Topsham, Devon October 26, 1998 The weekend the clocks go back, as hinted last week, for us is always a time of mourning. Certainly it marks the onset of winter, of wet and wild weather as the fronts roll in from the Atlantic to buffet Devon, of the River Exe transforming from a recreational playground that is the tidal estuary in summer to a nature sanctuary and fast-flowing river, habitat now of birds not boats. As we look forward to Bonfire Night, a celebration not so much of Guy Fawkes but rather of pagan winter rituals, we look beyond to the bleaker prospect of days drawing in ever shorter and shorter -- at the year's nadir in December, on a bleak or overcast day, it can be dark here already by 3.30-4 pm -- and to limited opportunities for decent afternoon cycling. Certainly, we are thankful we don't live in Scandinavia or within the Arctic Circle (though the bacchanalian prospect of endless days or nights in midsummer must be some compensation).
Fall-into-winter, though, it must be said, may have other compensations, too. Not least the chance to enjoy again simple, classic comfort foods that are at once as easy to prepare as they are satisfying to consume. Burgundian coq au vin remains one of our all-time favourites. We hope you'll enjoy this version, based on a recipe from our first book, The Wine & Food of Europe.

Coq au vin

Burgundian cuisine is not sophisticated; its essence, in fact, is simplicity. Like all great regional cuisines, it is an outgrowth of practical considerations, and its origins remain rooted in peasant tradition. Coq au vin, for example, (sometimes pretentiously called coq au Chambertin, but who on earth would use that great growth in the cooking pot?) was originally created to make use of the old and probably tough-as-boots cockerel. Most wine districts throughout Europe have a version of this ubiquitous chicken-stewed-in-wine dish, though nowhere is it more delicious than here, served in a dark red wine sauce, garnished with salt pork or bacon, button mushrooms and baby onions. This is simple, deeply flavoured, and deeply comforting food to savour with a good goblet of Burgundy as the nights draw in.

Large tablespoon of butter

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

100 g salt pork (or bacon), cut into cubes

20 baby onions, peeled

1 medium to large chicken, jointed into 8-12 pieces

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Small glass of brandy

Half a bottle of young red wine, preferably Macon or Beaujolais

300 ml rich chicken stock

1 bouquet garni

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

Sprig of fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

250 g. button mushrooms, cleaned but left whole


Heat the butter and oil in a large, heavy casserole and gently fry the salt pork or bacon. Add the baby onions and fry until golden. Remove and set aside. Season the chicken pieces, and add to the hot oil and butter. Fry until browned. Return the onions and salt pork to the pot, heat a ladle, add the brandy, set alight and pour into the pan, shaking all the while until the flames subside. Add the red wine, chicken stock, herbs and garlic. Bring to the simmering point and cover. Cook slowly for 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how tender or tough the chicken is.

Meanwhile, fry the mushrooms briskly in the vegetable oil until well browned. Add to the chicken and cook for a further 10 minutes. Uncover, skim off fat, and raise heat to reduce cooking liquid until it is thick and concentrated, and coats the back of a spoon (in Burgundy, the sauce might be thickened using beurre manié, that is, a knob of butter mixed with flour; we prefer instead to thicken by reduction). Adjust the seasoning and serve at once.

Wine suggestion: Accompany preferably with the same wine that you used for cooking -- it is incredible how the tastes can complement one another. We suggest a Mâcon Villages, Hautes Côtes de Nuits, or cru Beaujolais. Or, if funds or the occasion can run to it, why not a classic Burgundy from a village or individual appellation in the Côtes de Nuits or Côtes de Beaune.

Copyright © Marc Millon 2000


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Copyright © Marc and Kim Millon 2000