Coq au vin. It’s one of the most famous chicken recipes in history. Simple and delicious, it’s commended by veteran chefs and home cooks alike. Legend states that this classic Gallic dish was first prepared by Julius Caesar’s resourceful chef, who had to conjure up something tasty after he was handed a dubious gift of poultry from the conquered Gauls. Another fable claims an innkeeper created it in a desperate attempt to impress Napoleon.
In truth, its conception is more prosaic – stewing in wine is a practical way of tenderising the meat of old roosters that poor rural families couldn’t afford to discard. Over time, coq au vin, in its various regional forms, has dropped the tough rooster and become a recipe for chicken.
A peasant’s staple and a comfort food dish in France for hundreds if not thousands of years, this rustic recipe as we know it wasn’t actually published until the early 20th century. The American cook and Francophile Julia Child then made it one of her signature dishes, lauding its virtues in her books and on her widely-watched TV shows.
The accolades just keep on coming: Raymond Blanc and Gordon Ramsay make it and Michelin starred restaurants are proud to serve it. Your mother undoubtedly cooked it for guests at least once, though it’s somewhat debatable that it would adorn dinner party tables with quite such regularity if it were known by its literal translation – rooster in wine, anyone?
If you’re looking for one recipe for chicken in your repertoire that will not let you down then Coq au vin is it. It’s essentially braised chicken cooked in red wine (usually Burgundy) with mushrooms, lardons, onions and garlic. It’s seasoned with a bouquet garni, salt and pepper.
If you want to be authentic, use a cock bird and allow some of the blood to enrich the sauce, turning it from a garnet hue to almost black. Or adapt the dish to suit you: swap the red wine for white wine or cider; upgrade the mushrooms to morels or add more veg.