Getting a lift from coq au vin

The long, cold winter calls for some comfort food

Illustration By Mazi Noble

Henri spent several days under the weather last week, sniffling, sneezing, achy.

Mostly I lay on the couch, curled up under blankets with my new Bette Midler biography and some videos that Colette had been thoughtful enough to pick up. I could read only a few pages at a time, though, before dozing off, which was probably at least partly due to the TheraFever Night-time Plus-Extra that she insisted I take.

One afternoon, though, I woke to a delightful smell. Colette was in the kitchen, cooking, and the rich smells of simmering chicken, wine, onions and mushrooms were wafting my way.

My dear sister was making coq au vin, the Bourride version of chicken soup.

Comfort food takes lots of different forms. But it seems always connected to childhood, to winter days, to family—sometimes to less-than-happy times when food helped brighten a mood or a darkening afternoon, or a day spent home sick in bed.

For the famille Bourride, it was coq au vin, chicken cooked in wine. Mon père, Alain Etienne Bourride, made a coq au vin that could brighten the darkest of spirits, and he could do it at the drop of a chapeau: All he needed was one whole chicken and two hours—we always had enough other ingredients on hand, certainly the vin.

While purists might make a case for specific recipes, coq au vin—like paella, bouillabaisse, cioppino—can include a range of ingredients, and creative cooks take great pleasure in improvising, adding to the basics: usually onions and tomato sauce in addition to the chicken and wine.

The following is Colette’s version, at least the one she made for me last week. By the way, the leftovers the next morning worked wonders on my TheraFever hangover, and by mid-afternoon I was an homme nouveau.

8 pieces of chicken—any combination of thighs, drumsticks, breasts
2-3 cups full-bodied red wine
1/2-3/4 lb. bacon, diced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 yellow onions, chopped
8-12 cloves garlic, sliced
10-12 white pearl onions, peeled
1/2 lb. mushrooms, halved (porcini, chanterelles, etc.)
1 green bell pepper, cubed
2 stalks celery (in bite-size pieces)
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons Cognac
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, ground
1 small rosemary sprig
Kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper

Cooking Instructions
Place chicken pieces in a large bowl with the red wine, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate—at least a couple of hours, overnight if possible.

Remove chicken from wine (save to add later) and pat dry with paper towel. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Cook bacon in large pan or Dutch oven until crisp, and then set aside on a plate (with a paper towel to drain fat). Add oil to bacon drippings, and place chicken in pan and cook over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, turning once.

Add sliced onions, garlic, celery, and bell peppers, and cook 4-5 minutes. Add pearl onions and mushrooms, and cook another 3-4 minutes. Add tomato paste and flour, stir well, and cook for another 2 minutes. Stir in Cognac, and add the bacon, herbs, chicken, and wine. Cook until the mixture simmers, cover, and cook in oven at 325 degrees for about an hour, or until chicken and vegetables are fully cooked—chicken meat should be starting to separate from bones.

Serve in large bowls with a salad, French sourdough bread and a hearty red wine such as a good cab or barolo. Or: Serve the chicken separately, and ladle the rich, delicious sauce over orzo, couscous, quinoa, or risotto.

Optional ingredients: carrots, potatoes, red onions, kidney or garbanzo beans, peas, various peppers.