Fashion is a cruel thing. Whilst some things come in and out of fashion, some things seem to have their time in the limelight and then fade, for ever tarnished and associated with the past.
There are two dishes that had their heyday in the seventies and then faded from view, forever in the background, being gently mocked and being taken as shorthand for all things unfashionable. One is Black Forest Gateau, the chocolatey, creamy, cherry-y and boozy cake which is good but not great and the other is Coq au Vin.
This is a classic country dish ideal for autumn dinners, often served with buttery pasta ribbons or, better still, mash.
Mmmmmmmmmm, mash. I’ll leave that thought with you. Mash.
Anyway, coq au vin. Ideally, you’re supposed to use a tough cockerel for this dish. I didn’t because there’s only two of us and a decent cockerel’s a canny size. I rarely saw one in the UK so you might need to ask a decent butcher. Or you can just buy a chicken. Please buy a decent one. Reason 1: It’s only right to buy well-reared meat. Reason 2: Well reared meat tastes so much better than the cheap stuff. Cheap stuff is cheap for a reason.
Actually, cheap stuff is cheap for lots of reasons and I could write a book about how cheap food is terrible in so many ways. But I probably won’t. The road to hell and all that…
Get the bird jointed. Make sure the skin’s still on.
Peel some little onions, grelots or pearl onions or shallots, whatever you can get. You’ll need six or seven per person or more as you see fit. Keep them whole.
Get some button mushrooms [about 100g per person] and clean them and keep them whole.
There’s a school of though that suggests reducing the wine and then marinating the chicken, onions, mushrooms and herbs in it overnight. If you’ve got the time, why not?
Get some decent streaky bacon. If you can, buy it in a single thick piece [about 50g person] and chop it into slices widthways, about 2mm thick. That’s pretty precise. I don’t mean to be so prescriptive. Do as you see fit. The recipe books always go on about matchsticks but that’s too thin. What you want are technically lardons. If you can, buy pancetta or poitrine fumée, again in a single piece. As a last resort buy smoked bacon from the supermarket.
Heat a pan over a medium heat and add the lardons and get the fat running. Add the onions and mushrooms [you can also add some carrots too, chopped about the same size as the onions] and cook until everything has a hint of browning, or gilding if you’re feeling all fancy. Remove them from the pan and add the chicken pieces.
Brown the chicken too but don’t let it get too crispy or dark brown. Look for a nice golden hint. Salt and pepper the meat and add a healthy shot of brandy to the pan to deglaze it, let the alcohol fumes fill the air and then add half a bottle of heavy, rich red wine [for two people, increase or decrease the wine according to how many portions you are making].
In theory, you should use a burgundy but just make sure it’s a hearty warming wine. A shiraz would do it too. Either way, make sure the wine’s good enough to drink. Don’t cook with £2 rubbish. I know that any wine’s pretty drinkable after the third glass but this wine should be OK for the first glass. Don’t go mad and put an amazing wine in though. That’s just mental.
Add a couple of stalks of thyme and a bay leaf, a couple of garlic cloves and four or five peppercorns and top up the pan with some chicken stock.
Simmer this gently in a closed stew pot or stick it the oven at around 160 centigrade. Let it cook for 40 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the chicken pieces. Keep an eye on the chicken and don’t let it all fall off the bones. You want it good and tender but not so that it cooks into sludge.
When the chicken’s done, fish it out along with the mushrooms, bacon, carrots [if you were using them] and onions and discard the thyme stalks, the bay leaf, garlic and peppercorns [if you can find them] and keep in a warmed dish. Thicken the sauce by heating it on a fairly high heat on the hob. If you want to add a nice sheen to the sauce as well as thickening it, use a beurre manie [mix a paste from equal quantities of butter and flour] and stir this into the sauce.
If you are going to use a beurre manie, leave enough time for the flour to cook into the sauce. Don’t do it immediately before you serve otherwise you can taste the flour in the sauce and that’s not nice.
Once the sauce is the thickness you like, return the chicken, mushrooms etc. back to the pan, warm through and serve. With mash.
Of course, like all stews, this tastes better the next day.
See how oppressive fashion can be. Don’t let the fashion fascists deny you the wonders of this dish.