Monday, July 18, 2011

Bastille Day Dinner–Coq au Vin Paired with Côtes du Rhône

Coq au Vin-7

I don’t need an excuse to gather with friends, head to the kitchen, and open a bottle of good wine.  However, if a good reason happens to pop up, I am not one to ignore it.  This week presented a perfectly good excuse, and I did not ignore it.  At the beginning of the week, we realized that Bastille Day was Thursday.  Perfect!  French food and French wine!  The deal was done.

I lost my Virginity-1

Not having any experience with French cooking, I quickly sent a text message to Chef Sue asking her for recommendations.  In mere seconds I received the reply “coq au vin and cream puffs.”  I immediately seized with terror.  Not so much with respect to the coq au vin (I supposed I could figure that out, but still a little intimidating), but the cream puffs part left me feeling I had just turned down a dark alley and came face to face with Freddy Krueger.  This paralyzing horror has a history.  Back in the day when Chef Sue and I were still dating (when telephones still had rotary dials, we listened to music on vinyl, and Ronald Regan was not a legend – he was President) I recall the crystal clear memory of Chef Sue practicing for her pastry final while attending Johnson and Wales – cream puffs shaped in the form of a swan.  Oh, the humanity of the scene.  Discarded cream puffs littered the kitchen of her small apartment.  Cream puffs that deflated, headless, were too dry, to wet, or suffered other various states of imperfection or anatomical deformity  that did not meet Chef Sue’s exacting standards.  Of course, I ate them and was dumbfounded as to why any of these delicious creations were found wanting.  In the end, Chef Sue aced the pastry final with an artfully formed swan, and I ended up with a cream puff hangover…I’m pretty sure it was the cream puffs.

Cream Puffs

As is tradition, I began the coq au vin meal planning by researching recipes.  Unremarkably, the gaggle of recipes I found used essentially the same ingredients and the same process.  I made a couple of minor adjustments that are reflected in the recipe at the end of this post.  Nothing major, but why leave well enough alone?  In summary, I replaced the recommended blanched salt pork with bacon, for the mushrooms I used a combination of sliced button mushrooms and baby portabella, minced garlic rather than pureed garlic cloves, and thyme sprigs rather than parsley.

Coq au Vin-2

The crowd (eight of us – I would name all of you, but you know who you are – rock stars each and every one) all found this meal plate licking good.  Seriously, the layers of flavor and the mind bending awesomeness of the sauce prompted involuntary smiles and giggles around the table.  Some of this flavor layering is due to the choice of cooking wine – I used a bottle of Four Vines Zinfandel.  The complex layers of flavor in the Zinfandel were repeated exquisitely in the final dish.  These deep fruit and spice flavors made for a wonderful match to the wine paring - Côtes du Rhône.  In addition to the flavors imparted by the Zinfandel, the dish features deep, rich, earthy notes well balanced by the sweetness from the braised onions and a bright acidity contributed by the tomatoes, onions and Zinfandel.

Cotes du Rhone Lineup

The wine for this pairing was a group effort. We had four bottles of Cotes du Rhone contributed by the dinner party contestants including:

  • 2008 Sélection Laurence Féraud Laurence Feraud Seguret Côtes du Rhône Villages
  • 2008 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Parallèle 45 Côtes du Rhône
  • 2009 Michel Picard Côtes du Rhône
  • 2009 Barton and Guestier Côtes du Rhône

I would love to give you all the details of each wine…but it would be redundant.  Quite honestly, as I tasted each wine with the meal, I could barely distinguish only subtle and un-noteworthy differences.  So, as a group, I will offer the following observations; black cherry and dark fruit flavors with black berry seeming to be the most recognizable, nice acidity and noticeable minerality.  All were velvety on the tongue which was accentuated with a hint of leather, and subdued tannins.  These were all very drinkable wines that clearly have a favored place with food pairing.  Finally, all the wines were great values and ranged in price from $10 to $16.

