Earl Carter
Earl Carter
Credit: Earl Carter

Coq au vin

Andrew McConnell is the executive chef and co-owner of Cutler & Co and Cumulus Inc.

Credit: Earl Carter

A somewhat simple but comforting dish of chicken cooked in red wine with bacon, onions and mushrooms, coq au vin is unmistakably French. It is also realistically achievable and great to have in the home kitchen scrapbook.

There are many regional and technical variations of this dish. Some claim that it should be thickened with the blood of the animal being cooked – it is worth trying to purchase half a cup of chicken blood at your local butcher for a challenge. Others prefer to use beurre manié, a mixture of butter and flour, in small quantities to thicken the sauce. I find this technique a bit heavy and it results in a sauce a bit like gravy. My preference is to let the cooking liquor reduce to make a more intensely flavoured and lighter sauce.

Regional differences also abound. Coq au Champagne I haven’t tried, but it sounds interesting. Another good replacement for red wine is a dry apple cider and a splash of brandy. Other red grape varieties can also be used to replace the more traditional pinot noir. 

A whole bird is usually used in this dish and a boiling fowl is historically prescribed and needs a longer, slower cooking time. Trust me, though, and forget the boiling fowl and go with a quality free-range bird. 

For this recipe I have specified chicken legs only because I think they braise better than the whole bird. The leg meat has a great flavour and retains a lovely juiciness when cooked on the bone. The chicken fillet always ends up a little dry when braised, I find. 

Cooking this dish in the afternoon and giving it a few hours to rest also helps. I will often tip off the braising liquid when the dish has cooled and reduce the sauce to a consistency and flavour I am happy with. I return the sauce to the pan and gently reheat it before serving. 

The most sensible thing to serve with coq au vin is a large amount of creamy buttery mashed potato and a salad of leaves dressed with mustard vinaigrette. 

Note that the exact same recipe can be successfully re-created replacing chicken with a cut of braising beef. Cooking times will need to be adjusted according to the cut used.

Wine pairing:

2014 Latta Malakoff nebbiolo, Pyrenees, Victoria ($36) – Campbell Burton, sommelier, Builders Arms Hotel


Serves 4

  • 750ml red wine, preferably pinot noir
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 onion, peeled and diced
  • 5 small sprigs thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 4 whole chicken legs, cut in half
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 12 golden shallots or small pickling onions, peeled
  • 150g pancetta, diced
  • 16-20 small-as-you-can-find button mushrooms
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • small handful parsley, finely chopped
  1. In a saucepan, combine the wine with the carrot, onion, thyme, bay leaves and garlic. Bring to the boil and simmer until the wine is reduced by half, then strain and discard the solids.
  2. Melt one tablespoon of the butter in a frying pan, and fry the chicken pieces, skin side down, until they are nicely golden. Turn and colour the other side. 
  3. Remove the chicken from the pan and place it in the cooking pot. This should be large enough for the pieces to sit in one layer and deep enough that they can be covered with liquid.
  4. Pour the wine reduction and chicken stock over the chicken, place a lid on the pan and simmer for 30-45 minutes or until the chicken is tender.
  5. While the chicken is cooking, melt the remaining butter in a frying pan and gently fry the shallots until they are golden. Nestle the shallots among the chicken as it’s cooking.
  6. In the same frying pan, fry the diced pancetta. When it has crisped, remove it from the pan and use the remaining oil to lightly brown the mushrooms.
  7. Scatter the pancetta and mushrooms around the chicken in the last 15 minutes of cooking.
  8. Before serving, season the sauce with salt and pepper and finish the dish with chopped parsley.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 2, 2015 as "The French connection".

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Andrew McConnell is the executive chef and co-owner of Cutler & Co and Cumulus Inc.

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