There’s something magical about cooking outdoors when it’s cold - bundled up, shrouded in smoke and sizzle, garnering warmth, comfort from the red hot coals that are also cooking our meal. I particularly love cooking the classic French stew know as coq au vin over an open flame in cast iron, a practice and preparation that is as fun, interesting watch as it is to do…especially when nestled up with good friends, a hungry appetite, and a snifter of brandy. Coq au vin is typically braised slowly in red wine and brandy, but the open flame addition to my recipe yields an outdoors high south layer appropriate for this time of year.
Please note that I exclusively use chicken thighs, but you may certainly add legs if you should so desire…however, I would avoid white meat of any kind since it will most certainly result in a drier, less flavorful, less enjoyable experience. Also, if you wish to exclude the croutons I’ve described below, I implore you to refrain from ever looking at this recipe again; and please gainfully, joyfully move onto another source for coq au vin - your kind will not be tolerated, let alone understood whilst on this website or in my general vicinity. Besides, the buttery, satisfying crunch of the toasted bread is nothing short of culinary nirvana.
I was awarded the pleasure of cooking, alongside fellow board members of the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, a special dinner for the esteemed, hardworking volunteers that work selflessly throughout the many areas of the garden. Nearly 80 volunteers gathered for dinner as staff and board members rallied to show our support for their support…and what a joy it was to spend time with such passionate friends of the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks. In fact, Macgyver-esque volunteer, Keith Ehmke helped not only ignite the grills for our open flame kitchen, but also kept them roaring bright and hot throughout the evening. I was lucky enough to be seated at a table with 8 long-time volunteers who were excited, engaged, and utterly delightful; it’s easy to see why the garden, even during the colder months, is always in full bloom with such incredible support from it’s volunteer base. Thump thump!
Coq au Vin
3 pounds chicken thighs
kosher salt, as much is needed
ground sage, as much is needed
ground harissa, as much is needed
freshly ground black pepper, as much is needed
3 cups cabernet sauvignon
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
6 ounces bacon, 1/2 “ cubes
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, as much is needed
1 large onion, diced
1 large carrot, peeled diced
8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons rye whiskey
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces peeled pearl onions
1 baguette, sliced
¼ cup chopped parsley, more for serving
Season chicken with salt, ground sage, harissa, and pepper. In a large bowl, combine chicken, wine, bay leaf and thyme. Chill for 4 hours.
In a large cast iron skillet, over high heat grill or open flame, cook bacon until fat has rendered, yielding crisp morsels. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon, eaving rendered fat in skillet.
Remove chicken from wine, reserving the liquid. Pat chicken as dry as possible, this will ensure a nice, dark char when cooking. In cast iron skillet, heat bacon fat until just starting to smoke and whirl.. Add chicken to the skillet (you may need to do this in batches if pan is too small) and cook until browned, Remove,transfer thighs to a separate platter after browned.
Next, with skillet still hot (add ore fat or olive oil, if necessary add diced onion, carrot, the mushrooms. Cook until vegetables are browned, about 10 minutes
Add garlic, then stir in flour and cook for another 2 minutes. Careful here, add rye whiskey and and allow to burn off. Next, add reserved wine marinade, bring to simmer, and allow to reduce a bit - maybe five to 10 minutes.
Add chicken and half the cooked bacon to the pot. Cover and simmer over low heat for about an hour. Taste and add salt and pepper accordingly.
While the chicken is finishing, melt butter and oil in a second cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add pearl onions, a pinch of salt. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until onions are golden brown. Remove onions from skillet, but leave any reserved oil or brown butter..
In same skillet, melt a little more butter and bacon fat over medium heat. Add bread and toast on both sides until golden brown and crispy.
To serve, add pearl onions and remaining half of the cooked bacon to the pot. Serve the Coq au Vin over grits with a single toasted bread slice and chopped parsley.