This could be a long, slow-cooked post but that’s only fitting. After all, it took Maggie and I three days to turn a rooster into a meal of my favourite poultry casserole – Coq au vin!
First, some personal, historical context. For Christmas 1985, good friends 0f mine – yes, Susan, it was you and Bill – gave me a French cookbook and, in doing so, expressed the hope that they would have the opportunity to share some dishes prepared using the book’s recipes.
A few months later, I began to live with a vegetarian (the mother of my son). All meat except fish was off the menu … until she developed a craving for chicken during the pregnancy. So, we ate chicken occasionally, either a roasted whole bird from a fast-food outlet, supplemented by fresh home-made salads, or a chicken curry, usually accompanied by spicy vegetarian dishes.
We separated when my son was nine years old and I began to reintroduce meat dishes to my repertoire. In that French cookbook, I found a recipe for Coq au vin, a dish my mother had made from time to time. I was happy enough with the result, even more so when I developed the habit of cooking it at least a day in advance and removing the solid layer of fats from the surface of the jellied juices.
Over the next few years, I continued to adapt the recipe to suit my palate and cooking style, to the point where I chose it as the centrepiece of a meal I cooked to celebrate my 50th birthday.
Then I returned to Melbourne after 30 years in Western Australia and, within a few months, Maggie and I had established a home together. Coq au vin was one of the first dishes we cooked together, remained a favourite and continued to evolve.
Jump to May 2014 and the city of Beaune, the heart of the fabled Cote d’Or in Burgundy, where I had an amazing plate of Coq au vin (as described in my first post about La Grilladine restaurant). Rather than falling of the bone, as often happens when I make a chicken casserole, the meat was firm, yet not chewy. Secondly, the jus had all the familiar flavours but it was clear and devoid of vegetables, etc. I was intrigued and I resolved to try to produce something similar after we returned to Melbourne.
By chance the next day, I found a postcard that featured a Coq au vin recipe. It was written in French but my travel-eat-and-drink French was up to the task; not that it was difficult to recognise that the main ingredient was not a chicken but a rooster, ie un coq! (The afore-mentioned French cookbook had chicken as the poultry but that might have been to make it palatable to English-speaking home cooks.)
Last Sunday we served that promised dish of Coq au vin to ourselves and our favourite neighbours. We were pretty proud of the result, as shown in the second photo. Now for the story of how we made it.
Here is the list of ingredients, starting with the rooster we sourced from John Cester’s at Prahran Market:
1 young rooster, about 2kg, cut into 10 pieces (each breast cut into two pieces)
3 cups (750ml bottle) medium-to-full-bodied red wine (shiraz, a shiraz blend or, if you have the euros, a good red Burgundy, remembering that you should only cook with a wine you are happy to drink)
2½ cups chicken stock
30ml olive oil
20g unsalted butter
100g kaiserfleisch, coarsely chopped
150g button Swiss Brown mushrooms, each cut into two or three pieces
12 French (brown) shallots, peeled
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
1 large sprig thyme
1 bay leaf
1 large sprig of parsley
salt, pepper, to taste
And here is the method.
- Remove the last two sections of each wing and set aside. Trim all the other pieces of rooster of any obvious fat and place them in one layer in a large, flat-bottomed glass or ceramic dish. Pour over enough of the wine to cover the pieces, cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight. (Any leftover wine will be used on the second day, so don’t drink it!)
- Heat 10ml olive oil in a non-stick pan and gently brown the reserved wing sections. Remove from the pan, season and place them in a saucepan. Add the chicken stock to the pan, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the pieces of wing and, when the stock has cooled, refrigerate it overnight in a covered bowl.
- Remove the pieces of rooster from the wine and place them in a colander over a bowl. Reserve the wine, including any liquid released by the colander.
- Heat the oven to 170C (fan-forced). Divide the pieces into two batches – breasts and thighs, drumsticks and wing sections. Add 20ml olive oil to a roasting pan, add the six large pieces and roast them for 35 minutes, turning them once or twice. Transfer them to a large bowl and season generously. Repeat this step with the smaller pieces but only roast them for 20 minutes. (I use this procedure whenever I am browning pieces of poultry or lamb on the bone in readiness for a braise. It browns the meat and renders plenty of fat without making a dickens of a mess of your cooktop!)
- Drizzle the brandy over the pieces of rooster.
- Meanwhile, pour the marinade wine and any leftover wine into a saucepan, to which you will add the stock once you have drained it through a sieve to remove most of the fat derived from the wing sections.
- Bring the wine and stock mixture the boil, removed the lid and simmer the liquid for 20 minutes to concentrate the flavours.
- Then you need to select the casserole dish in which you will cook the Coq au vin in your oven. If it is flame-proof, melt 10g butter over moderate heat, add the kaiserfleisch and mushrooms and saute for about 10 minutes. Add two ladles of the wine-stock liquid, bring to a simmer, cook, covered, over low heat for 5 minutes and repeat this step until all the liquid has been added to the pan. (This procedure gradually extracts much of the flavour from the kaiserfleisch and mushrooms.)
- Add all the contents of the pan to the large bowl with the pieces of rooster and brandy.
- Return the pan to the heat, melt the remaining butter, add the shallots and saute for 10 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for a further 5 minutes.
- Add the herbs and all the contents of the large bowl to the pan. Arrange the pieces of rooster evenly, cover and bring to the boil.
- Transfer to oven preheated to 150C and cook for 1½ hours (reduce temperature if the liquid is bubbling too briskly). Adjust seasoning after 30 minutes and again after 60 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave uncovered to reduce the temperature.
- Cover again and refrigerate overnight
- The next day, take the pan from the fridge and remove the layer of fats from the top surface of the sauce, which will have become a firm jelly. (The photo below shows how the dish looked after Maggie had removed the layer of fat.)
- Warm the pan gently until the sauce is a liquid. Carefully remove the pieces of rooster, place them in a baking dish that will hold them snugly and cover with foil. Place the dish in an oven heated to 125C.
- Strain the sauce in batches, using a coarse sieve, pressing down on the solids with the back of a soupspoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard all the solids.
- Strain the liquid through a double layer of muslin to remove the finer solids (see second photo below). The resulting liquid will be clear, with some drops of residual fats on the surface. Transfer the liquid to a small saucepan and use a a teaspoon or two of cornflour to thicken it a little (the jus will not go cloudy).
- Assuming you have prepared some side-dishes of vegetables, you are now ready to serve a meal of Coq au vin.
Was it worth all that time and effort? Good question! Maggie and I are income-poor but time-rich, so we are happy to spend numerous hours each week preparing delicious food. I can think of dishes which deliver us more bang for the time-buck. That said, having done this once, we would work more efficiently next time. And, as our neighbours agreed, it was a truly attractive and delicious meal.