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From Scratch

A mean rooster and, in turn, coq au vin.

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Every coq au vin recipe I've read assumes that nobody will go to the trouble of finding a tough old bird to cook. That's why you'll find cooking times of 30 minutes, which is a crime against gastronomy. Even with a store-bought spoon-tender bird, that's not enough time for the red wine sauce to fully come together and impregnate the chicken.

Rusty was a mean old rooster from a three-bird flock that also included a post-menopausal hen named Annabelle who hadn't laid anything in years and a submissive rooster named Marco Pollo. Suffice it to say, the eggs were not flowing.

I caught Rusty, which was easy, because mean roosters run at you. I held him upside down by his feet. He fought at first but was sleepy by the time we got to the garlic patch. I laid Rusty on the ground. Before he had a chance to wake up, I swung a machete through his neck and into the dirt beneath it. I held him upside down over the garlic patch to drain the blood.

I submerged him using two sticks for 10 seconds and did a test pluck, and the feathers came out easily. I hung him by his feet and plucked every last feather and wisp and threw them on the garlic patch. (Chicken feathers are great for the soil.)

I carefully cut the skin across his gut just below the sternum and reached my hand up and in along the rib cage, taking hold of his throat and pulling it down into the gut cavity. I kept pulling that throat, through the slit and out, as the rest of the guts trailed behind.

I didn't starve Rusty for 24 hours prior to killing him, which made the gut cavity stinky with half-digested food, so I didn't feel like saving the heart and liver. Shame on me for letting those tasty organs go to waste.

I rinsed Rusty in cold water, then brined him overnight in saltwater. The next day I drained and rinsed him and let him rest a few days in the fridge, covered, until his rigor mortis loosened up. Do not skip this step, as a fresh-killed chicken will be rubbery and awful.

Here's my coq au vin recipe, based on what I did to Rusty. Its simple: no bouquet garni, no butter and flour, and I often don't use pork fat. If you want a fancy recipe, try Nigella Lawson's, available online.

 

Coq au vin

Put the bird in a baking pan in the oven at 350 degrees. While it bakes, prepare the following: chunks of carrot, parsnip, and potato; whole garlic cloves; chopped onions; thyme, bay leaf, and pork fat (or bacon). Turn the bird once or twice for even browning.

Mix the above items with olive oil, remove the chicken from its pan, and spread the veggies into the pan. Replace the bird, lower the temp to 300 degrees, and continue cooking. Turn the bird if necessary, and stir the veggies a few times. When the veggies have developed a light brown crisp, remove the whole business from the oven and let cool. If it's a tough old guy, remove the skin — it will probably be too tough to eat.

Pull and cut the coq into five to 10 pieces and put them in a large pot along with the roasted veggies and juice from the pan, as well as some mushrooms (I used dried morels and porcinis and fresh buttons) and a bottle of red wine. Everybody says Burgundy, so with Rusty I used Burgundy. But when I make it with deer (Buck au Franz, as I call it), I use Franzia Cabernet without issue.

Cover the contents of the pot with equal parts water and wine and simmer. Season with salt and pepper and maintain the liquid level with additional water and wine as necessary. The longer you cook it, the thicker the sauce gets, as everything merges together. Coaxed by the wine, fatty flavors leech from the cartilage and bone, reducing the need for butter and pork. Everything, especially the potatoes, begins to disintegrate, which thickens the sauce in lieu of flour. Simmer at least an hour. When in doubt, just add more wine and keep cooking.

People serve it with all kinds of filler, like bread or pasta, but I reserve all my belly space for coq au vin and perhaps a dollop of mayo.

After we ate Rusty — and, boy, was he delicious — Marco Pollo and Annabelle enjoyed a brief period of peace. Two weeks later, Annabelle died on a cold night, my first chicken to die of natural causes. Sadly, she never got to meet the new brood of chicks, chirping inside under a heat lamp the night she died. They're all so cute now, but surely some of them will turn into tough old birds. Yum.

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