Coq Au Vin: Bonnie Stern’s “The Best of Heart-Smart Cooking”

Coq_au_vin_rougeI always thought I was supposed to be French. There are many factors involved in this, ranging from my love of homemade, fresh, rich—but healthy—food made from high-quality ingredients, to my idolization of a digestive liqueur that creates a seemingly bottomless stomach in which you can fit yet more delicious food. I also admire the café culture, where a good conversation can pass an afternoon, and lunch is extended to allow this to happen in miniature every day, independent of business and economics. I enjoy market culture, knowing the people in your city or town, the farmers, the boutiques, and the original 100-mile diet.

I do also, however, believe I should have been Japanese, Italian and Indian, mostly for culinary reasons, so I won’t get too carried away.

The fact that I can explore all of these “should-have-beens”, is what makes me truly Canadian. And in that tradition, I decided to use leftover red wine to make a Coq Au Vin.

2 chickens!
olive oil (or bacon)
brandy (I used amaretto)
24 pearl onions or shallots (exactly 24???)
24 garlic cloves!
1lb mushrooms (preferably wild)
red wine or stock
beef stock (I used extra wine and chicken stock)
bay leaf
fresh: thyme, rosemary, tarragon, parsley

The recipe from Bonnie Stern’s HeartSmart: The Best of HeartSmart Cooking called for two 3-lb chickens cut into 4 pieces each! That’s a lot of chicken! but I did as I was told and chopped them into breasts and drumsticks and removed the skin.

1st mistake: The recipe specifically says to pat the chicken pieces dry before putting them into the flour/salt/pepper mixture. Um, oops? You’re supposed to end up with extra flour that you discard. I didn’t have any extra.

Then sauté the chicken pieces in olive oil, five minutes per side (for the bacon eaters, brown the bacon, discard, drain fat from pan but don’t wash it, and sauté the chicken in what’s left.)

2nd mistake: my skillets were way too small for my large chicken pieces. I ended up using two skillets and two pots for the whole dish because there was so much. The upside of this was that I got to flambé twice! There’s nothing more exciting than pouring sweet alcohol over a hot skillet and lighting it on fire. So doing it twice was like it was my birthday. The sad thing about the recipe is that it says that if the alcohol does not ignite, don’t worry. The consolation prize is that the alcohol evaporates anyway. That sounds like a very bad birthday.

You then add the carrots (cut precisely on the diagonal, of course), onions, garlic and mushrooms and cook until brown. Then add the wine and bring it to a boil. Deglaze the pan by scraping the brown bits from the bottom. I love the idea of using alcohol to scrape up the brown, tasty bits created by previously adding alcohol.

After it boils, you add the stock (or stock and more wine, if there’s extra), rosemary, thyme, and tarragon. Add the chicken, bring to a boil, and reduce heast and simmer for 45 minutes.

(Potential) mistake #3: I wasn’t sure how much, if any I was supposed to stir the chicken while it was simmering away. It became very red from the wine where it touched it, and I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to sit on top of the vegetables or be more like a stew. I decided to stir but not all over the chicken got covered in juice.

Now the upside of the excess flour (mistake #1) is that 45 minutes later when you remove the chicken and vegetables to a platter, and after you’ve skimmed the fat from the surface of the the juices left in the pan, the sauce thickens up very quickly. Instead of adding flour at this step, like you would do for a gravy, you just simmer the juices uncovered until thickened, and it takes no time at all. A lot of people have gotten antsy at large turkey dinners waiting for the gravy to thicken. No problem this time.

Then pour the sauce over the chicken (there’s not much sauce left, but it’s so flavourful that, in true French style, a little was more than enough. Top with parsley and serve.

Verdict? The dark meat was so moist. The white breast meat was a little dry, but the mushrooms stole the show. The red wine brought out the earthy flavours. I can only imagine if I had used wild mushrooms instead of brown cremini. Just don’t use white button. It’s too much of a taste sacrifice. I think I ate about half of all the mushrooms in my one serving of chicken (the recipe serves 8-10, and the amount of chicken certainly makes that believable), so four to five servings of mushrooms…mmm…the next time I have leftover red wine that isn’t worth drinking, I will sauté mushrooms and onions and pour red wine over with a little salt, pepper and parsley for garnish.

I loved this recipe for the healthier version of a traditional dish. Skimming the fat, removing the skin of the chicken and sautéing in olive oil certainly lighten it up, while the rich taste of the wine, broth and braising of the meat does not make it feel like a compromise. Every bite of this dish was a guilty pleasure.


  1. (MissWatson) says

    The recipe told me to do it! I think the flour did an okay job coating the chicken, though, so the juices stayed inside. I would consider leaving the skin on the breast meat next time. The recipe also said to skim the fat from the juices in the pot, and from the skillet when browning the meat, so I'm afraid that fat never had a chance…I really hate soggy skin anyway, so it wasn't the end of the world to me. Barbecued or baked skin is another story, though, and I'll defend that choice to the death. In the meantime, you can take up the skin/fat/coq au vin issue with God, or Bonnie Stern.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *