooking cycle and you get that alium-ey taste cutting through the rich flavours of chicken and wine. Delicious!
Coq Au Vin
The Burgundian classic dish of chicken cooked in wine isn't as easy it looks, but thankfully here's a foolproof recipe that focuses simply on building layers of flavour at every stage.
For the bouquet garni (tie the following in a muslin cloth parcel)
Coriander stalks 3-4
Cinnamon 1 quill
Whole Chicken 1.2-1.5 kilos, skin-on, cut into pieces. Offals set aside for another use, wing tips and any other bits can be used in the making of the stock for the recipe
Red wine 1 bottle (see note above if you’re wondering which wine you should buy*)
Bacon 150g, preferably with a good bit of fat
Ghee 3-4 tbsp
Onion 1 large, finely chopped
Carrot 1 large, diced
Celery 2, stalks chopped
Flour 2 tbsp
Garlic 6-7 cloves, chopped
Tomato 1, chopped
Chicken stock 1 cup
Madras Onions 500g, peeled
Butter 1-2 tbsp, plus more for the mushrooms
Sugar 2 large pinches
Button mushrooms 200g, stalks trimmed
Coriander leaves to garnish
Crusty bread to serve
To begin get a freezer bag out that’s big enough to fit all the pieces of chicken. Pour the wine over the chicken and keep it in the refrigerator for a few hours or until you’re ready to begin.
Fifteen to twenty minutes before you’re ready to start, get the chicken out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. Get the chicken out of the wine, pat dry it and keep it aside. Drain the wine from the bag and keep it ready to add to the pan.
Heat half of the ghee in a large deep saucepan over medium heat and add to it the bacon bits. Let the bacon soften but don’t let it brown and become crispy. Get the bacon out of the fat and set it aside. Next, fry the chicken in batches till it has browned on all sides. Season it and set it aside.
In the leftover fat in the pan, add the onion, carrot, garlic, tomato and chopped celery stalk and cook this mixture over a medium-heat till the onion is translucent. Add to this mixture the flour and stir the roux together with the vegetables and the brown bits of the chicken stuck to the bottom of the pan. You’re making a roux here and you must cook the roux, stirring for exactly 4 minutes over medium heat.
Splash in a good glue of the red wine and stir to form a thick sauce. Return the chicken and the bacon bits to the pan with the brandy and let everything cook together for a whole minute before adding the rest of the wine. Maintaining a medium heat, toss the chicken around in the wine so that everything mixes together well. Do this for about three to four minutes. Add in the chicken stock, the bouquet garni and bring everything up to a boil
When it comes up to a boil, reduce the heat to a steady simmer and put a lid on it. Let this slow-cook for 20-25 minutes, checking to see if the chicken has cooked. If it has, you want to get the chicken pieces out of the liquid so it doesn’t overcook.
Meanwhile as the chicken is cooking, fire up your oven. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius. Add 1 tbsp butter to the onions together with two pinches of caster sugar and let the onions brown nicely on all sides- about 15 minutes. Simultaneously in a frying pan, heat the remaining butter and fry the mushrooms in batches until golden, for 3-5 minutes.
Now that you are left with the coq au vin sauce, you want to reduce the sauce to concentrate the flavours. Strain the sauce, take the bouquet garni out and reduce the coq au vin sauce for about 5 minutes till slightly thickened but still quite loose. Once reduced, add in the onions, mushrooms and chicken. Bring it back up to a boil and season to taste. Finish with chopped coriander and serve with crusty bread.
Drain the fat if you feel like it's a lot when you're serving. Also, this dish tastes much better the next day because the flavours mature as it sits.