Julia Child is one of my culinary icons. In honor of what would have been Julia’s 100th birthday, on August 15, I have made her recipe for Coq au Vin. This post is dedicated to an amazing woman, lover of food, champion of the home cook and possessor of the most inspiring joie de vivre: Julia Child. I learned so much from her, lessons about much more than cooking. And for that, my gratitude to her is boundless.
While living in France, Julia experienced an epiphany while dining on Oysters and Sole Meunière; this experience transformed her life, influenced her to attend Le Cordon Bleu, and eventually moved her to write her first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (along with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle), which simplified French Cooking for the American cook. Later, through other successful cookbooks and television shows, Julia endeared herself further to home cooks and chefs alike with her no-nonsense approach to cooking even the most complicated dishes.
She cut through the pretension of cooking these seemingly complicated dishes; she explained, in detail, culinary terms that wouldn’t necessarily be known to the home cook. She made French cooking and techniques accessible to us all. She dropped food on the floor of her cooking show set, picked it up, washed it off and kept going. She failed at dishes and figured out how to fix them…and shared those tips with us all. She drank wine while she cooked and waxed poetic about the virtues of a radish, or a turnip, or a chicken liver…she made them poetic. She was, simply, the best.
I had replicated recipes I’d seen her cook on her shows, but I started cooking her recipes in earnest in 1989, when I was gifted a copy of her then new book, The Way to Cook. I can say, unequivocally, every time I cook one of her recipes, it is to rave reviews. This time, with Coq au Vin, it was no different.
Coq au Vin, Cock (Rooster) with Wine, may well be one of the first recipes I cooked from that cookbook. The process of stewing the chicken in the wine sauce was meant as a means of tenderizing what would have been a tough bird. Julia Child used frying hens and so do I. As an aside, several years ago on the television show Top Chef, chef/judge Tom Colicchio berated a chef/contestant for calling a recipe she created Coq au Vin when she hadn’t used rooster. I was incensed and actually talked to the television, encouraging Casey (the chef/contestant) to defend herself using Julia as an example. If it was good enough for Julia Child, by darn, it should have been good enough for Tom Colicchio.
Sometimes, especially to a novice cook, some of Julia’s recipes can seem daunting. This, I think, is because she is so thorough in explaining all the steps necessary. This recipe is no different and I struggled with how I could explain this dish. Breaking it down into segments was the most logical way for me to do it.
Basically, there are four main steps. They are:
- Brown braise the pearl onions.
- Sauté the mushrooms.
- Brown, stew and remove the chicken from the stewing sauce.
- Remove the fat, reduce and thicken the sauce.
- FOR THE ONIONS:
- 1½ tablespoons butter
- 1½ tablespoons oil
- 18 to 24 peeled white onions, about 1-inch in diameter
- ½ cup brown stock, canned beef bouillon, dry white wine, red wine, or water
- Salt and pepper
- Medium herb bouquet: 4 parsley sprigs, ½ bay leaf and ¼ teaspoon thyme tied in cheesecloth
- FOR THE MUSHROOMS:
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon oil
- ½ pound fresh mushrooms, washed, well dried, left whole if small, sliced or quartered if large
- 1 to 2 tablespoons minced shallots or green onions, optional
- Salt and pepper
- FOR THE CHICKEN AND WINE SAUCE:
- 3 to 4-ounce chunk lean bacon
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2½ to 3 pounds frying chicken, cut into pieces
- ½ teaspoon salt, plus additional for seasoning
- ⅛ teaspoon pepper, plus additional for seasoning
- ¼ cup cognac
- 3 cups young, full-bodied red wine, such as Burgundy, Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone, or Chianti
- 1 to 2 cups brown chicken stock, brown stock or canned beef bouillon
- ½ tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 cloves mashed garlic
- ¼ teaspoon thyme leaves
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons softened butter
- Fresh parsley leaves
- FOR THE ONIONS:
- Braise them as follows:
- When the butter and oil are bubbling in the skillet, add the onions and saute over moderate heat for 10 minutes, rolling the onions about so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect to brown them uniformly.
- Pour in the stock (or your choice of braising liquid), season to taste, and add the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 15 to 20 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet. Set aside.
- FOR THE MUSHROOMS:
- Place the skillet over high heat with the butter and oil. As soon as you see that the butter foam has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add the mushrooms. Toss and shake the pan for 4 to 5 minutes. During their saute the mushrooms will at first absorb the fat. In 2 to 3 minutes the fat will reappear on their surface, and the mushrooms will begin to brown. As soon as they have browned lightly, remove from heat.
- Toss the shallots or green onions, if using, with the mushrooms. Saute over moderate heat for 2 minutes. Sauteed mushrooms may be cooked in advance, set aside, then reheated when needed. Season to taste just before serving.
- FOR THE CHICKEN AND WINE SAUCE:
- Remove the rind and cut the bacon into lardons (rectangles ¼-inch across and 1-inch long). Simmer for 10 minutes in 2 quarts of water. Rinse in cold water. Dry.
- In a heavy large heavy bottomed casserole or Dutch oven, saute the bacon slowly in hot butter until it is very lightly browned (temperature of 260 degrees F for an electric skillet). Remove to a side dish.
- Dry the chicken thoroughly. Brown it in the hot fat in the casserole. (360 degrees F for the electric skillet.)
- Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Return the bacon to the casserole with the chicken. Cover and cook slowly (300 degrees F) for 10 minutes, turning the chicken once.
- Uncover, and pour in the cognac. Averting your face, ignite the cognac with a lighted match. Shake the casserole back and forth for several seconds until the flames subside.
- Pour the wine into the casserole. 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 20 to 25 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and its juices run a clear yellow when the meat is pricked with a fork. Remove the chicken to a side dish.
- Simmer the chicken cooking liquid in the casserole for 1 to 2 minutes, skimming off fat. Then raise the heat and boil rapidly, reducing the liquid to about 2¼ cups. Correct seasoning. Remove from heat, and discard bay leaf.
- Blend the butter and flour together into a smooth paste (beurre manie). Beat the paste into the hot liquid with a wire whip. Bring to the simmer, stirring and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes. The sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.
- FOR SERVING:
- Arrange the chicken in a casserole, place the mushrooms and onions around it and baste with the sauce. If the dish is not to be served immediately, film the top of the sauce with stock or dot with small pieces of butter. Set aside uncovered for no longer than 1 hour or cool, cover and refrigerate until needed.
- Shortly before serving, bring the casserole to a simmer, basting the chicken with the sauce. Cover and simmer slowly for 4 to 5 minutes, until the chicken is heated through.
- Serve from the casserole, or arrange on a hot platter. Decorate with sprigs of parsley.
Instead of braising, you can bake them as follows:
Transfer the onions and their sauteing fat to a shallow baking dish or casserole just large enough to hold them in 1 layer. Set uncovered in upper third of a preheated 350 degree F oven for 40 to 50 minutes, turning them over once or twice. They should be very tender, retain their shape and be a nice golden brown. Remove herb bouquet. Set aside.
I used an entire package of frozen pearl onions. This is so much easier than peeling pearl onions, and I really don't feel they suffer from being frozen. Also, of the choices listed, I used dry white wine as the braising liquid.
I used 8 ounces of baby bellas for the mushrooms.
I used a special fat skimmer, a cup at a time, to remove the fat prior to reducing the wine sauce. If you don't have one of these, and you are making this dish in advance, you could refrigerate the sauce for a bit to solidify the fat for easy removal. This step is an important one to me, since the richness of the wine sauce is so improved by the fat removal.