Coq au Vin: Frugal French at its Best

A dozen or so years ago, my husband and I discovered the joys of a quiet Christmas day, just the two of us, snacking, reading napping the day away.

I spend part of Christmas Eve preparing finger food, and we nosh on that until Christmas dinner, eaten about 5 or 6 p.m. is ready. Dinner is sometimes ham or chicken, sometimes even salmon (we're not overly fond of turkey).

I've made Chateaubriand a time or two but was looking for something different this year. My husband took the lead and pored through this cookbook, my father's favorite. Coq au vin was my husband's suggestion. We try to keep holiday meals - every meal, really - simple and prepare as much as we can in advance.

The recipe in my father's cookbook looked easy. Coq au vin can be as complicated as you want to make it. Here is a slow-cooker version I want to try.

But I draw the line at spending a whole lot of time in the kitchen on a holiday, especially when new books are always waiting under the tree for me.

As is often the case with old French cookbooks - any old cookbook - the instructions were brief. There was no ingredient list; that was buried within the pithy instructions.

Coq au Vin 
  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter
  • 4 slices bacon
  • brandy or
  • 4 large onions, quartered
  • 12 large button mushrooms
  • 2 gloves garlic, crushed
  • 8 ounces brandy
  • 4 large carrots, chopped (mine were slightly par boiled)
  • bouquet garni
  • 16 ounces red wine (I used this Cote du Rhone)
Brown the chicken in a skillet with butter and bacon. Add onions, mushrooms, carrots and garlic, adding brandy and setting the dish aflame. (Note: I add the last of my Calvados, purchased in Paris in 2007, and skipped the flames.) Next add the wine and the bouquet garni (you can make your own) and cook uncovered over medium heat for at least an hour, longer if the chicken does not seem fully cooked. Because the wine will color the chicken, you may want to have a meat thermometer on hand; chicken must be cooked to 165 degrees.

The original recipe called for setting aside blood from the chicken to use as a thickener. I used cornstarch, with moderate success.

We were pleased with the results. The chicken was moist and tender, and the vegetables pleasantly sweet and wine soaked. The dish really tasted of rural France, I thought.

Coq au vin is an excellent rustic dish that needs little embellishment, even on Christmas. Some people love a holiday dinner table that is quite literally - to use a cliché - groaning under the weight of four vegetables and three starches along with numerous side dishes, all supporting ham, turkey, beef or even all three. Not to mention several desserts.

I prefer a simple approach. Coq au vin, which includes mushrooms and onions and often carrots as well as chicken and wine, is a complete meal. All it needs is a crusty baguette and a green salad with tomatoes and olives. And a good wine for drinking.

And that is what we had for Christmas dinner.

I forgot about dessert. But sometime around 5 p.m., before setting the table, I ventured out on our side porch to plug in the lighted wreath. There on the garden bench was a small box containing melt-in-your-mouth fudge. I know who the fudge was from, and I thank this dear friend, for he provided our Christmas dessert.

We had plenty of food left over. The day after Christmas, I cut up about a cup of chicken, prepared some pasta, and made a small casserole with leftover Alfredo sauce, carrots, mushrooms and some peas. Topped with cheese and crouton crumbs, it was a humble and unpretentious meal - which is how coq au vin began, too.

That night I made chicken paté with another chicken breast, adding one hard-boiled egg, mushrooms, minced red onion, parsley, grainy French mustard, sea salt and a bit of mayo. Great with a baguette.

Finally, I tossed all the leftovers in a pot and made soup stock, adding ham, lentils, and leftover cold potatoes. This I froze for the cold winter nights ahead.

For there will surely be many of those nights. Winter has come early to the Upper Midwest.

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Unknown said…
Looks fabulous Mary, Coq au Vin is one of my favourite recipes, it's nice to get a different version. Bonne Annee
Thank you, Anne.

Who knew there were so many versions out there!
Christine said…
I love your coq au vin version. A perfect recipe and stay-out-of-the-kitchen preparation. Happy New Year!
Happy New Year to you, too. Tomorrow, we make boeuf bourguignon.
Katie Zeller said…
Love Coq au Vin! A secret I learned at a bistro in Paris is to add 1 tbs of pure cocoa at the end.
Great idea for a relaxed Christmas.
Cocoa! Really? I'd love it! Thanks for that tip< Katie.

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