I wish I could say that we are wine drinkers at our house. That every night begins in a civilized fashion with a neat pour of red into a stemmed wine glass, a toast, and a slow, languorous sip. But that would be a big fat lie. We’re beer drinkers through and through, and you’re more likely to find my husband and I kicking back a few locally-made IPAs or perhaps saison-style ales while we’re wrangling the kids and selecting which LP to spin for dinner.
In the end of September, we hosted a school meeting at our house for our son who is in first grade. Julian is part of an incredible home schooling collective and we had the parents and teachers at our house to plan the curriculum for the month. Over the course of three hours, we blew through a few bottles of white and red, some nice cheese, a baguette, and Christina Tosi’s candy-like compost cookies that I made from the new Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook. I stowed the remaining half-drunk bottle of nondescript red in the fridge, top shelf, front and center, in the only spot where a tall bottle would fit.
For a few days, every time I opened the fridge, that bottle stared me down. I had to move it to get to the milk for morning coffee. I had to look up and around it to find the yogurt, locate the cream cheese, and pull out a bottle or two of beer. I started to feel immense guilt for not drinking it, for knowing that it would turn vinegary after just a few more days. Because several-day old wine is more appetizing to cook with than to drink, my mind turned to uses. I took out a chicken from the fridge, cut it into parts, threw it in a large plastic container, and covered it with the wine. I shoved the container back in the fridge where it sat for a few days until I remembered it was there. Then I cooked it. And it rocked.
Coq au vin is a true French country classic, and, despite what you might think, it can be made with any kind of wine: white, red, French, or otherwise. Traditionally the chicken is marinated in wine for a few days and then gets simmered in a pot with the marinade, some chicken broth, a piece of bacon, and aromatics such as an onion, carrot, and celery. Once it cooks for a good while (long enough to render the chicken super tender but not so long as it falls off the bone), sautéed onions and mushrooms are stirred in with perhaps beurre manié, a fantastic thickener made from soft butter and flour often added to sauces to give them a rich gloss and velvety finish.
I threw mine together a la minute, adding an onion to the marinade and not using the carrots and celery simply because I didn’t think of it. I let it hang out for two days in the fridge and then cooked it up with some chicken broth and a few generous lashes of super smoky thick-cut bacon. I sautéed onions, some garlic, and mushrooms with more bacon and stirred these into the chicken after it was done.
There was silence at the table. The kids wolfed their servings down—Julian even requested a bowl of sauce on the side to use for dunking bread. I left the beer in the fridge that night and instead opened a fresh bottle of red from our dusty cache, knowing there would be leftovers from the bottle, and knowing exactly what I would do with them.
Coq au Vin
You will probably have a few cups of sauce leftover after serving the chicken. I like to save it (or freeze it) and use it as a really intense and fantastic sauce for pasta.
3 1/2- 4-pound chicken, cut into 8 parts (if the breasts are big, halve them crosswise)
Freshly ground black pepper
2/3 to 1 bottle red wine (a juicy hearty red, not a super dry one)
2 yellow onions, 1 finely chopped, 1 halved and thinly sliced lengthwise
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
8 whole black peppercorns
1 large sprig fresh thyme (optional)
4 thick-cut bacon strips, 2 strips sliced crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces, 2 strips halved crosswise
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 cups chopped mushrooms (portobellos, creminis, white buttons)
Buttered egg noodles, buttered boiled potatoes, or good bread for serving
Place the chicken on a cutting board and generously season with salt and pepper. Set in a large Tupperware container or bowl, pour the wine over the top, and add the sliced onion. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours or for up to 5 days.
Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade (save the marinade for later) and place them on a paper towel-lined large bowl. Blot the top side of the chicken with more paper towels and sprinkle with 1/3 cup flour, turning the chicken to evenly coat all sides. Set aside.
Place the butter in a small ramekin or bowl and cover with the remaining 2 tablespoons of the flour. Set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add half of the chicken pieces to the pot and brown on both sides, about 8 minutes total. Use tongs to transfer the chicken to a plate. Brown the remaining chicken and then transfer it to the plate with the first batch. Pour about 1 cup of the the reserved red wine-onion marinade into the pot stirring and scraping up any browned bits off of the bottom. Add the remaining marinade, the chicken broth, whole peppercorns, thyme sprig (if using), and halved bacon strips and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low (the liquid should bubble very gently), place a lid on the pot so it sits slightly askew, and cook until the chicken is ridiculously tender and the leg meat barely hangs on to the bone, 1 to 1 1/4 hours.
Meanwhile, cook the vegetables. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add the thinly sliced bacon and cook, stirring often, until it just starts to get crispy around the edges, 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in the chopped onions, garlic, and a few pinches of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are starting to turn deep yellow and brown around the edges, 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in the chopped mushrooms and cook until they shrivel and become glossy, 3 to 4 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook until the mixture is dark brown, 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and leave covered.
Once the chicken is tender, transfer it to a large plate. Bring the remaining sauce to a simmer over medium-high heat and concentrate it until it reduces by one-third, about 15 minutes. Use a fork to mash the butter-flour mixture in the ramekin turning it into a smooth paste. Add it to the sauce and whisk until smooth. Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes. Stir the mushroom-onion mixture into the sauce and pour over the chicken. Serve the coq au vin over buttered noodles, buttered boiled potatoes, or with some really delicious fresh bread.