Elizabeth David’s Coq au Vin

by Sam Bilton on July 22, 2012 7 comments

Coq au Vin

I was a little surprised to see this on the list of the 10 most difficult recipes to make. What could be simpler than a chicken stew? However, despite it’s apparent simplicity it appears there is a world of difference between a good coq au vin and a mediocre one. As David herself states, “Recipes for this famous dish vary a good deal and one meets with many bad imitations in which boiling fowl is cooked to rags and then warmed up in some ready-made sauce vaguely flavoured with wine.”

Although it is well known and was the staple of many a dinner party during the 60s and 70s, Alan Davidson is quick to point out that it is a relatively modern dish with recipes first appearing at the beginning of the twentieth century. Cockerels had hitherto been viewed as tough and indigestible although doubtless for years they had been prepared in a similar fashion out of necessity when other more palatable sources of meat were scarce.

I watched Raymond Blanc’s The Very Hungry Frenchman recently in which he stresses that chicken should never be boiled. Even free range organic chickens are slaughtered when they are only a few months old. Boiling and overcooking this already tender meat can render it tough and dry. David’s solution is to prepare and reduce the wine based sauce in advance only adding the browned chicken to the barely simmering liqueur for just the appropriate time for the meat to be cooked. The beauty of this method is that the time consuming work of reducing the sauce can be done beforehand.

Many chefs have told me that you should only cook with wine you are prepared to drink. While I agree with this sentiment to a degree I also think it is a shame to use a good bottle of Chambertin in a chicken stew (not to mention expensive) particularly as so much is required. My advice is to buy a reasonable bottle of wine and save the good stuff to drink with your meal. Does it have to be from Burgundy or even French? Absolutely not (unless you want to be precious about authenticity)! Different grapes will lend varying characteristics to the dish but that should not make it taste bad (unless, of course, you use something more akin to vinegar to start with!). Perhaps a fair compromise would be to use a New World Pinot Noir (a popular grape variety in Burgundy) which tend to be a lot cheaper than decent French wines in UK supermarkets.

For dessert why don’t you try the SaucyCooks Baked Alaska with Peach Ice Cream?

This recipe is adapted from French Provincial Cooking published by Grub Street.


  • 560ml red Burgundy or other reasonable quality red wine
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and squashed
  • 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 150ml chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 110g unsmoked streaky bacon, cubed
  • 16 small shallots
  • 1 x 1.5 – 2 kg chicken cut into 8 pieces, skin on, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 30ml brandy
  • 150g button mushrooms
  • 15g softened unsalted butter
  • 10g plain flour
  • Salt and pepper


  1. Put the wine, 1 clove of garlic, 2 sprigs of thyme, a bay leaf and the chicken stock into a saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half. Strain and reserve the liquid.
  2. Place the shallots in a heat proof bowl then cover with boiling water. Remove after 30 seconds or so. This will make them easier to peel. Keep the shallots wBrowned chicken pieceshole.
  3. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a flame proof, lidded casserole gently fry the bacon and shallots until lightly browned. Remove from the pan and reserve until required.
  4. Add the remaining oil to the pan. Fry the chicken pieces (in batches if necessary) skin side down until golden brown. Drain off any excess oil and fat.
  5. Heat the brandy in a small saucepan or ladle then set alight. Have the lid ready before you pour the flaming liquid over the chicken as the reaction can be quite dramatic! Pour the flaming liquid over the chicken. Place the lid on the casserole to extinguish the flames.
  6. Add the shallots, bacon, mushrooms, remaining herbs and garlic and the wine to the casserole with the chicken. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 40 – 60 minutes until the chicken is cooked but succulent. If your cooker is a bit fierce you could place the casserole in a low oven (around 140°C) for the same amount of time ensuring the sauce has come to the boil first.
  7. When the casserole is cooked, remove the chicken, bacon and vegetables and keep warm in a low oven in a serving dish while you thicken the sauce. Mix the butter and flour together to form a paste. Put hazelnut sized dollops of this paste into the sauce then whisk over a gentle heat until dissolved. Allow the sauce to come to the boil, whisking all the time, then pour over the chicken. Serve immediately.

Serving coq au vin



Sam BiltonElizabeth David’s Coq au Vin

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  • JanR-H - June 6, 2015 reply

    This has to be the definitive coq au vin receipt, and I have very fond memories of making it for dinner parties, way back when, and always receiving great compliments too!! Don’t be put off, give it a go, it’s worth it!!!!

    admin - June 14, 2015 reply

    Absolutely Jan. It really is worth the effort. Thanks for stopping by the blog.

  • Karen - July 29, 2012 reply

    Oh nice. The flowers make it look so elegant!

  • Lauren Hairston-Collado - July 26, 2012 reply

    I’ve only made Coq-au-vin once many years ago and it was a bit of a disaster, but it was in my pre-free-range-chicken days and I thought the chicken was a bit past it, which just freaked me out so I couldn’t possibly eat it. Thanks for reminding me to give it another try.

    As for using drinking wine in cooking, generally I do. I frequently make Justin Wilson’s beans and rice recipe which calls for an entire bottle of wine. For white beans, he recommends Sauternes. I had a bottle of Ballatore Asti Spumanti (which I would never ever in a million years drink) in the back of the fridge. It turned out really wonderfully. Go figure.

  • Jean nielson - July 24, 2012 reply

    This looks like a great dish to try!

  • Jill~a SaucyCook - July 22, 2012 reply

    Sam, this looks so incredibly delectable that I swear I can smell it here in the States! The biggest challenge that I have when using British recipes is not the conversion from metric, but rather the descriptors of bacon, which varies so between our country’s! Really, unsmoked? And by “streaky” do you mean the American version? I love the idea of adding the chicken towards the end and not “boiling” the bird and be able to prepare so much ahead of time. Thanks for sharing! I think Margo is posting her Baked Alaska any minute. She has been suffering with a migraine ):

    admin - July 23, 2012 reply

    Hi Jill. By streaky bacon I mean cured pork belly which is usually cut into strips. In the UK this comes either unsmoked or smoked. You could use either in this recipe but traditionally it calls for the unsmoked variety. Cubed pancetta would also work. Hope this helps! I look forward to seeing Margo’s baked Alaska (I hope she has recovered from her migraine)!

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