Coq au vin is traditionally an old rooster cooked for many hours in wine. We don’t have any old roosters in the freezer, but we do have a few old hens. That could work. But you know, it would really be a wasted opportunity to only modify one component of the classic coq au vin recipe.
If you happen to have read Jeffrey Steingarten’s piece about coq au vin, “Red Wine & Old Roosters”, and walk away without a craving for his rendition of the French dish, you and I are nothing alike. I first read this many years ago when I was first exploring the wonders of unique food, and the story of Mr. Steingarten visiting unknown poultry markets in New York City to find the ideal bird has stuck with me. The idea that there were chickens out there that would perform better than the regular (Cornish Cross) chickens in a certain application really stuck with me.
Years passed and my interest in unique foods has only increased. The contrasting tastes and textures of different breeds of chickens fascinates me every time we cook one up. In the summer when I discovered the variety of carrot I like most there was no turning back.
And when you decide to cook a hen instead of a rooster, you might as well try to be clever and use beer instead of wine!
This recipe is a fantastic way for chicken enthusiasts out there to give their hens a glorious end. Don’t struggle through tough meat or make a watery soup because you feel obligated. Celebrate the full range of the laying hen, a wonder animal that has given you so many eggs and will no give you a decadent meal that wouldn’t be quite as good with an ordinary chicken.
This recipe took a few tries to get it right. I studied under Jeffrey Steingarten as well as Julia Child to understand the concepts of the dish and capture the essence of the ingredients called for.
And to take it just one step further into my newest obsession, it is about as close to 100% local as possible.
All the significant ingredients come from New Hampshire:
- The chicken is our own buff orpington hen that was a bit too aggressive (Madison, NH)
- Organic onions and potatoes from Mountain Heartbeet Farm (Effingham, NH)
- Bacon from White Gates Farm (Tamworth, NH)
- Oyster mushrooms from the NH Mushroom Company (Tamworth, NH)
- Smuttynose Robust Porter (Hampton, NH)
- Art in the Age Chicory Root Flavored Vodka from Tamworth Distilling & Mercantile (Tamworth, NH)
- Our own chicken stock from our chickens and scrap organic veggies from Mountain Heartbeet Farm
I am still not sure what to name this. Poule a la Bière is trying too hard. Drunk Hen reminds me of Thai food, too confusing. NH Porter Hen sounds great, but nobody would have a clue what it would be. If you have any other ideas, we’re open, but for now it’s:
An Old Hen Braised in Dark Beer – Recipe (coq au vin with beer)
- 4 slices of bacon (around 4 oz)
- 2 Tablespoons lard (or oil or butter or other fat for the pan as desired)
- 1 hen (or any 3-5 lb chicken is acceptable), quartered
- 1/4 cup liquor of your choice (optional…. we used Chicory Root flavored vodka, traditionally cognac is used)
- 1 bottle of good dark beer (porter is ideal, brown ale or stout will also be acceptable)
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 2 cloves garlic, inced
- 1/4 teaspoon thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 onions, julienned
- 1/2 lb mushrooms that are good for sauteeing, cut into 1/2 – 1 inch chunks (we used oyster mushrooms, but your standard white or baby bella mushrooms will be fine–though blander–too)
- 3 lbs of your favorite mashing potatoes (red or russet are common choices), cut into 1/2 inch chunks
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch or 2 tablespoons flour
- Salt & pepper
1. Cut up the bacon into little pieces, then fry until almost fully cooked over medium heat. Use a dutch oven or braising pan (or any heavy-bottomed pan that can hold the cut up chicken comfortably). Set bacon aside.
2. Sprinkle salt somewhat generously over the chicken pieces, then brown on all sides over medium heat. Add the bacon back to the pan.
3. Optionally, here’s the fun part! Get a match or, ideally, a long stemmed butane lighter ready. Add the liquor to the pan and ignite with flames!!! Shake the pan vigorously to let the flames subside.
4. Slowly add the beer to the pan. Then top off with enough stock to just barely cover the chicken pieces. Throw in the garlic, thyme, and bay leaf and bring to a boil. When you see bubbles, drop the heat to low and let it simmer. You’ll have some time now to prep the onions, mushrooms, and potatoes. (Note that an hen or rooster will take about 3 hours, while a regular meat breed chicken will take much less time, around 45 minutes, so plan accordingly!)
5. Bring a pot of water to boil for the potatoes now, and then move on to the onions.
6. Prepare the onions: While the chicken is simmering away, caramelize the onions by cooking over medium low in a separate pan, stirring occasionally, until they are a nice rich brown and very soft. Add garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Set aside and free up the pan for the mushrooms.
7. Prepare the mushrooms: Melt some butter or lard in your frying pan and sautee the mushrooms for 5 minutes or until tender. Different mushrooms may take longer or shorter.
8. Stir the prepared mushrooms and onions into the simmering chicken.
9. Prepare the potatoes: Boil for 10-15 minutes, until tender. Add salt and butter to taste, and mash them.
10. Check the chicken after 3 hours (for an old hen or rooster) or 45 minutes for a standard meat chicken. It is done when the meat is very tender and falls off the bone and you are hungry. Adjust seasoning and add ground pepper as desired.
11. Remove the chicken from the pan and, if desired, remove meat from the bones. Strain off juices into a bowl and the wonderful onions, mushrooms, bacon, etc. aside. Return juices to the pan and turn heat up to reduce to about 1 cup or so of liquid.
12. To make the gravy: whisk the cornstarch or flour with water in a small bowl until thoroughly blended, then whisk into the reduced liquid. This will be the most amazing part of the meal, so divide it fairly.
13. Mix the chicken with the onions, mushrooms, etc. as desired, and serve on top of the mashed potatoes. Drizzle with the gravy. Enjoy your chicken.