Coq au vin: what and where?
It seems that I have never ordered coq au vin, so was taken aback when it was served recently: delicious sauce and wonderful veggies, but tough and chokingly dry breast meat and stringy, spent thigh.
What should it be like and where might one find a correct one?
The problem often arises from the use of tough, tasteless birds in way of coq. Also serving the breast requires some precautions that apparently are seldom taken.
If I'm not in the countryside or in a region of the world where rooster meat is taken seriously (i.e. Greece) I'll refrain from using rooster. Most of what I've bought that had the "coq" tag on it seemed to have run several marathons during its lifetime.
Use a large, grown-up chicken. Regional breeds like poulet de Houdan, poulet fermier de Rouen or gauloise blanche (the non-fattened type) do well. Wine should be full-bodied gamay (the original recipe is Coq au chanturgue from Auvergne, so if you can't get chanturgue, use a dense beaujolais like moulin-à-vent, or better - a côtes-roannaises or a châteaugay). Chicken should be well browned and there should be plenty of onions and garlic. Wine should be well reduced and the cooking (with lots of aromatics) lengthy enough but indeed not too long and breast (on the bone, cut into pieces) added about 15-20 minutes before the end of cooking, together with the garniture of fried lardons, glacé onions and sautéed button mushrooms. A square of dark chocolate to bind the sauce towards the end of cooking.
Since coq au vin (far more than bourguignon which is more easygoing) is all about precautions and requires very careful cooking, I refrain from ordering it in restaurants — unless I am in a cheap countryside joint where I know it will be done the right way.
Here is a thread that gives mankind the word on chicken.
Excerpt from Pti's contribution:
"Finally it all depends on what you wish to do with your chicken.
This is an attempt at a classification which may serve as a (modifiable) basis for French chickens. I expect Souphie to alter it and improve it as he wishes.
Poaching (no stuffing): Bresse (including poularde and chapon) and gauloise blanche, Houdan and other scrawny country fowls, Norman (long-bone) market chicken, black-skinned chicken (nègre-soie, this one particularly for simmering in stock with spices and herbs).
Poule au pot (whole, stuffed): all of the above except the black-skinned, special emphasis on the Houdan and the géline de Touraine, poulet du Patis, poularde de Bresse, any good-quality hen (poule).
Simmering in a sauce (poulet chasseur, poulet basquaise, poulet au blanc, coq au riesling, etc.): all chickens are good with emphasis on the tougher ones: Patis, Houdan, Norman and other farm-raised chickens. Yellow Landes recommended for Southwestern dishes. Bresse (not poularde, just chicken, long-boned) recommended for coq au riesling and all creamed dishes. Coq au vin: any farm-raised bird but, also, high-quality supermarket stuff like Poulet blanc d'Auvergne (bought already jointed), and large specimens (I mean large legs and thighs) of ready-cut Landes, Challans or Janzé. If you find rooster (cut-up) on markets or even in supermarkets, go for it for coq au vin, any style (this includes coq au riesling).
Roasting (whole - I am not an advocate of cutting up the chicken before or during oven-roasting, for this becomes jointed roasted chicken which is a different thing): Landes yellow, and grass-fed and corn-fed chicken from the Southwest, is my all-time favorite. Country breeds like the Barbezieux evoked by Souphie above. Bresse when you can get a good one. Poulet de Janzé and to a lesser extent poulet de Challans. Norman farm-raised or any farm-raised bought on markets, but these have to be stuffed. Landes does not necessarily have to, being more tender. Coucou de Rennes and Coucou de Malines. Poulet blanc d'Auvergne. Some pattes-noires (black-legged), properly raised, are good. Norman farm chicken or any sturdy farm-raised bird can be a base for the excellent roast chicken dish "farc normand".
Grilling/broiling (after marinating), or broiled-stewed chicken dishes like yassa: smaller specimens of Landes yellow, Janzé or Challans. White Auvergne. With plenty of marinating the scrawny Houdans, gauloise blanche and Patis may be tried this way and slow-broiled on a barbecue, for they'd reproduce the conditions of African poulet-bicyclette. Bring your teeth.
AVOID : anything else in plastic wrap with a brand name (not an origin). At the very least look for the Label Rouge. However, avoid the generic Leader Price chicken in spite of its Label Rouge. Be a little suspicious of whole chicken sold in "magasins bio" (Naturalia, etc.) or chicken labeled as "Bio", for a few of us have found them to be lacking in taste and texture. Some, as Souphie wrote above, are good, keep track of them. Avoid Loué. That's about it.
Whoops, forgot to add this:
For Chinese-style steamed chicken with onion-ginger sauce, Hainan chicken or crystal-boiled chicken: nothing beats yellow Landes chickens. For crystal boiling, the fattier the better.
For grilling on a plancha, it's yellow Landes chicken again.
Yellow Janzé and Challans also do the job. All these chickens have a sweetish taste which reacts perfectly to these types of cooking.
You'll understand from all I've written above that, in the current state of things and with little access to farms and country markets, I hold yellow Landes chicken above everything else.
ADDENDUM for chicken tajine or couscous, remember that good halal butchers in France are used to the situation and have specially-raised "poulets fermiers" which don't look like much but lend themselves beautifully to those preparations which require firm, lean and tasty chicken. Don't look for their average-quality chickens but head for their "poulets fermiers"."
Thanks a lot, that reminds me that the info deserves to be updated on a few points:
- That was before I found that cut-up rooster was generally not very reliable for coq au vin (see more recent advice), now I much prefer a grown-up chicken for that.
- Bio (organic) chickens have somewhat improved since I wrote that, especially the supermarket kind (Carrefour, Auchan).
- "Avoid Loué" was for the classic kind, which I found to be inconsistent. However, Loué has started producing bio chickens and Souphie tells me they're very good. (Haven't tried them myself.)
- I still believe yellow Landes chicken is superior to most everything else.
The meat should certainly not be tough, dry, and stringy. I really love it but it has to be done well. Think of a beef bourguignon but with chicken.
I am of absolutely no help though for giving you a restaurant recommendation. I like to make it at home. It is labor intensive at first but once everything is prepared, you just let it simmer away.
It is exactly Boeuf Bourguignon, but with chicken. However you cannot cook it nearly as long as Boeuf B, or the result will be what mangeur got. I think Coq au Vin frequently gets "forgotten" on the restaurant stove, OR, it's reheated far too long. I've never ordered it in a restaurant anywhere, but have dined with friends who have, to their dismay.