Oh... coq au vin.
Immediately before cooking off four pounds of bacon for a private Burgundy dinner featuring coq au vin as the main star, I remembered that one of my favorite readers had requested that I post more about chicken and wine pairing. The timing was impeccable. I pulled the out camera that I just happened to have in my pocket, took a couple supple shots the bacon strips used for the coq, wiped the water smears from the recipe paper, and starting composing the post in my head while searing off chicken thighs. This and one or two additional future posts will focus on two of my favorite chicken and wine pairings. Today, it's coq au vin and Burgundy.
What to drink with chicken?
Chicken is like the tofu of the animal world. Unlike stronger meats like lamb or buffalo, it tastes like whatever you cook it with. So whenever anyone asks me what wine to pair with chicken, I ask how they're cooking it to get a better idea of what wine to set next to the juicy bird. Essentially, chicken can be consumed with any wine out there. Light wines, light chicken preparation. Dark wines, braise the chicken and throw in some bacon or cream to cushion the tannins. Sweet wines? Spicy chicken.
You all know how I feel about regional food and wine pairings, right? Very warmly. When we decided to have a wine dinner focusing on the Burgundian reds- Pinot Noir- I knew right away that I wanted to cook like the locals in the Burgundy region. They have, after all, been cooking and drinking their region's food and wine together for years. No wait, centuries. They just might have the pairing down by now.
Why Pinot Noir and coq au vin? Pinot Noir from Burgundy is quite the force. While Pinot Noirs from varying Burgundian appellations will vary in taste and are marked by different characteristics like excessive meatiness or delicate floral notes, all Burgundy will taste different from our Pinot here. The weather is cooler in this area in France than any area that the Pinot grape is grown in California, thereby the fruit doesn't have the chance to get as ripe (i.e. sweet) as they can and do here, and it maintains much more of its natural acidity that the fruit sugar would otherwise soothe.
A general rule is that Burgundies have enough acidity to scare the pants off our cute little Pinots in California. Being that acidity is one of the characteristics in wine that allows it to age well, Burgundies last a hell of a lot longer than our sweeter Pinots. They're actually meant to. Furthermore, it is this acidity that makes a Burgundy a better pairing with coq au vin than a California Pinot Noir.
The acidity in the Burgundy cuts the bacon and dark meat fat fat in the braised coq au vin dish. It's not that a Cali Pinot wouldn't taste good with coq (because it would), it's just that a Burgundy could highlight the dish's nuances better. But then, I'd really drink anything with coq au vin. I mean, you're eating coq au vin.
The Burgundies we were pouring at work with the coq where marked by meaty, dark fruit and orange zest characteristics. So when I was looking up recipes for coq au vin, one that caught my eye was one that was published on the Saveur website (sorry guys, I'm hooked). Well, two recipes on the website did. So I slightly adapted my favorite parts of the two to come up the recipe included below. The main differences were that I added orange zest to the coq to highlight the orange flavors in the wine. I also made sure to add a touch of cocoa powder, like some Burgundians do, toward the end of cooking, as it makes the sauce richer, thicker, and a better match for the meaty wine. Also, I used chicken thighs instead of a whole chicken because dark meat rocks and braises better than white. And it's easier to serve everybody at a catering gig the same thing so they don't ask you for a breast when you just promised the last one to their neighbor.
The wine we drank was fabulous. Imported by Joli Vin, the Burgundies that we poured with the coq was 2006 Domaine Rebourgeon-Mure 1er Cru "Santenots", from Volnay, Burgundy, and the 2006 Domaine Rebourgeon-Mure, 1er Cru "Les Vignes Franches" from Beaune, Burgundy.
Serves 4-6 people (1 or 2 chicken thighs each)
Note- chicken needs at least 4 hours to overnight to marinate
1.5 cups Burgundy or Cru Beajoulais (much more reasonably priced)
1 tsp black peppercorns
3 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
2 ribs celery, thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
3 lbs chicken thighs (approx. 6-7 chicken thighs)
3 tbsp. canola oil
4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley plus 1 tbsp. chopped leaves
1 bay leaves
4 sprigs thyme
1/4 lb. slab bacon, cut width-wise into 1/2 an inch
1 1/2 tbsp. flour
1 cup Chicken Stock
2 shallots, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
zest of one orange
1/3 lb. button mushrooms, quartered
1. Bring the wine, peppercorns, garlic, celery, carrots, and onion to a boil in a medium-sized sauce pan. Then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool. Once cooled, marinate chicken in liquid overnight or for at least four hours.
2. Heat oven to 325°. Tie parsley sprigs, bay leaves, and thyme together with butcher string and set aside. Remove chicken from marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Strain marinade and reserve liquid and solids separately.
3. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a wide pot over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a bowl. Pour off some of the fat. On medium high heat, brown chicken on each side ( 6–8 minutes) in the same pot and transfer to a plate once browned.
4. Now add the reserved vegetable marinade to the pan where you just finished browning the chicken and cook until soft, 10–12 minutes. Next, sprinkle flour over the vegetables and cook while stirring, for 1 minute. Now add reserved marinade liquid, bring to boil, and simmer for 1 minute. Add remaining stock, shallots, and bring to boil once more. Add bacon to pot, stir, add salt and pepper to taste and nestle chicken and herbs over veggies. Bake, covered, until tender, about 1.25-2 hours.
5. When chicken is almost finished cooking, heat remaining oil in a skillet over medium heat and cook the button mushrooms until soft and golden, around 5 minutes. Set aside.
6. After cooked, transfer chicken to a plate and cover with foil. Strain sauce. At this point you can choose to continue reducing the sauce on a low simmer for 10-30 minutes to thicken or just keep the sauce warm. I've done both.
7. Before serving, arrange chicken on platter; top with sauce, mushrooms, and some chopped parsley.
Do you have a favorite coq au vin recipe? What do you drink with it? Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Martinis? Bourbon?