Intro: Coq Au Vin or Chicken With Wine (Slow Cooker Style)
I have a chicken, one of three. These birds were organic friend-grown that my wife and I received as gifts. After roasting the first bird, we discovered they were quite tough. If you have a bird too tough to roast, stewing is required, so the second bird found some friends with a group of dumplings. The third? I am using it for coq au vin. This is a great recipe to cook the tougher birds one can find direct from farms as we try to be more locavoriffic.
I was astonished to find no recipes for Coq Au Vin here on Instructables. I like to hook you up with alternative versions, if I can, but there are none to link to here. Why is this? Is the dish too fancy? Is it not fancy enough? Does it seem too hard? Does everyone already know how to make it and I am wasting my time?
Let me tell you, friends: Coq Au Vin is quite easy, especially if we implement our friend The Slow Cooker. If you want to get down to brass tacks all you need is some chicken, some red wine, and some time. Some thyme wouldn't hurt, either.
This rustic dish is a delightful main course for any day of the week. I have it in my repertoire to impress people - which it often does, despite it being easy as pie. Well, simpler in fact! (my crust is a disaster!) WARNING: This will take two days.
Step 1: What You Need
As I said before, you can make this with chicken and wine and it will taste good. If you're going to call it Coq au Vin (which it "officially" isn't - French chefs can be snobby) you may as well go for broke with it. (BONUS: If you use beef in place of the chicken, you basically have Beef Bourguignon)
A Slow Cooker OR a Dutch Oven - I use a slow cooker, myself, but these are both items I think all kitchens should have. So, go get them. Right now.
Cast Iron Skillet - You could use any large skillet, really, but cast iron is so amazing. If you don't have one, you should go get one. I know I just sent you on a trip for a slow cooker and dutch oven, but it's your own fault for having an unprepared kitchen.
Tongs - long handled.
A chef's knife - any knife, really, you feel comfortable with.
Paring Knife - this is useful for many, many things. Cutting veggies, chicken, or whatever. I would keep it on hand at all times - you never know.
Shears - These are useful for butchering a chicken, should you choose to do so.
Sheet Pan - It will need a rim.
Cooling Rack - Metal. Do they make any other kind?
Chicken - You can make this recipe with chicken thighs, which is how I often do it. But chickens off the farm are easy to get and they taste really good. You could always raise your own chickens, as well. One piece is a serving, so use that as a guide.
Wine - Red Wine is traditional, and it looks nice as well. I have been told that Pinot Noir is the "right" wine, but I'm using Merlot because the bottle was only eight bucks. That's a double bottle in that picture. We won't use it all. A good rule of thumb is to use wine you like drinking, but I generally hate all wine and enjoy it in cooking, so that rule is kind of silly. My point is that any red wine will do, even if its out of a box. Just make sure it's not some sort of "watermelon flavored" or some such nonsense. You could, of course, make your own. You will probably need one bottle, but you can get away with a half.
Salt Pork/Bacon - I am using bacon today as salt pork is something I don't tend to have on hand. This particular bacon is the "ends" of other slabs. It's nice and fatty, which is what we really need for this recipe. You may worry about the smokiness infiltrating the final product, but I have never had a problem. I understand you can make your own, which sounds pretty (expletive deleted) awesome. About 4-8 oz should do it.
Pearl Onions - You can find these in the produce department. If you boil them for a quick minute, they tend to pop out of their skins easily. I have found this method to still be a pain in the rear. Peeling onions is on the bottom of my "want to do" list, right below "clean the outhouse." You can get these frozen at the supermarket. Some may be shocked at my complete lack of DIY attitude about these babies, considering my encouragement to make your own bacon, but peeling onions SUCKS. You'll need 20.
Mushrooms - plain white button is what you want here. They will be soaking up flavor, mainly, so you don't want a strong mushroom flavor. Stick to the buttons. I have sliced here, but I normally buy them whole and quarter them. There's several Instructables on growing mushrooms, but none for this particular type. I use 8oz because that's how I buy them.
Chicken Stock/Broth - As I've said before, homemade is the best, but I am quite obviously using the boxed stuff here. You may not even need it for this particular occasion, but its useful to have on hand. In this recipe, you won't get a lot of the broth flavor coming through, anyway, so you can use the box/can without compunction. Make your own if you have time. How much you need will depend on your chicken.
Mirepoix - WHAT? you may ask? This is the combo of onion, carrot, and celery that forms the backbone of French cooking. Two parts onion, one part carrot, one part celery. I just have one onion, and some carrots here. We were out of celery.
Tomato Paste: I forgot to put this in the main picture, so it gets its own. Which is good, because I can show you the cool tube they sell tomato paste in. Way more storable than the dang cans of my younger youth.
Salt - Always. I have Kosher today. It's going to be used to season the chicken prior to cooking, so you don't need any fancy salt.
Pepper - I always use fresh ground. Pepper mills are bad ass, is why.
Thyme - Fresh if you have it, but there's no need to feel ashamed if it's dried. It still tastes good, and that's what's important. A few sprigs is all you need.
Bay Leaves - One or two, dependent on you.
You can probably toss in some rosemary, if you like. I don't think it marries well with the wine, but tastes are individual, you know?
Step 2: Optional Step: Prep the Chicken
If you have a whole chicken, you'll need to separate it into it's component pieces. I chose to just do it as two breasts and two full leg portions. You can also separate legs from thighs, but I didn't want to. Here is a good guide. You don't need to be too precise, though, and you can leave the bones on the breasts should you so choose. Just make sure the backbone is off.
Either way, and even if you're only using thighs, put the chicken on a cooling rack in a baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper. I then put mine on a low fridge shelf to let the skin dry out a little. It will make the next step nicer. You don't have to do this; indeed, I doubt I could taste the difference later on. I like to do it, though. It gives me something to do.