Coq au Vin-6

The pairing of the Côtes du Rhône with the coq au vin was simply heavenly.  With the first forkful of the coq au vin came a small voice saying “some wine with this would make me very happy.”  And happy we were.  Everything about this pairing worked better than planned.  The wine sang in perfect harmony with the coq au vin with neither the food nor wine competing for attention – they found a pleasant state of peaceful coexistence that drew out the principal flavors in their counterpart.  The cherry and dark fruit flavors of the Côtes du Rhône were a wonderful layer of flavor standing squarely beside the deep earthy notes of the coq au vin. Finally, the acidity of the coq au vin was precisely matched with the acidity of the Côtes du Rhône.  This pairing will certainly be showing up on our table again – ah, as soon as I work my way through the rest of France!  Thanks a bunch to the dinner party for their commentary that made writing this post cream puff easy.


Coq au Vin

Note:  The recipe is for 4 servings with some leftovers for lunch.  For our group of eight, I doubled this…and yes, I had two Dutch ovens running in parallel.


  • 4 bacon strips cut to one inch lengths
  • 2 1/2 to 3 pounds chicken quarters
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Olive oil to coat bottom of Dutch oven
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 small vine ripened red unpeeled tomatoes from Dawn’s garden, chopped,
  • 3 cups of Four Vines Zinfandel.  I know you want to drink it, but it is worth the sacrifice.
  • 1 or so cups chicken stock
  • Beurre manie, for the sauce (1 1/2 tbs. each flour softened butter blended to a paste)
  • 1/3 cup cognac or brandy
  • 12 small brown-braised white onions
  • 3 cups fresh mushrooms, 1/2 button mushrooms and 1/2 baby portabella.

Chicken Flambe

Coq au Vin


  1. Brown the onions in butter and touch of olive oil. During the last 2 minutes, add the mushrooms and continue to sauté until mushrooms are tender. Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. Sauté the bacon  in a Dutch oven with a little olive oil (lid off) and remove to a side dish, leaving the fat in the pan.
  3. Brown the chicken in the pork fat, adding a little olive oil, if needed.
  4. Flame the chicken with the brandy using a match or gill lighter.  Have someone else take photos – safety first.
  5. Season the chicken with salt and pepper; return it to the Dutch oven. Add the browned onions, and the garlic, bay leaf, thyme and tomato. Pour in the wine and enough stock barely to cover the ingredients. Bring to a simmer; cover, and continue to simmer for 20 minutes, or until the chicken is tender when pressed.
  6. Finishing the chicken -- the sauce. Remove the chicken to a side dish.  Boil down rapidly adding more of the seasonings if you think them necessary.  The idea is to boil down the sauce to get the intensity of flavor you are looking for.  This is a matter of taste.
  7. Off heat, whisk the beurre manie to make a lightly-thickened sauce. Bring briefly to the simmer -- the sauce should be just thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.
  8. Return the chicken to the sauce and warm for serving.  If you have reduced the sauce so the chicken is exposed, baste it while heating.
  9. Serve with boiled new potatoes.

Cream Puffs

Cream Puffs-3


  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
  2. In a large pot, bring water and butter to a boil. Stir in flour and salt until the mixture forms a ball.
  3. Transfer the dough to a large mixing bowl. Using a wooden spoon or stand mixer, beat in the eggs one at a time.
  4. Drop by tablespoonful's onto an ungreased baking sheet.
  5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden brown. Centers should be dry.
  6. When the shells are cool, either split and fill them with the pudding mixture, or use a pastry bag to pipe the custard into the shells.

Cream Puff Custard


  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup sugar, 5 tablespoons flour and a pinch of salt.
  2. Stir in milk, a little at a time, until smooth.
  3. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.
  4. Boil 60 seconds, then pour a small amount of hot liquid into the 2 egg yolks, and stir. Then return now heated egg yolks to saucepan and stir, over heat, until mixture starts to bubble again.
  5. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla, cover and chill in refrigerator.

Cheese Plate

In vino veritas, buen provecho.