Monday, January 21, 2013

90 Minute Coq au Vin from Cook's Illustrated

Julia Child with her "Coq"
         Cold winter nights are made for eating Coq au Vin.  And on a cold winter afternoon, the aroma of this great French classic cooking fills the kitchen with comfort.   A “Coq” is French for rooster and there lies the rub. In France, roosters were kept as long as they were good breeders.  They lived for several years before they were slaughtered.  They needed long and slow braising—often four hours on the stove--before they could be considered edible.   Red wine not only added flavor, it helped tenderize the old meat of the rooster.  Julia Child is credited with introducing Americans to the dish.  It was one of her signatures.  Wisely, Julia eschewed using roosters or capons and instead used a whole, young, cut-up chicken, something the French had also glommed onto by this time.   This greatly affected the cooking hours for the better.  Julia’s original recipe can be on the table in about 2 1/2 hours.  That may not sound like an unreasonable amount of time for something that is this good.  But in 2006, Cook’s Illustrated decided that this “basic chicken stew” shouldn’t even take that long to cook.  So they set about to make it start to finish in 90 minutes.  And I have to say, they did a bang up job.

A true French Coq complete
with Gauloise and a
medium bodied Red Wine
         The solution Cook’s Illustrated came up with made a lot of sense.  The breasts of a chicken cook at a very different speed that the dark meat of the chicken.  That explains why you can have dried out breasts and perfectly cooked thighs—even when you braise.  So instead of using a whole cut up chicken, their recipe relied on using boneless, skinless chicken thighs weighing in at what a whole cut-up chicken would.  The thighs, the juiciest part of the chicken, turn tender in all of 25 minutes and they are infused with red wine flavor.  But bones and skin are essential to the chicken flavor of the dish.  To compensate for not having those in the pot, CI’s recipe adds chicken stock to the red wine. This mixture is reduced on the stove top for concentrated flavor.  While that is going on, the bacon is cooked in a Dutch oven.  The meat then the onion and mushrooms are browned in a tiny bit of bacon fat.  Minced Garlic, tomato paste and flour are all mixed together.  Finally, the broth and wine reduction is added to the pot and the whole thing cooks merrily away on the stove for 25 minutes.  The chicken is removed. The sauce stays on the stove for another 5 minutes to thicken. Butter and a tiny bit of the red wine is added. The chicken and sauce are re-united and dinner is served.  I served it over a bed of wide egg noodles.  CI recommended mashed potatoes.       
         About the wine:  You should ask your wine merchant for a medium-bodied Red.  Avoid heavy Cabernets which would overwhelm the chicken or light bodied Beaujolais which wouldn’t give enough flavor.  I was able to buy a Chilean Merlot which my wine seller turned me on to.  It was so good in the dish that I went back for more to have on hand.  It was Gato Negro and it cost all of $3.99.  Here’s the recipe:
Recipe for 90 Minute Coq au Vin from Cook’s Illustrated
Serves 4 to 6
1 bottle fruity, smooth, medium-bodied red wine 

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth 

10 sprigs fresh parsley leaves 

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves 

2 sprigs fresh thyme 

1 bay leaf 

4 ounces bacon , preferably thick-cut, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces 

2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs , trimmed of excess fat and cut in half crosswise 

Table salt and ground black pepper 

5 tablespoons unsalted butter 

24 frozen pearl onions , thawed, drained, and patted dry (about 1 cup)

8 ounces cremini mushrooms , wiped clean, stems trimmed, halved if small and quartered if large 

2 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons) 

1 tablespoon tomato paste 

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 

1. Bring all but 1 tablespoon wine (reserve for later use), broth, parsley sprigs, thyme, and bay to simmer in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until reduced to 3 cups, about 25 minutes. Discard herbs.

2. Meanwhile, cook bacon in large Dutch oven over medium heat until browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper-towel-lined plate. Reserve 2 tablespoons fat in small bowl; discard remaining fat.
3. Lightly season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon reserved bacon fat in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add half of chicken in single layer and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to plate and repeat with remaining chicken and 1 tablespoon bacon fat.
4. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in now-empty Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When foaming subsides, add pearl onions and mushrooms; cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomato paste and flour; cook, stirring frequently, until well combined, about 1 minute.
5. Add reduced wine mixture, scraping bottom of pot with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits; add 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Return chicken, any accumulated juices, and reserved bacon to pot; increase heat to high and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover pot, and simmer until chicken is tender, about 25 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking time.

6. Using slotted spoon, transfer chicken to large bowl; tent with foil to keep warm. Increase heat to medium-high and simmer sauce until thick and glossy and measures 3 1/4 cups, about 5 minutes. Off heat, stir in remaining 2 tablespoons butter and reserved 1 tablespoon wine. Season to taste with salt. Return chicken to pot and top with minced parsley. Serve immediately.


  1. Yet another mouth-watering post! How do you do it?

    Thanks for the addition of the exact wine you used. As a non-drinker of wine (please forgive me...)I love to cook with it but am challenged, to say the least, when it comes to buying the right wines for the right dishes. How could you beat $3.99?

    Thanks, Monte.

    Katie, huge fan of anything to do with Chris Kimball

  2. Dear Katie, Once again, thank you for your kind comments. This dish is a wonderful addition to anyone's repertoire. And as to the wine, I hope you have a reasonably priced liquor store near you. There is no reason to drop a bundle on cooking wine. And Gato Negro has a whole series of Merlots, Cabernet Merlots and Chardonnay to choose from. Enjoy the dish!

  3. We loved it. thanks for the recipe.

    1. Thanks Lauren, for taking the time to write! We had a second round of the dish--leftover from the first--and I must say it was every bit as good. Thank you Cook's Illustrated for figuring this one out!