One of my favorite meals of all times is coq au vin, chicken cooked slowly with red wine and vegetables. There is a small restaurant in our hometown that makes a delightful version – not necessarily traditional, but very, very good. Overnight marinating and slow cooking on the stove or in the oven all day makes an incredible chicken dinner, but few of us have the luxury of that much time these days.
L egend has it that coq au vin (coke-oh-van) traces back to Julius Caesar, but it is cooked in one form or another in every region of France. It is the perfect recipe for older chickens or roosters that would be too tough if cooked by other methods. It can be made with any wine, but tradition dictates that it be burgundy or other similar red wine. These days a good pinot noir or other lighter red is a great alternative.
In classic recipes you partially cook and assemble the ingredients in the evening, put them in a deep cooking pot, cover with wine and marinate overnight before cooking the next day. I seldom think that far ahead so I adapted the classic to utilize the strengths of slow cookers. Cooking the ingredients in a slow cooker mimics the long marination and braise without taking two days to cook.
In my version you brown the chicken and cook some of the ingredients first which creates a deep flavor base, transfer this to the slow cooker and then add vegetables, seasonings, lots of wine, and cook slowly all day. When you get home from work, the house will smell amazing and dinner will be waiting for you.
Browning the chicken first and cooking the mushrooms, shallots, and bacon separately may seem like a lot of extra steps, but trust me it is worth it. Each ingredient adds its own flavor to the fat in the skillet, creating the building blocks of the stew. I used to skip the browning stage and was never completely satisfied with my coq au vin. I did a little research and low and behold, that was the missing step! While you can skip these steps, your finished dish will have overcooked mushrooms, soggy bacon and pink chicken.
The combination of wine, broth, and brandy or Cognac blend together to give anything you cook with them a distinctive flavor that is impossible to forget. Try this combo with beef or pork too and you will thank me forever! If you are cooking this for children or people who are avoiding alcohol, you can leave the wine and brandy out, but increase the stock to compensate. I would also increase the tomato paste to 3 or 4 tbsp to add more balance to the sauce.
This slowly cooked chicken is a luscious, soul-satisfying meal, especially when paired with mashed potatoes, noodles or rice to help you get every bit of the incredible sauce. It isn’t quite what my grandmother used to make for Sunday Suppers, but it is dandy and a definite keeper!
… Bon Appetit Mon Amis!
Kitchen Skill: Braising
Braising is one technique that everyone should learn. It keeps meats moist and tenderizes even the cheapest, toughest cuts. Meats that you normally have to sharpen your knife to be able to cook, let alone chew, become meltingly tender with the slow cooking.
To increase flavor and add an appealing color, brown your protein in hot oil, usually in a Dutch oven. Then add a cooking liquid such as wine, broth, or water, lower the heat, cover, and cook slowly for a long time. The flavor intensifies and the protein becomes succulent. It’s just about the perfect cooking technique.
- Chicken and Aromatics
- 1 large (5 to 7 lb) stewing chicken, cut into serving pieces
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 6 oz slab pancetta or thick cut bacon, cubed
- 10 to 12 shallots, peeled and halved
- 4 cups small brown cremini mushrooms, stems removed and halved
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion, peeled and cut into large chunks
- 2 stalks celery, cut into large chunks
- 2 medium carrots, cut into large chunks
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled, halved, sprouted green center discarded, and sliced thickly
- 10 sprigs fresh thyme
- 3 cups red wine, such as burgundy, pinot noir, zinfandel, merlot, or dry white wine if you prefer
- 2 cups chicken stock or broth
- 1/4 cup brandy, optional
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup lukewarm water, if needed
- For Serving
- Cooked egg noodles or mashed potatoes, for serving
- Minced fresh parsley or thyme leaves, for garnish
- Prep Chicken: Set a wire rack over a baking sheet with sides. Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Liberally season with salt, pepper and onion powder. Transfer to prepared wire rack. Set aside to rest.
- Build Stew Foundation: Place pancetta or bacon in a 12-inch skillet and cook over medium heat until fat has been rendered and pork is lightly crispy. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pork to a bowl and reserve. Add shallots to same pan and cook until lightly softened, stirring often. Be careful, shallots tend to burn easily. Using the slotted spoon again, transfer onions to the bowl with the reserved pork. Then add mushrooms to the pan and cook until they wilt, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms to onions and pork. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
- Cook Chicken: Still using the same pan, add oil and heat over medium heat. When oil is hot, brown chicken pieces on both sides, turning with tongs (do not use a fork!), cooking in batches if necessary to avoid crowding. When done, transfer chicken to the crock of a slow cooker.
- Add the onion, celery, carrots, garlic, to the skillet and cook until slightly softened and just browning lightly. Place on top of the chicken pieces in the slow cooker.
- Add 1 cup of the wine and the chicken stock to the skillet and deglaze the pan, scraping up the browned bits. Remove from the heat and stir in brandy if using. Whisk in tomato paste until dissolved; add remaining wine and whisk until smooth. Pour this liquid over the chicken and vegetables in the slow cooker. Add thyme sprigs and tuck a bay leaf in among the vegetables. Cover and cook on Low for about 6 to 7 hours or until chicken is falling-off-the-bone tender and large pieces have reached 165°F on an instant read thermometer. Transfer chicken pieces to a platter and keep warm in a low oven.
- Finish Sauce: Place a colander over a clean very large bowl in the sink. Carefully pour the liquid and vegetables from the slow cooker through the colander and into the bowl. Press on solids with a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard solids.
- Transfer the cooking liquid to a stockpot and cook over medium heat until slightly thickened and reduced by about 1/3. This will take 20 to 40 minutes depending on how much liquid you start with. If the sauce is still not thick enough for your taste, slowly stir in dissolved cornstarch and water, whisking constantly. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook until thickened.
- Assemble Stew: Stir in the reserved mushrooms, shallots, and pork pieces. Bring back to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes or until heated through. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper, if needed. Add chicken back to saucepan to reheat.
- Place noodles or potatoes in warmed serving bowls and top with a piece of chicken. Spoon sauce over the top, sprinkle with parsley or thyme and serve immediately.
- Yield: 4 to 6 servings
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