Eat Like a Farmer: Coq au Vin
Our apologies to everyone with delicate sensibilities, but the name of this delicious stew translates to ‘rooster in wine’.
Now, if you can get past that one point, coq au vin is a treasure.
This stew was made popular in the United States by Julia Child’s prominent 1961 cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The recipe is made up of a few great tricks. Master them like Julia says, and you’ve got the playbook for creating world-class flavor in any dish you want.
Take boeuf bourguignon, he other famous eastern French stew. Same procedure, different name. The result is a truly memorable dish that functions just as well when you want to make an impression as it does in the form of Tuesday night comfort food.
So about that rooster.
Before the 1960s, when most people ate chicken, what they were not eating was a plump roast chicken, served whole with a side of parsley. Think of chicken back then as a by-product what domesticated chickens really were about for us for hundreds of generations—eggs, not meat.
To get at what this meant in culinary terms, think of the vast differences between breeds of dogs. A malamute is very different from a teacup poodle. They’re both dogs, but within that definition, you could hardly imagine creatures that are more different.
In the second half of the 20th century, chicken breeders were also able to produce stunning, distinct breeds. Instead of a two-year-old rooster or retired laying hen, the chicken of today is bred to grow to a six-pound slaughter weight in less than 6 weeks. Easy to see that you’d need different cooking techniques to cook these two very different beasts.
Today, Americans eat more than a pound of chicken per person per year, but almost every bit of that is in the form of modern meat birds. Because the modern chickens have been bred to grow so quickly, they’re way more tender than the old-style chickens were.
They are also tragically lacking in the complex flavor of the other type of chicken. Contrary to what you might think, an old chicken past its prime is way more flavorful—not less—than a supermarket bird. In modern America, most people have no recourse to a rooster for soup, which means most people are missing out when they do make coq au vin.
Prepared with a stewing hen, coq au vin is a timeless, wonderful stew, filled with an intense, classic flavor. Lucky for you, Bluestem Farm offers stewing hens, and all the below ingredients are available year-round at Boyne City Indoor Farmers Market, from 9 am to noon on Saturdays, straight through winter.
Step 1 Ingredients
2 stewing hens
2 tablespoons bacon fat
a bundle of thyme, dried or fresh
2 bay leaves
Step 2 Ingredients
1/2 pound mushrooms (we used 2 Lion’s Mane mushrooms from Daybreak Dreamfarm, also available at Boyne City Indoor Market)
1 carrot, minced
1 yellow onion, minced
1 large shallot, minced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons bacon fat
Step 3 Ingredients
Chopped, cooked meat from the above stewing hens
4 cups of red wine, Pinot Noir if you have it
2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons flour
a few sprigs of thyme
Step 1: Make brown stock.
Brown both chickens whole in bacon fat. We use drippings from Bluestem Farm’s renowned heritage breed bacon. You may have to do this in batches. You’re going for meat that is quite brown in as many places as possible, almost scorched even. The cooking wine will pull any stuck-on, browned bits into the soup. That stuff is gold—don’t rinse it away.
Cover the chickens with water, add aromatics, and simmer low and slow for up to 12 hours. A crockpot or digital pressure cooker is ideal for this.
It’s traditional to use whole peeled pearl onions, but most of the time we go for chopped large onions. If you have a winter farm membership (or CSA share) with Bluestem Farm, you might have some pearl onions on hand—they’re lovely used whole in this stew.
Step 2: Build flavor.
Sauté the aromatics in the step 2 ingredients in some salt and a little more bacon fat. Mince them very, very finely—you want them to disappear into the sauce. When they begin to soften, add the chopped mushrooms and continue until everything is quite soft and sticky. Remove the pot from the heat.
Step 3: Assemble the stew.
It’s traditional to leave the chicken on the bone, but at our house we remove all the meat and chop it into manageable pieces, as for chicken soup.
Add all the ingredients back to the pot—sauteed onions and carrots, wine, chicken stock, chicken meat—all of it. Cook at barely a simmer for several hours, until flavors have blended and your whole house smells wonderful.
Serve with boiled potatoes or egg noodles.
About the Author
Along with her family, Mary Brower owns Bluestem Farm, a year-round organic farm that offers winter and summer farm memberships, or CSA shares. Build your own summer memberships open to the public in late winter. You can also read this article in Mary's Eat Like a Farmer column in the Petoskey News-Review.