Adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking
Coq au Vin
Serves 4 to 6
Coq Au Vin: the words alone sound sexy. From the French paysans to Napoleon’s dinner plate—he had an affinity for fowl, they say— the dish itself is a story.
In Julie & Julia, that twee film featuring Meryl Streep and a blogger, Boeuf Bourguignon is the ultimate recipe, the final meal to conquer. In Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child describes “Sauté de Boeuf à la Bourguignonne” as “one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man.” Fine, maybe. Within the parameters of ‘beef dishes,’ it’s exquisite, but it isn’t a match for Coq au Vin. Both are braised in wine and swimming with pearl onions and mushrooms. Both are traditional peasant dishes with slabs of salty bacon. And both take time to simmer and even more time to eat. Coq au Vin, though, is somehow gentler, while still earthy, filling and complex.
My father Paul was the parent who cooked. The kind who would make Osso Bucco for ten-year-olds on a Tuesday night after work. Coq au Vin, requiring three different recipes and several hours, was reserved for the weekend.
3-4 oz. bacon
A heavy, ten-inch, fireproof casserole
2 tbs. butter
2 1/2-3 lbs. cut-up frying chicken
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/4 c. cognac
3 c. red wine
1-2 c. chicken stock or beef bouillon
1/2 tbs. tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/4 tsp. thyme
1 bay leaf
12 to 24 brown-braised onions (recipe here)
1/2 lb. sautéed mushrooms (recipe here)
Salt and pepper
3 tbs. flour
2 tbs. softened butter
Sprigs of fresh parsley
1. The first step to Julia Child’s Coq au Vin is the easiest, because it can—and according to my dad, should—be skipped:remove the rind off the bacon and cut into lardons. Simmer for 10 minutes in 2 quarts of water. Rinse in cold water, dry.
2. Paul’s rules are few but about them he is adamant: always say “just a moment please,” when answering the phone; always say “auntie” and “uncle” before my aunt’s and uncle’s names; never word the use ‘hate;’; and finally, always, always inscribe books that you give as gifts. His copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking is inscribed to Pablo—my mother’s nickname for him.
3. Child: sauté the bacon slowly in hot butter until it is very lightly browned. Dad: skip the butter. Remove to a side dish (and now cut the bacon into lardons.)
4. I first tried Coq Au Vin in my teens. It was a Saturday night. Dry the chicken thoroughly, and brown it in the leftover bacon fat. I can still smell the bacon in his Creuset, the kitchen at once salty and sweet. Season the chicken with salt and pepper.Return the bacon to the casserole with the chicken. Cover and cook slowly for 10 minutes, turning the chicken once.
5. My dad cooks without an apron and always uses his hands. When I visit, I drink wine at the kitchen island while he splashes around, and we catch up, more friendly than familial, me picking at his ingredients while his attention is on the stove.
6. Pour the wine into the casserole.(Dad: “I don’t put as much wine—just to cover the chicken, same with stock”). Add just enough stock or bouillon to cover the chicken. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic and herbs. Bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer slowly for 25 to 30 minutes, until the chicken is tender. Remove the chicken to a side dish.
7. When I was 24 and living in Toronto, I moved in with a boyfriend. We had an open kitchen and a very long dining table. For our first dinner party, I insisted on making Coq au Vin. I sourced every ingredient carefully. I called my dad.
8. While the chicken is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Five years (and many apartments) later, I moved to Brooklyn. I invited my girlfriends over for Coq Au Vin. I sourced every ingredient carefully. I called my dad.
9. Simmer the remaining liquid in the casserole for a minute or two, skimming off the fat. Then raise the heat and boil rapidly, reducing the liquid to about 2 1/4 cups. Correct seasoning. Remove from heat and discard bay leaf.
“Alphonsine, was a strong, tough woman who made large dishes.”
10. I have never ordered Coq Au Vin at a restaurant. Another fatherly adage: “Never order at a restaurant what you can easily make at home.” It’s why he dislikes steakhouses.
11. Blend the butter and flour together into a smooth paste. This is beurre manié—kneaded butter—a French technique used to thicken sauces. Beat the paste into the hot liquid with a wire whip. Bring to the simmer, stirring, and simmer for a minute or two. The sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.
12. Paul’s parents were French Catholic and owned three restaurants. My grandmother, Alphonsine, was a strong, tough woman who made large dishes. Her peach pie was tangy and sweet, and like most French food, contained sticks and sticks of butter. My dad made my sister and I practice speaking French with her on ‘French Fridays.’
13. Arrange the chicken in the casserole, place the mushrooms and onions around it and baste with the sauce. If this dish is not to be served immediately, fill the top of the sauce with stock or dot with small pieces of butter.
14. That first night, my dad spooned the Coq Au Vin over long egg noodles and added extra pearl onions to mine and my sister’s bowls.
15. Shortly before serving, bring to the simmer, basting the chicken with the sauce. Cover and simmer slowly for 4 to 5 minutes, until the chicken is hot enough.
16. It is not a particularly beautiful dish, and we weren’t exactly elated as we sat down to our heaping bowls. With the first forkful, however, the braised chicken fell off its bone. It was buttery and perfectly salty; rustic but refined, even velvety from the Beaujolais.
17. Serve from the casserole, or arrange on a hot platter. Decorate with spring of parsley.
18. To finish, my dad always made homemade baguettes to soak up the sauce.
Danielle Forest has lived in many New York neighborhoods since moving to the city three years ago. She misses blue skies and the constant sound of Neil Young, steamed buns for 80¢, and H&H everything bagels with scallion cream cheese, in that order. When she isn’t eating, or thinking about eating, she works for a private gallery, conveniently close to Sant Ambroeus coffee.