The origins of coq au vin
The French classic Coq au vin is easily one of the most celebrated chicken dishes in the world. Easily made and delightful to eat, it’s made regularly by experienced chefs and the home cook alike.
Like so many classic dishes its origins are shrouded in mystery, but rumour has it that this gem of a dish was first cooked for Caesar himself, whose chef needed to create something edible after he was given a questionable gift of chicken from the conquered Gauls.
As with many things in life the truth is, in fact, much more plain – stewing chicken in wine is a practical way of ensuring the flesh of roosters that peasant farmers couldn’t afford to discard remains tender. Over time the dish in its various regional forms, has dropped the tough rooster and become a recipe for chicken.
Despite its long and prestigious history this recipe wasn’t actually published until the early 20th century. It was in fact the renowned US cook Julia Child who made it a signature recipe, celebrating its virtues in her publications and the television programmes that made her a household name.
However when all is said and done, it’s the enduring quality of this timeless dish that means that if you’re going to have one chicken recipe in your repertoire then it should be Coq au vin. It really is incredibly simple and one of the ultimate slow-cooking dishes – the cock is cooked for hours in red wine with mushrooms, lardons, onions and garlic. It’s seasoned with a bouquet garni, salt and pepper.
If you want to be authentic, ask your butcher to supply you with a cock bird and let its blood combine to make the sauce richer, turning it from a ruby colour to a deep, deep red (almost black). Other adaptations that are regularly made: swapping the Burgundy for a white Chardonnay or sweet cider; substituting button mushrooms for girolles, or just adding more of your favourite vegetables.
The tributes to this gastronomic staple just keep on coming: Raymond Blanc makes it at Le Manoir au Quat’ Saisons and fine dining restaurants are honoured to place it on their menus. Your parents have most likely presented it at a dinner party, although it’s unlikely that it would be such a regular fixture on the party circuit if it were transleated literally – rooster in wine!