Coq au Vin (cohk ah VAHN), a traditional French recipe made famous in the states by the likes of Julia Child, is already a modern misnomer at best.
The title refers to a coq, or male chicken, a rooster. Good luck finding that at the megamart. And it was developed as a way to use an old bird, one that is so tough that only extended braising in alcohol could render it delicious.
Being Baptist and all, I don’t have a huge breadth of experience with wine, but I don’t find it particularly evil, either. If I find myself with a bottle, a recipe will usually come from it. If I have some red wine, which I usually don’t care for, it often becomes coq au vin.
Once, in my early days of marriage and my first gas cooktop, I was making this dish. I didn’t know yet that it was recommended that you turn off the heat before adding the wine. The resulting fireball was pretty spectacular; I’m amazed I came away with any eyebrows left. No damage done, but I certainly remembered from then on to turn off the gas!
Although this yummy dish used to be a staple when I first started really cooking, it has been a long time, mainly because we don’t go out of our way to buy the wine. But over the holidays, someone brought a bottle of cabernet, and it was actually darn tasty.
Back to the coq. Usually, these days, you just use a whole chicken for the dish, as well as some bacon and other yummies.
A few days after our holiday festivities, it was cold. Again, I didn’t want to get out and go to the store. I looked around the fridge, freezer and pantry to see what I could do. No bacon, but I do have a kielbasa in the freezer. No fresh or dried mushrooms, but I do have a can of them in the back of the pantry. No skin-on chicken, but I did freeze some boneless, skinless breasts a few days before.
The result: Not-Really Coq au Vin, and in reasonable portions for New Year’s eating.
I can feel the ghost of Escoffier chastising me, especially for the boneless, skinless chicken and those (gasp) canned mushrooms. The French are snobs that way. But trust me, it works.
One more note: I can’t exactly recommend buying the ingredients to make it this way. If you’re making coq au vin for the first time, get the goodies to make it right. (Simply Recipes has a nice rendition of the Julia Child original.) But maybe you’re like me and happen to have these things handy. If nothing else, be inspired to cook with what’s already in your house!
- One kielbasa sausage, medium dice
- 1/2 c. frozen pearl onions
- 1 small can sliced white button mushrooms
- Two cloves garlic, minced
- Two large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (3 or 4 if they are smaller)
- 2 c. chicken broth
- Half a bottle of cabernet sauvignon
- 4 Bay leaves
- 3-4 Parsley stems
- 5 Whole peppercorns, cracked
- 1 Stem (about 6″) fresh rosemary, stripped
- 1 T. butter
- 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
- Salt and pepper to taste
In a heavy pot (this is THE dish to use your enameled cast iron, if you have it), cook the diced kielbasa over medium heat until most of the fat has been released and it is almost crisp. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook for a minute or two more, until the onions have softened a bit. Add the garlic last, heating for just a minute, being careful not to burn it.
Make room in the pot for the chicken, and add it with as much contact to the surface as possible. Brown the chicken on both sides.
A side note about the chicken: I’m using boneless/skinless here just because it’s what I had. If you want to avoid the full-fat version, this is a good way to go, but you miss out on the full-bodied sauce that results from the skin and bones of the regular chicken. Your choice!
Add the chicken broth and scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pot. These add a lot of flavor to the sauce. Plus, adding the broth now helps eliminate the risk of a flareup when adding the wine.
Turn off the heat and add the wine, then turn the heat up to medium-high. Place the bay leaves, parsley stems, peppercorns and rosemary leaves into a piece of cheesecloth or coffee filter paper, tied with cotton string, and add it to the pot.
Cover and reduce to a simmer. At about 20 minutes, use a food thermometer to check the doneness of the chicken. It is easy to over-cook boneless breasts, so be careful! When the interior reaches 155-160 degrees, remove the chicken and place it in a ceramic dish. Use a slotted spoon to remove all the kielbasa and vegetables and add them to the dish, too. Discard the cheesecloth packet. Cover with foil and place in a warmer or an oven set at 200 degrees.
Turn the heat up to high and reduce the remaining liquid until there is about a cup left. Stir in the butter and see if the thickness of the sauce is what you like. It will not thicken much if you used boneless/skinless chicken, so you may need to further thicken it with a cornstarch slurry. Place an ice cube in a small cup and add a tablespoon or so of water, allowing it to get cold. Remove the ice and add the cornstarch, stirring to a smooth paste. Add this to your reduced liquid, whisking well to avoid lumps. Once it heats back to a boil, it will thicken completely.
Quickly move the chicken to a cutting board and slice into medallions at a slight angle. Add the chicken and veggies back to the sauce to coat and reheat, then serve with fresh parsley garnish and jasmine rice.