French Comforts: Coq au Vin

There are probably a million ways to make French chicken stew, best known as coq au vin, and I've had it almost every way you can: with bacon, without bacon, with a quartered hen, with chicken thighs ... you name it.  My favorite version is my own, which is cobbled together from classic recipes, modified by a fabulous version from Martha Stewart, and updated with my own additions, deletions and experiments.

The finished meal, complete with friends.
Because it's French, coq au vin naturally sounds complicated, but really, it's pretty basic.  It's chicken with wine.  Though there are a lot of steps involved, I find it's a great excuse to gather friends in the kitchen, open several bottles of wine, and talk while we prep, simmer, and wait for the gorgeous meal to be finished.  For me, it's a very social dish, and my go-to whenever I have company.

Coq au Vin.
Given that it's so hearty, I usually choose to lighten this dish by serving it with a fennel, asparagus and arugula salad.  And of course, I pull it all together with a crusty loaf of French bread and a good Bordeaux or Cabernet.  Both recipes are provided below.  Enjoy!

Fennel, Asparagus & Arugula Salad.
Coq au Vin Recipe
Main Ingredients
4 skinless and boneless chicken breasts (or 2 whole breasts)
8 carrots, peeled and cut into 1 ½ inch pieces
1 ½ cups pearl onions, peeled (fresh are better, but good frozen onions will work)
1 ½ containers Cremini mushrooms, 12 oz total (whole if small, or cut in half)

8 cloves garlic, smashed
8-10 sprigs fresh thyme
8-10 sprigs fresh flat leaf or Italian parsley plus ¼ cup chopped leaves
2 bay large leaves or 3-4 small bay leaves
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups red wine
⅓ cup Cognac
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon cornstarch

3-4 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt
Fresh cracked black pepper

1 package Couscous
Chicken Stock

Using a large stockpot or a Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat in order brown the carrots.  Once they are in the pot and are beginning to caramelize, lightly season them with a sprinkle of Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper.  When they are nicely browned and have begun to soften, remove them and set aside in a large bowl.

Next, add another tablespoon of the olive oil to brown the onions and garlic.  Again, season lightly with salt and cracked pepper.  Once these are nicely browned, add to the same bowl as the carrots.  Finally, add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and brown.  Move to the large bowl with the other vegetables.

Cut chicken into strips about 2 inches long (you can also use chicken tenders cut in half if you prefer).  Season the chicken strips lightly with Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper.  Add remaining olive oil to pot and brown the chicken, being careful not to crowd the pan (chicken will steam, and not brown).  Cook in two batches if necessary.

When the chicken is browned, return all of the chicken to the pot.  Deglaze the brown bits at the bottom with the wine and cognac, then add the chicken stock, tomato paste, bay leaves, thyme and parsley (you can tie the stems together for easy removal later if you wish).  Cover the pot and let it simmer for 15 minutes.   Return all of the vegetables to the pot and allow to simmer several more minutes.

Remove the chicken and vegetables and place back in the large bowl.  Over high heat, simmer the remaining sauce until it reduces by half and takes on a thicker consistency, between 10-15 minutes.  At this point, fish out the parsley, thyme and bay leaves and discard.  To finish, dissolve the cornstarch in a tablespoon of cold water (or stock) using a glass/bowl and pour the mixture into the sauce, stirring until the sauce thickens.  Return the chicken and vegetables to the pot, add the chopped parsley, and simmer a few minutes more.

I recommend serving this with couscous.  I've tried it with rice, pasta, barley, quinoa, Israeli couscous ... and of all, regular couscous is the taste-tested favorite.  When preparing your couscous, follow the instructions for cooking the entire box, only substitute chicken stock (or broth) for water.  Once the couscous has been cooked and set aside, be sure to fluff with a fork to lighten and break up the grains for better texture.

Should serve 6, usually serves 4.  It's just so damned good.

Fennel, Asparagus and Arugula Salad Recipe
1 package fresh arugula
1 bunch of asparagus
2 bulbs fresh fennel
1 large orange (2 if not very juicy)
1/3 cup blue cheese crumbles
1/3 cup toasted walnuts
2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Fresh cracked pepper

Wash and rinse the asparagus and cut off the woody ends.  Then cut into 2-inch pieces and place in a large gallon Ziploc bag.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, a squeeze of orange juice, and olive oil.  Microwave for 2 1/2 minutes until just cooked, but still firm (I know, sacrilege, but it makes life easier and it tastes delicious).  Set asparagus aside to cool slightly.

In a large salad bowl, add the arugula.  Wash the fennel and cut each bulb in half, then slice into thin slices and add to the arugula.  To this, add the warmed asparagus, blue cheese crumbles and toasted walnuts.

In a separate bowl, juice the orange, then add vinegar, season with salt and pepper, and add enough olive oil to bring the dressing together.  You want this dressing vibrant and acidic.  Toss dressing with the salad and serve immediately.


jessica v at: March 7, 2012 at 8:40 PM said...

this is one of my favorite meals that you make. i can taste it right now. ahhh, now i really want it!

Marleine at: March 8, 2012 at 2:25 PM said...

Then we'll need to make it again soon! :)

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