The Coq au vin, i.e. rooster cooked in wine

A legend? Maybe yes, maybe not!
The coq au vin has a special place in the French cuisine. First of all, this is a very ancient dish… according to the history or to the legend! In 52 BC, during the Gallic War, Vercingetorix, the leader of the Arverne tribe living in today’s region of Auvergne, sent a rooster to taunt the Roman emperor Julius Caesar who was besieging the Arverne army in the city of Gergovia. The rooster was the  symbol of the combativeness, the braveness and the pride of the Gallic warriors. Taunt for taunt, Julius Caesar invited him for a dinner where he had served Vercingetorix with his own rooster simmered in wine, a beverage then imported from Roma. Well, culinary-wise I don’t know if the rooster and the wine were well-balanced, but military-wise, the rooster prevailed: Vercingetorix and his 30,000 Arverne warriors inflicted a cruel and humiliating historical defeat on the Roman legions, a victory which all the French pupils are still remembering of! The truth is that there is no mention of the rooster episode in Caesar’s Gallic War diary… but his memory might have been selective!

So legend or reality?
The fact is that, although it looks like a comfort food made to warm up cold Winter evenings, which it does perfectly, coq au vin was traditionally a dish served to celebrate the end of the harvesting season in September… i.e. the month when the Gergovia battle is said to have taken place. Quod erat demonstrandum? In any case, the Gallic Rooster (aka coq gaulois) has become the animal symbolizing France and, now that, luckily enough, sport competitions replace war battles, it is featured on the jerseys of the French national teams of soccer, rugby, hand-ball…

Also, it is probably not a coincidence if some of the first coq au vin recipes were originated from Auvergne, involving a local wine, the Chanturge. That said, other regions claim for the fatherhood of the recipe, the neighbor province of Burgundy, its boeuf bourguignon recipe being very similar to the generally accepted coq au vin recipe, or Alsace with its coq au Riesling recipe involving therefore a white wine…

The recipe
Although both recipes are very close, the rooster substituting to the beef, the coq au vin  recipe is less codified than the boeuf bourguignon, which calls for Burgundy wine, marinating, glazed pearl onion, button mushrooms, lardons (slab bacon diced)… But there is one thing I urge you not to do: don’t use a chicken, as this is frequently featured in many recipes popular in the USA. Chicken, even if you use an organic free range chicken (I don’t even want to mention the industrial chickens) has a tender meat which cooks relatively rapidly, whereas the coq au vin recipe calls for a tougher meat, like that of a rooster or a stewing hen. Like for the boeuf bourguignon, the whole purpose of the recipe is to tenderize, and flavor, this tough meat through a long wine-marinating and braising process. Whether you use a  Pinot noir (from Burgundy or not), a Merlot, a blend, or an Alsace’s dry and fruitful Riesling doesn’t really matter, given that is very unlikely that you could find Auvergne’s Chanturge or even Saint-Pourçain wines in the USA… For this recipe, I somehow compromised between Burgundy Pinot noir and Alsace’s Riesling since  used an Alsace’s Pinot noir that has more fruit than a Burgundy. As I served my coq au vin with homemade Alsace’s spaetzle, this made a lot of sense… But I also regularly use Bordeaux wine, after all, this is where I was born!

This is a dish easy to prepare. I would say that its only difficulty is the length of the process, the marinating then the braising one. In this respect, this is really a 24 hour-dish that you better start the day before.

Levels of difficulty

60 minutes
> 6 hours (marinating)
> 3 hours

Ingredients 6 servings

§  1 old enough rooster or a stewing hen,
§  1 or 2 bottles of wine (here Alsace’s Pinot noir, but many other red or even white wines can make the job, see above), depending on the size of your hen/rooster
§  2 big carrots, peeled or brushed, chopped (tip: I like to use purple carrots as it intensifies the darkness of the sauce)
§  2 celery stems, chopped
§  1 leak (optional), chopped
§  2 (red) onion halves, chopped
§  4 garlic cloves, crushed
§  2 shallot cloves, roughly chopped
§  2 batches of herbs, fresh if possible (thyme, bay leaves, sage…)
§  2 batches of spices (I used here white pepper corns, French 4-spices, cloves, and juniper berries)
§  Duck fat (or neutral cooking oil)
§  100/150 g of slab bacon, diced
§  Button (or halved small bella) mushrooms (count 3 to 4 per serving)
§  Pearl (or small cippolini) onions (count 3 to 4 per serving)
§  Salt


1.     Marinating
§  Cut the rooster in relatively small pieces: e.g. a hen/rooster being typically much bigger than a chicken, you should probably be able to make 4 pieces in a leg. Be sure to recuperate the blood (keep it in the fridge) and to keep the carcass/neck/organs (if any)…
§  Put the rooster in a pot, with half of the carrot, celery, half onion, garlic and shallot cloves (i.e. 1 carrot, 1 celery stem, 1 onion half, 2 garlic cloves…), the first batches of herbs and spices, and cover with the wine,
§  Let marinate overnight or at least 6 hours in the fridge,
§  Meanwhile, make a classical broth with the carcass, the second batches of chopped carrot, celery, onion, garlic, shallot, herbs, spices, a glass of wine and complete with water,
§  The following day or after the 6-hour marinating period, take the rooster out of the fridge, and let it rest at room temperature 1 hour before starting to cook it,
§  Strain the meat above a strainer… and be sure to recuperate the liquid and to add it to the marinade liquid

2.     Braising
§  Heat up over medium/high temperature the duck fat in a Dutch oven and seared rapidly all the rooster pieces, on all their sides, in the fat. Make two or more batches if necessary,
§  Put all the rooster pieces in the Dutch oven, pour the remaining marinade with the carrots, celery, onions, herbs… and heat it up still over medium/high temperature till the marinade starts boiling. Let it boil for a couple of hours in order to evaporate the alcohol.
§  Cover with the necessary quantity of carcass broth,
§  Check the seasoning and adjust if need be, keeping in mind that the marinade will reduce and concentrate the salt, and that the bacon will bring additional salt too,
§  Lid on, simmer for a minimum three hours, adding possibly some more broth (or wine) to maintain the meat fully covered.  It is ready when you can stick easily a knife in the meat, like in butter!
§  Around 15/20 minutes before serving, sear the bacon dices in a skillet, then add the mushrooms and the pearl onions (another option for those, like in the boeuf bourguignon, would be to glaze them in salted and sweetened water), and sear them for around 5 minutes, before adding the whole in the rooster sauce till serving,
§  Withdraw the equivalent of 1 cup of sauce per head, filter the fat in a fat separator bowl (or put it in the fridge if you have time),
§  Mix the blood with a small quantity of this and add progressively the rest of the  sauce. If the blood coagulates, use an immersion blender,
§  Let reduce this sauce by half or till it starts to thicken,
§  Serve the rooster with the bacon, mushrooms, pearl onions, carrots, and its sauce,
§  As a side, steamed potatoes, fresh pasta or, in this case, homemade Alsace’s spaetzle, are a perfect match for the coq au vin rich sauce.


Another version... with a Bordeaux wine!