27 January 2012

A rooster cooked in red wine

It was almost exactly six years ago that I did my first post about cooking a coq au vinJanuary 25, 2006. I had bought a coq — a rooster, or a cockerel, or whatever term you might prefer — at Intermarché because I had never cooked one before. Somehow, I felt I was cooking and eating Foghorn Leghorn, but in France roosters are for sale at the markets and in the supermarkets. Somebody must buy and cook them. Why shouldn't I?

Coq au vin — red wine — ready to serve

This 2011 rooster weighed in at three kilos, or nearly 7 lbs. I cut it up into cooking pieces — drumsticks, thighs, wings, and two breast halves — so that I could cook just half the bird at a time. Half the rooster would make a big meal for four people, or two or three meals for the two of us, served with vegetables, mushrooms, and potatoes, pasta, rice, or wheat berries. I cooked the first half of the bird about three weeks ago, in white wine (here's a link to the coq au vin blanc post).

Serving pieces of the coq after 12 hours
spent marinating in red wine

I just checked Google, seaching on the terms "cook rooster" and I got more that seven million hits. A Google search for "coq au vin" in French turns up more than two million web pages. Obviously, other people have cooked roosters. Here's an example from The Man Who Ate Everything, complete with a highly detailed recipe, quotes in Latin, and advanced research on whether or not Julius Caesar ate a rooster cooked in red wine when his army invaded Gaul two thousand years ago.

Sauté the rooster or chicken pieces with
some chunks of smoked pork bacon or ham.

In my own post for coq au vin blanc, you'll find the information you need for cooking chicken or rooster in white wine. To make the red wine version, all you have to do — surprise! — is substitute red wine for white. Otherwise, the recipe is the same. See also the link to the 2006 post that I included above.

For coq au vin, any dry red wine will do — a burgundy, made with Pinot Noir grapes; a Loire Valley wine, made with either Gamay, Cabernet Franc, or Côt (a.k.a. Malbec grapes); a bordeaux, made with Merlot and/or Cabernet Franc; a Côtes du Rhône... well, you get the idea. An Australian, Californian, South African, Chilean, or Argentinian red wine will be good too.

Stew the poultry in the marinade, including
the carrots, onions, celery, and herbs.

For this most recent coq au vin, I picked up a bottle of cahors wine at the supermarket. Wines from Cahors, a town in southwestern France, used to be known as vins noirs — black wines — and they are also made with Malbec grapes. The "black" wine makes a rich, dark sauce for the coq au vin. I paid 1.49 € for the bottle. That is not a typo. And I used the whole bottle to marinate and cook the 1.2 kilos (2½ lbs.) of rooster that I was cooking.

Sauté some mushrooms and add them to the stew
toward the end of the cooking time.

Besides wine, you really need onions, maybe garlic, and especially some good smoked pork to flavor the coq au vin. I used bacon fat as the cooking medium when I browned the pieces of poultry, and then I added about half a dozen good-sized chunks of lard fumé — smoked bacon (slab bacon if you can get it, or thick-sliced bacon) or smoked ham — to the pan. It cooked with the rooster pieces in the wine sauce too. Carrots, celery, bay leaves, and thyme make the sauce more flavorful.

Serve champignons de Paris or some more exotic
mushroom with the stewed rooster.

The main point of this post is to show the pictures I took, and to say that making coq au vin is really pretty easy. You can start with chicken pieces — whatever pieces you prefer. You just have to adjust the cooking time so that the chicken or rooster pieces are cooked the way you like them — tenderness is the goal. Season the dish with salt and pepper to taste. Thicken the sauce if you want to, or don't.

Mushrooms are a standard addition. Sauté them first and then add them to the sauce toward the end of the cooking. Or just put them raw into the sauce and let them cook in it, releasing their flavor into the red wine. If you want to splurge on the calories, serve the coq au vin with French-fried potatoes. Or mashed potatoes. And many would say that the coq au vin is actually better served as leftovers, a day or two later, than it is when it has just finished cooking for the first time.


  1. At 42 degrees it's too hot in Perth to cook this dish...but your photos and recipe will remain in my file for the autumn...it's one of my favourites for winter and I mix it up with my late Italian mother in law's polenta sometimes...thanks Ken...

  2. Judging by the look, I am sure that coq au vin is delicious. Thank you for the post and will try this at home when I have red wine.

  3. That Steingarten book is really good. I learned some techniques from his writing.

    Last night in Michael Ruhlman's Twenty I came across his coq au vin recipe. He adds 2 tablespoons of honey. Hmmm. What do you think?

    Ken, he's got a recipe for NC BBQ coming up in a few pages! I'll have to try it.

  4. It has been a while since we've had coq au vin.

  5. Which wine made the best tasting dish, the red or the white?

  6. Evelyn, I think it was the red wine that was better. That's also what Walt said.

    Carolyn, I often add a couple of tablespoons of the Gamay grape jelly I made a while back. That gives good flavor plus thickness, just the way honey would. You wouldn't want to put in too much honey, though. It could be overpowering.

    Twenty or thirty years ago, French people would have said it was crazy to add sugar or honey to a meat or poultry dish. But sucré/salé is now much more in fashion. Still, it's better not to go overboard.

  7. Your mushrooms look lovely. Mine always have a more foresty-brown hue not that nutty, caramel hue that comes across on my monitor.

    Thanks for letting us know about the price of the wine really being as it was typed! It is hard for some who haven't been to France to believe me when I tell them about prices I've seen.

    Mary in Oregon

  8. Louise, I meant to say to you that I like the idea of polenta — or "grits" as we call them in the U.S. South — with the coq au vin.


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