The Paring Knife and Coq au vin by John Tufts

January 25, 2023

The Paring Knife and Coq au vin by John Tufts

Chicken à la Blah Blah Blah

Coq au vin, or, as my wife calls it Chicken à la Blah Blah Blah, is one of those many dishes that, by virtue of its French name, sounds luxurious, but whose English translation is not only humble, but almost off-putting.  Your boss takes you out for a business lunch and you see coq au vin on menu, you think, “Well well well, someone’s getting a pro-mot-ion!”  You see Old Rooster in Wine, and you think, “better start looking into moving companies.”  Coq au vin is not alone in this.  Practically the entire canon of classic French cuisine carries an attitude of superiority.  Crème Brûlée? Well, happy Christmas bonus, friend.  Burnt Cream? Sorry, but this year it’s Christmas cutbacks. Jambon Beurre? New office.  Ham Sandwich? Shared cubicle.  Pâté de l’oie et Canard à la Grand Mère?  Whoa, you’re looking at the new VP!  Duck and Goose Paste, Granny-style?’  ….of the mailroom.  

Why are we such suckers? Why do we give a cul de rat for this arbitrary designation of luxury?  There’s no need for it.  It’s not like when a French person hears Coq au vin, they hear froufrou.  They hear a dish like any other.  They hear Chicken and Biscuits or Yankee Pot Roast.  And that makes sense because coq au vin, while delicious, is just a dish, like any other.  I bet many French people would look at our elevating coq au vin to the level of fancy cursive and starched tablecloths as a little ridiculous.  Just as we would equally mock a French menu for bragging about Boeuf Braisé à la Yankee.  You’d think, in our joyfully multicultural, 21st century embrace of a non-western America, that we would have overthrown this silly notion of French hegemony in the land of luxury. But no, we’re not even close to a revolution.  If we were, the generic bar of soap I get at Target wouldn’t feel compelled to also fancy itself Savon à la Lavande.

When we elevate food from humble to haute, we make it unnecessarily intimidating. I would wager most Americans would feel a whole lot more comfortable attempting Chicken and Waffles than Coq au vin.   I know I do.  How hard could Chicken and Waffles be?  It’s chicken, and, you know, waffles.  Coq au vin sounds meticulous, and precious, like I might need to listen to a string quartet while I make it.  But I promise you, Chicken and Waffles is about ten times more complicated, and will make about a thousand times bigger mess in your kitchen.  Just the quantity of oil alone for Chicken and Waffles should be enough to make you say, “You know what? That old Julia Child cookbook my mom gave me could use a dust-off.  Let’s put on some Bach.”  Coq au vin, for all its eye-rolling Frenchy-ness, is an easy, one-pot dish, and not at all pretentious.  Take it from me, the guy who used ‘hegemony’ in a food blog.

Coq au vin is a braise.  Braise is another french word that basically just means simmer in some liquid, or in the case of Coq au vin, vin. You don’t have to use coq either; you can just use some chicken.   You combine some aromatics, mushrooms, bacon, the afore-mentioned chicken and wine, you cook it for a while and then it’s done.  I add two extra steps for finishing by cooking up a separate batch of carrots and pearl onions, and reducing the braising liquid to concentrate the flavors.  I arrange it on a plate, then all I have left to do is eat it and practically fall over backwards, drunk with the complexity and layers of flavor at play in this classic dish.  You know what I don’t have to do?  Clean a waffle iron.  Or sweep up a floury mess.  Or dispose of a half gallon of frying oil.  Instead I’m left with only one or two pots and the idea that I’ve gone and given myself a promotion to a luxurious level of happy with my humble dish of Chicken and Other Stuff, Boiled in Some Wine.



Coq au Vin 

Serves 4 

Ingredients:

  • 1 chicken cut into quarters (2 breasts, 2 leg/thigh pieces).  Alternatively you may use 6-8 bone-in skin-on thighs.
  • 1/2 lb of bacon, cut into strips or lardons
  • 1 pint of crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, quartered.
  • 1 bottle of red wine, like burgundy or pinot noir
  • 1 onion diced
  • 1 leek diced
  • 1 carrot diced
  • Olive Oil
  • 2tbs of tomato paste
  • Salt/Pepper to taste
  • A few sprigs of thyme

  • Separately:

  •  8 pretty, small to medium carrots, peeled
  • 1/2 cup of pearl onions peeled
  • 1 cup of crimini mushrooms quartered
  • 3 strips of bacon cut into lardons

  • Steps:

    1. Preheat oven to 300ºF
    2. Season the chicken with salt and pepper.  Set aside until ready to cook.
    3. It the bottom of a dutch oven set over medium heat, add the 1/2 lb of lardons and cook until very deep golden and rendered.  About 20 minutes.
    4. Using a slotted spoon remove the lardons from the dutch oven and set aside.
    5. Place the chicken pieces skin side down and brown until deep golden.  About 5 minutes.  
    6. Carefully remove the chicken from the dutch oven and set aside.
    7. Add the minced onion, carrot, and leek.  Stir and cook ~ 5-7 minutes until softened slightly.
    8. Add the tomato paste.  Stir and cook for about 1 minute until rusty colored.
    9. Add the pint of quartered mushrooms, chicken, cooked bacon and thyme to the dutch oven.
    10. Pour in the bottle of wine.
    11. Bring to a boil, then cover and place in the 300ºF oven for 60 minutes.
    12. Remove from the oven.
    13. Carefully remove the chicken from the dutch oven.  Place in a large bowl with a ladleful of the braising liquid.  Cover and set aside.

    To Finish:

    1. Strain the aromatics (mushrooms, bacon, onions, leeks, carrots, thyme) from the braising liquid.
    1. Discard the aromatics and return the braising liquid to the dutch oven.
    2. Add the 8 pretty, peeled carrots and peeled pearl onions to the braising liquid.
    3. Over high heat, begin reducing the braising liquid for about 20 minutes until thickened slightly.
    4. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium high heat begin cooking the lardons until a deep golden color and rendered.
    5. Add the 1 cup of quartered crimini mushrooms and cook until browned slightly.
    6. In the center of each plate, place two carrots, a few pearl onions, some mushrooms and the bacon.
    7. Place a portion of the chicken atop this mixture.
    8. Ladle some braising liquid over and around the chicken.
    9. Serve.


    John Tufts is an award-winning actor and author.  In addition to being paid to travel the world to wear tights and fight with swords, he has also written a book about the food of Shakespeare’s England called Fat Rascals: Dining at Shakespeare’s Table.  His book is available at john-tufts.com/fatrascalsbook.  His food history web series, “Eatso-Facto,” currently airs on YouTube.  You can follow him on Instagram at @johnnymtufts.  He lives in New York.