I used the time to chop up my onions and carrots as well. Since we're stewing, the chunks don't really need to be perfectly sized up together. They'll all cook in the alloted time. You can even cut the carrot into a few sticks if you want, but I like to eat them later and it's easier if they are smaller.
Step 3: Day One: Fry by Night
Toss your mirepoix in the slow cooker crock. You can throw everything in right now, or you can do this:
Cut up your bacon or your salt pork into little matchsticks. Put that in the skillet and render out all the fat you can. It helps to throw a few tablespoons of water in first. The water helps render the fat out. When the bacon is nice and crisp, get it out of there. Put it on a dish. But bacon's time is done... for now.
With the bacon grease we're going to brown our chicken. You don't need to sear it up, just get a nice brown crust on it. When that's done, put it in the slow cooker.
There will still be some bacon fat and now chicken fat in the pan. Use it to cook the mushrooms. Again, we're not getting them super done. Let them cook down slightly. They shouldn't get too much smaller than they were - but they'll change color and taste awesome. Put this on a dish with the bacon. You can now put the bacon and mushrooms in the fridge for the night.
There will still be a little fat in the pan. This is the perfect time to throw in your onions. If you are using frozen onions, they won't brown as well. You can defrost them in the fridge, but I find they do just fine straight from the sack. When they've turned a little dark, you can either pull them and put them in with the mushrooms and bacon, or put them in the crock pot, or do what I do.
I deglaze my pan with a little wine at this stage. Turn the heat off and pour in a cup or so of wine. It will boil a bit and absorb the tasty tasty brown bits on the pan. This will all go in the slow cooker.
Also in the slow cooker: More Wine! Put enough wine in to come mostly up the chicken. You can do as much as half broth, half wine if you want to. Make sure there are at least six ounces of wine left in the bottle. Throw in your herbs, too, and your secret weapon Tomato Paste. Lid it up and stick this in the fridge until tomorrow morning.
Now drink that last six ounces of wine.
Step 4: Day Two: Morning
I hope you slept well. Today, plug in the Slow Cooker. Put your crock in and set it to "low" for eight - ten hours or high for 4-6. Leave the house. When you come home, it will smell wonderful. You can set it, but you won't forget it!
Alternatively, if you are using a Dutch oven: Stick in a 325 degree oven for two hours.
When this is all done, you are ready to get to the next step!
Step 5: Reduce, Reduce, Reduce.
You have options now. Your chicken at this point will be falling off the bone. You could fish the bones out and stir up what you have and you'd have some crazy stew - but it wouldn't taste as good as what I am about to tell you to do.
Using your lid or a strainer to hold all the solid bits, pour your liquid into a saucepan. I use my cast iron for this as well, as it is my widest pan. Turn the heat up under the pan and reduce your liquid. How much? That is up to you. I like a good saucy sauce, so I tend to get around 25% of the original volume.
At this point I toss in my bacon and mushrooms to get them reheated as well. You'll have an excellent chunky sauce at this point.
Some people toss their mirepoix at this point - those people are crazy. The carrots! The onions! They are so tasty, you cannot hear it, but they cause me to speak in an accent!
BOTTOMS: You can have sides if you like, but this dish prefers bottoms. A bottom of mashed potato is quite tasty, as are egg noodles. You can cook either of these items in your favorite way. I don't mind.
Step 6: Plate and Scarf
I plate this dish for the family. The sauce is valuable, and I like to keep things fair. It's easy enough: Place your bottoms on the plate, lovingly set a chicken piece down, scoop some of your pearl onions and carrots on the side, and pour your sauce over the whole shebang.
If you're feeling bourgeois, you can utilize your thyme as a garnish. It won't be very tasty, though. You can see it adds a certain panache in the photo, though.
This particular batch turned out quite well, though my wife preferred the last time which was with a different wine. A few WARNINGS:
The liquid from the slow cooker will be HOT as will any cast iron you use. Oven mitts are your friend.
When eating this delightful meal, be cognizant of bones. All edible bits from the crock will be stained a wine color, and so will the bones. It's not a big deal, but any small scraps should be gingerly sampled.
Kids tend to enjoy this, and the alcohol (mostly) goes away. If using drumsticks, they won't really be able to eat it like a fried drumstick. Be ready for tears.
A quick note: This dish freezes fairly well. One bottle of wine and a quart of broth are good for about eight pieces of chicken. Portioning that into freezer containers is quite simple. At worst, your noodles might not be al dente.
I wish you happy cheffin.'
Well, to give credit where it is due, I first learned of this dish from Mr. Alton Brown - who learned it from other chefs. My particular version differs from his in a few points, vis a vis the slow cooker and some other things I do, but I wanted to give him some deserved credit.
So, feel free to lie to people you serve it to and claim it as your own secret recipe. I do not mind. We're all in this together. If you start selling it, though, I'll want a cut. Don't tell Alton Brown, though.
Step 7: PRO TIP: Relax!
Some folks hear this fancy French name and think coq au vin is a crazy hard dish to make. The plain truth is that it is very hard to mess up. If all you did was throw everything into a slow cooker (I wouldn't throw the bacon in) in the morning and still did the reduction step, I truly think you'd be pleased with the results.
If you're not the most comfortable cook in the world, relax! You can play around with this all you want. Unless you have some crazy idea like mixing a can of sardines in there, you should make an excellent dish sure to impress the in-laws.
All we've made is a simple chicken stew with red wine instead of broth. And if you can make this, you can make beef bourguignon as well, and your whole culinary world will open up. My hope is that folks realize how they can up their cooking with a little shot of wine.
If anyone has any special methods, or not-so-secret ingredients, I'd love to hear about it.