This is my BFF Scott’s favorite chicken—he may not pronounce it right, but it gets him over here (he eats out every single night, lunch too—don’t ask). It’s a lot of work, so I always make as much as I can fit into the pot. We’re happy to eat leftovers all week long, or I schedule back-to-back dinner parties. I made this batch for Scott’s birthday, then the next night we had our friend Deborah over to celebrate her birthday. It’s just the best version of this classic I’ve ever eaten anywhere, any time (from the Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2008, adapted from The Country Cooking of France)—not that we count at our house but Scott had two thighs and two legs. Oh, and it’s very important to use thighs and legs, not breasts, which I tried once, and they were too dry and didn’t have the requisite flavor. Even Emma likes it: After complaining, “Why is this chicken purple?”…she downs it with gusto, too, though admittedly she picks the bacon out of the garni, leaving the mushrooms and onions. You can’t ask for the moon.
(serves 6 enthusiastic eaters)
1 onion, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
3 garlic cloves, divided
1 t. peppercorns
1 (750-ml) bottle red wine
Salt and black pepper
5 to 6 pounds chicken legs and thighs (very important!!! Breasts were not good…too dry)
1 T olive oil
1 6-oz. piece of lean smoked bacon or thick-sliced bacon (I use more)
1 T vegetable oil
3 T flour
2 cups chicken broth, more if needed
2 shallots, chopped
1 large bouquet garni of 2 bay leaves, 4 sprigs thyme and 5 to 6 stalks parsley, tied
2 T butter, or more if needed
16 to 18 baby onions, peeled (I use more)
1/2 pound button mushrooms, trimmed and quartered if large (again, more!!! LOVE the garni!)
1 T chopped fresh parsley
In a medium saucepan, bring the onion, carrot, celery, 1 clove garlic (peeled), peppercorns, and wine to a boil and simmer 5 minutes. Then cool the marinade completely.
Rub each piece of chicken with a pinch of salt and pepper. Pack the pieces in a deep, non-metallic bowl and pour the cooled marinade and flavorings over them. Spoon the olive oil over the top to keep the chicken moist. Cover with plastic wrap and let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator for at least a day, turning the pieces from time to time, and up to 3 days if you like a full-bodied flavor of wine. (I tend to marinate the chicken just overnight, maybe 24 hours, because I prefer to let the chicken do its sitting after the cooking—it gets better every day, and I always try to finish the dish at least one day before serving, and up to two or three. All you do is reheat on the stovetop.)
Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade and pat them dry with paper towels. Strain and reserve the marinade liquid, keeping the vegetables separate. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Cut the bacon into small cubes, or slices. If you’re using thick-sliced bacon (which I do), cut the bacon crosswise into thin sticks.
Heat the oil in a braising pan and fry the lardons until browned and the fat runs. Transfer the lardons to a bowl using a slotted spoon and set aside for garnish.
Add the chicken pieces to the pan, skin side down, and saute over medium heat until well browned, at least 10 minutes. Turn, cook until the other side browns, 3 to 5 minutes. After they brown, remove them to a platter. It’s important that you don’t overcrowd the pan so the skin gets a great color and crisps up beautifully. I always “fry” the chicken in two batches, which takes a lot of restraint as patience is not my strongest suit—overcrowding comes much more naturally to me.
Add the reserved vegetables from the marinade to the pan and fry until they start to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook over high heat, stirring until it browns, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour in the marinade liquid and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens. Simmer 2 minutes, then stir in the broth with the shallots, the remaining 2 cloves of garlic, chopped, and bouquet garni.
Return the chicken to the pan, pushing the pieces down under the sauce. Cover the pan and cook in the oven, turning the chicken occasionally until the pieces are tender and fall easily from a two-pronged fork, about 40 minutes to 1 hour. Some pieces may be done before others–if so, remove them so they do not dry out from additional cooking, and continue cooking the rest.
Meanwhile, cook the garnish. Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the onions, sprinkling them with 1/8 teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper. Brown them over medium heat, about 5 to 7 minutes. Shake the pan from time to time so they color evenly. As soon as they do, lower the heat, cover and cook the onions, shaking the pan occasionally, until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes more. Remove them with a slotted spoon and add to the reserved lardons. Next, add the mushrooms to the pan, sprinkling them, too, with a pinch each of salt and pepper—you can add a little more butter if needed. Saute until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove, and add them to the lardons and onions.
When the chicken is cooked, remove the pieces from the sauce and set them aside. Strain the sauce into a bowl, discarding the vegetables and seasonings. Use a ladle to skim any fat on the surface. Wipe out the pan and add the garnish. Sir in the sauce; if it seems thick, add a little more broth. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the chicken pieces, pushing them well down into the sauce, and heat gently 3 to 5 minutes so the flavors blend. Coq au vin improves if you keep it, covered, in the refrigerator at least a day and up to 3 days so the flavor mellows before serving.
To serve, reheat the chicken with garnish and sauce on top of the stove. Transfer the chicken pieces to a serving dish or individual plates, and spoon over the garnish with a little sauce. Sprinkle the chicken with chopped parsley and serve any remaining sauce separately.