'Tis the Season for a Drunken Chicken

The classic French coq au vin is just the right dish for those days when you begin to feel a nip in the air.

Coq au vin served with boiled potatoes and steamed broccoli.
Coq au vin served with boiled potatoes and steamed broccoli. Limor Laniado Tiroche

The French word "coq" means "cook" and over the years it became a synonym for cooked chicken. On farms in rural French regions they would breed hens of various kinds, for eating and for eggs. The egg layers lived in ideal breeding conditions, and as the years went by and they could no longer deliver they were killed and consumed by the members of the household. Because these hens were elderly and plump, lengthy cooking was required to soften their flesh.

The rural folk cooked their chicken dishes in clay or iron pots over coals, and later on over cast-iron burners, on a very low heat. Once the dish was ready they would fry the combs and remaining facial parts in goose fat, and serve them on top of the dish, chopped and seasoned with plenty of black pepper. Today few people serve the facial parts because of their dominant taste.

Coq au vin - drunken chicken - is a dish that is particularly appropriate to make now, when the evenings are cool and the body demands hot and satisfying fare. The chicken cooks for a long time with white or red wine, alongside aromatic root vegetables, lots of mushrooms, and bacon. In France you can find this same dish under all sorts of names, depending on the type of wine in which it was cooked: Coq au Chambertin, Coq au Riesling, and so forth. The resulting chicken is highly flavorful and its meat is fall-off-the-bone tender. The sauce it produces is thick and good for dipping a fresh baguette, topped off with a glass of fine wine. It is customary to serve on the side boiled potatoes seasoned with parsley and garlic, along with a steamed vegetable such as asparagus, broccoli, or peas.

Coq au vin

The chicken traditionally gets ts unique taste from the combination of wine with the bacon, truffles, or olives. I prefer the taste of truffles or olives. As for the wine I prefer a semi-dry white one such as Gewurztraminer. The chicken this wine yields is delicately flavored and the wine does not overwhelm. However, some people prefer to cook with red wine because of its dominant flavor and color. Either way, the chicken tastes better the next day.

Ingredients (10 servings ):

1.5 chickens cut into parts, washed and dried (12 parts in all )

For the marinade:

4 Earl Grey tea bags

1 cup boiling water

1 bottle semi-dry white wine (e.g., Gewurztraminer ) or a good red

4 thyme branches, tied with kitchen twine

6 garlic cloves, peeled


For the sauce:

3 tablespoons olive oil

2-3 leeks, sliced into coins

10 shallots, peeled and halved

4 celery stalks, chopped

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1.5 teaspoons salt

1.5 teaspoons black pepper

Dash ground nutmeg

2 bay leaves

2 heaping baskets mushrooms, champignon or tiny mini-portobello

2 tablespoons black truffle paste, or 1 cup green olives, or 100 grams bacon chopped and dry fried


Steep the tea bags in boiling water. Cool to room temperature and throw away the tea bags. Marinate the chicken parts in a pot from 5 hours to overnight in the fridge. Remove the chicken from the marinade into a strainer and set aside (but not in the fridge ) to drain. Boil the marinade until reduced to 1 cup.

Transfer the liquid to a small bowl, leaving the thyme and garlic cloves in the pot. In the same pot, add olive oil and fry the leeks, onions, and celery together with the garlic and thyme for 10 minutes. Combine the tomato paste and spices in the bowl with the reduced wine. Lay the chicken pieces in the pot, pour the seasoned wine mixture over them, cover and cook on medium heat for 30 minutes. Lower the fire to a minimum and simmer for 90 minutes. Stir carefully and add the mushrooms and bacon or truffle paste or olives. Continue cooking for another 30 minutes. For best results allow the dish to cool and refrigerate for 24 hours before serving.