Coq au vin is thought of as a fancy pants specialty by American standards, but like many French recipes, it comes from a very modest background. Coq au vin – literal translation: rooster with wine – is a rustic, poor-man’s recipe born from the agitated and exhausted farmer who, tired of early wake up calls, chopped the roosters right in their garbling necks and then had to find a use for its meat.
Only the rooster meat wasn’t tender. When roosters spend their waking hours chasing plump-breasted hens, fighting dogs and generally being farmhouse terrors, their meat toughens. If you’ve never spent time on a farm, let me lay it out flat for you: roosters are assholes, and hens are hardly any better, which is why when I eat them, I laugh. I laugh for the time a chicken jumped in my face when I was a preteen and got its claw caught in my golden hair, and also for the time when, unprovoked and out of absolutely nowhere, a rooster flew at me and clawed my arm deep. The Amish farmer shrugged, probably thinking, “what did you expect from an asshole?” I laugh now because the tables have turned, chickens.
Roosters, as high-energy bros with a taste for blood, build tough, fibrous rooster muscles that aren’t really good for roasting, so other methods were employed.
The time-strained farmers of yore would throw the rooster in a stock pot with a bottle of burgundy, lardons or bacon, spring onions, carrots, celery and some herbs – or whatever they had on hand, really – and set it on low to cook while they worked their bones throughout the day.
Time and the alcohol in the wine would break down the muscle and connective tissues, tenderizing it while the scent of braising rooster and wine travels through the airway sending a cautionary message to nearby cockerels: watch out. A finishing touch of rooster blood would then be added to the sauce to thicken it and give it a morbidly rich flavor. If you don’t have rooster blood on hand — and who doesn’t? — you can substitute it with a roux.
If you live in America, and don’t happen to live in an area close to chicken farms, then rooster might be hard to come by. There isn’t much of a market for them in the States, so a regular broiler hen would work, but if you can get your hands on a capon (a castrated rooster with tender, flavorful meat) then that’s your best bet.
Traditionally, the ingredients are thrown together in a big pot and the rooster or hen is slow braised in wine, which can result in greasy, flabby skin. To instead come out with a chicken that has crispy skin, I spatchcock the bird (you’re confused already, but I’ll explain in a minute) and roast it, preparing the sauce separately on stove. Also, instead of browning whole mushrooms, I just stuff the skin with a mushroom duxelles. Because it’s fancier.
Now this spatchcocking business: It’s a real word, I promise. Even if my spell checker says it isn’t. And more than being a fun word to say, it’s a pretty efficient way of roasting (or grilling!) a whole chicken. To spatchcock (see images below), you cut out the backbone and flatten the carcass across the roasting pan so all of the skin is facing up. This ensures all the skin gets browned evenly and the roasting time is shortened.
Just like the lives of loudmouthed, little-boy-abusing roosters.
How to Spatchcock a Bird
OVEN ROASTED COQ au VIN with MUSHROOM DUXELLES
[print_this]Recipe: Oven Roasted Coq au Vin
Note: To keep the process organized and quick, prepare and set out all ingredients prior to starting. The directions look long, but it really is not very difficult or labor intensive.
Preparation time: 30 minute(s)
Cooking time: 1 hour(s) 10 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 6
- 1 whole chicken (3-4 lbs), spatchcocked
- 6 tbsp butter, softened
- 2 tbsp flour
- ½ lb cremini or morel mushrooms, finely chopped
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley leaves
- ¼ cup cognac or high quality brandy, divided
- 8-10 spring (pearl) onion bulbs or 2 leeks
- 5 medium carrots, halved lengthwise
- 2 celery ribs, roughly chopped
- 15 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 bottle burgundy wine
- 3 small garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 parsley stems
- 1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Quart Ziploc bag or piping bag
To make the mushroom duxelles
- Add two tablespoons of butter to a skillet and heat over medium low. Add shallots and sauté until softened.
- Add mushrooms to the pan, turn heat up to medium and cook down until almost all of the liquid has evaporated from the pan.
- Add cognac and continue cooking until the liquid has cooked off.
- Season with salt and pepper, add parsley and set in fridge to chill while preparing the chicken.
To spatchcock the chicken (refer to images in post):
- Lay bird breast side down and, using kitchen shears, cut down each side of the backbone and set aside for the sauce.
- Cut away any excess skin and fat from the bird and set with the backbone.
- Flip bird over and spread out flat on the baking sheet or roasting pan so all the skin is facing up.
To prepare sauce (prepare after putting bird in the oven to roast)
- Place fat from bird into a large skillet over low heat to render off fat (if no extra fat is found, just use a couple tablespoons of olive oil).
- Turn heat up to medium after fat has been rendered and place giblets (except for the liver), backbone and excess skin into the pan and brown, allowing the bottom of the pan to become browned.
- Continue to brown for 10 minutes or until all the chicken pieces are fully cooked and the bottom has a lot of browned bits, taking care not to let them burn.
- Drain fat and throw away giblets. Deglaze pan with ¼ cup of the red wine, scraping up the browned bits.
- Add the rest of the bottle of wine to the pan as well as the yellow onion, celery, 5 sprigs thyme, parsley stems and bay leaf and cook over medium-low until reduced by half. Place over low heat and keep warm while bird finishes roasting.
- Once bird has finished roasting, remove herbs and vegetables and add roasting juices to the wine sauce, whisking vigorously to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Mix one tbsp butter with two tbsp flour to create a roux and add to the sauce, continuing to whisk until fully incorporated.
- (Note: if sauce is too bitter, add a small amount of sugar or baking soda to cut the acidity)
To prepare/finish chicken.
- Preheat oven to 420 degrees
- Carefully insert fingers between the skin and the flesh of the chicken from four separate points (two points at the top of the breast and two at the sides of the thighs – do not fully remove the skin from the chicken) to create pockets so the mushroom duxelles can be piped underneath.
- Place mushroom duxelles into a piping bag (or into a Ziploc bag and snip off the bottom corner) and pipe ¼ amount of the duxelles under each quarter of the chicken, using your fingers to spread evenly under the skin.
- Toss carrots, spring onion bulbs, garlic and remaining thyme springs with 3 tbsp of oil and salt.
- Place chicken over vegetables, melt remaining three tablespoons of butter and brush over chicken. Season with salt and pepper and place in oven for one hour.
- Baste chicken with roasting juices every twenty minutes. Cover chicken for the second twenty minute period if the skin starts browning too quickly.
- Chicken is done when a thermometer inserted between the thigh reads 165 degrees and juices run clear.
- Remove chicken from roasting pan to a separate plate, cover with foil and let rest for fifteen minutes. Return vegetables to oven while the chicken rests, this will allow them to caramelize.
- Cut chicken into quarters and serve with wine sauce.