10 Dishes to Make This Winter: #5 Coq au Vin

Coq au Vin sounds like pretentious French food.  When I was young and heard the name I always thought it was CocoVan.  Sounded strange but I now understand why my mother did not go into detail explaining that it was in fact, “coq” au vin!  I wonder if a dish called “rooster in wine” would ever stand a chance in this country?

While it may sound pretentious, it is of the most humble origins and when I got ready to make this I found I had all the ingredients in the house already.  It is not ingredients in this case but technique that makes this dish special.  The key to success here is browning.  Lots and lots of browning.

The choice of wine is not critical in my opinion, but I had an inexpensive Bordeaux so it seemed appropriate!

It is a hearty chicken stew made with red wine and garnished with mushrooms, pearl onions, and bacon.  This, and a nice bold red wine by the fire would make for a very cozy winter evening!

You don’t need to use “coq”, or rooster for this dish (insert joke here!) but there is a question of which cut of chicken to use.  The true recipe would call for a whole chicken cut up, browned with the skin in tact, and pulled off the bones after cooking. 

I worry that boneless, skinless chicken breast will dry out, yet I know that many people (my family included) do not care for dark meat, or even the presence of bones.

Boneless skinless breast proved to work just fine. Cut it into bite-sized pieces.

For this recipe I did an experiment, using whole chicken thighs, skin included, and boneless skinless chicken breast cut into stew sized pieces.

I am pleased to report that the chicken breast was excellent and while I myself enjoy the thighs, the dish can be successful without them.  Thus, the recipe below uses only chicken breast (though some of the pictures may show the thighs).


  • 3 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast, cut for stew
  • 1 cup flour
  • salt and pepper
  • vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large celery stalk, chopped
  • Bouquet Garni:  cheesecloth, peppercorns, bay leaf, thyme sprigs, fresh parsley, and 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbs tomato paste
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 qt chicken stock
  • Garnish:  6 oz button mushrooms, 3 oz bacon, 6 oz pearl onions

Season the flour with salt and pepper.  This is done to your own tastes, but do not be shy as this is the seasoning that the 3 lbs of chicken will get.

Dust the chicken with seasoned flour, reserving the flour that does not stick.

Put the chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces in the flour and toss it.  Using your hands, lift the chicken out, shaking lightly to let excess flour fall through your fingers back into the bowl (reserve this flour).

In vegetable oil, brown the chicken very well.  First you must use an oil with a high smoke point.  Olive oil will not do for this.  It must be peanut oil, canola, corn oil or some vegetable oil like that.

The key to success in this recipe is deep browning...without scorching.

Heat the pan, then put enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan and when it begins to smoke, add the chicken.  Spread the chicken pieces out so they fit comfortably across the floor of the pan with a little space between each piece.  This will likely require that you do it in batches.

Once it is in the pan, leave it without moving it for a couple minutes.  You want a good deep brown crust ont he outside of each piece.  This is where you begin to develop the flavor.  Watch your heat because if it begins to scorch, you will taste that bitterness in the stew.

After a couple minutes turn the pieces and give them enough time to deeply brown on the other side.  Once this has happened, remove the chicken to a strainer over a bowl and brown the next batch, adding oil if necessary. 

If it begins to scorch, then between batches, deglaze with a little bit of red wine, scraping the chicken from the pan.  pour this in a measuring cup to use later.

Once all the chicken is browned, add more oil and brown the veggies.  They will begin on medium-low to render some moisture out of them, then back to med-high to brown them.  You will see the moisture leave the pan in the form of steam and when the steam clears they will begin to brown.  Don’t be shy here, season them well with salt and pepper and let them get a good deep brown.  This is the second major step to developing the flavor of the dish.

Once the chicken is browned, brown the veggies next.

Once the veggies are browned, add the red wine and using a wooden scraper, deglaze the pan by scraping all the browned bits from the floor and sides of the pan.  Allow the wine to reduce until it does not quite cover the bottom of the pan.

Add the wine and reduce until it does not quite cover the floor of the pan.

Toss the browned chicken with the remaining flour in the bowl.  Add the tomato paste and stir into the wine to thicken it a bit.  Now add the chicken to this mixture and stir it into the wine, making a pasty roux-like coating over the chicken.

Whisk in the chicken broth at this point and bring to a simmer. 

It is now time for the bouquet garni.  This is a small pouch of seasoning that will be retrieved after cooking.  Think of it as a seasoning tea bag.  Using a square of cheese cloth, put a bay leaf, 4-5 whole peppercorns, and fresh parsley.  Tie the bundle with string and put into the stew.

The bouquet garni is a bundle of cheesecloth with seasoning in it. In this case, bay leaf, parsley stems, peppercorns, a couple smashed garlic cloves and thyme.

A tip on the parsley, the stems contain as much flavor as the leaves, but cannot be used the way the leaves can.  This is a perfect place to use them.

If you don’t he cheesecloth, you can use a tea ball.  You will see in my pictures that I did not have fresh thyme and used instead ground thyme.  Not ideal, I’m sure but this subtle distinction will be lost on most of us.

Simmer this mixture until thickened and the flavors are developed.  It should be thicker than soup, but not as thick as gravy.  The chicken will not take long to cook through, but you need to give it enough time to develop flavor, maybe 20-30 minutes.

Add veggies, chicken, bouquet garni and chicken stock to simmer for 20-30 min.

To prepare the garnish, saute the bacon in whole strips until quite crispy.  remove the bacon but leave the fat.  Quarter the button mushrooms and if using fresh pearl onions, peel and blanche them.  I used frozen ones here (lazy perhaps, but a huge timesaver with no noticeable lack of quality.

Brown the mushrooms and pearl onions in the bacon fat, crumble the bacon into this mixture and use it as a garnish over the stew.

The garnish is made from bacon, mushrooms, and pearl onions and is served over the stew.

This dish can be served with any starch such as rice, spaetzle, but my favorite is mashed potatoes.


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