This is obviously a riff on the classic Coq au Vin, though I’ve taken some pretty serious liberties with the original. Julia Child’s precisely-described version is more a point of departure than one of comparison.
Earthy. Wintry. Quiet. Those are the elements I most wanted to invoke for my Chrismas Eve dinner as snow was gently falling. I seriously increased the quantity and types of mushrooms and onions. As for seasonings, I kept them simple: some bay leaves, peppercorns and juniper berries tied up with a bow (it’s Christmas after all) in a piece of cheesecloth. In place of chicken stock, I made a deeply flavorful mushroom stock.
My beer tastes range far and wide. I love a good IPA, and Stout is always nice in winter, but I wanted the beer taste to play well with the other flavors, not overtake them, so I used one of my favorites, Stella Artois, with homage to the dish’s French roots. As for the cognac called for in the original, I wanted something a little less fancy, so I went with a 3-year-old Rubí, a rustic French brandy with a bit of a bite to it that is reasonably priced and perfect for cooking.
And even though I had the better part of a day to let the various steps perfume the entire house, I wasn’t in a mood to wash several pans, so everything ultimately went into one. Yes, I used frozen pearl onions; it was Christmas Eve day, and there was a fire that needed sitting in front of and a book that needed reading.
FOR THE MUSHROOM STOCK
1 pound mushrooms and stems
3 bay leaves
1 yellow onion, large dice
3 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
32 ounces cold water
FOR THE COQ
1 stewing chicken
2 yellow onions, 1/4 “ slices
3 ounces brandy
2 11-ounce bottles Stella Artois
1 ounce dried mushrooms (I used a forestière blend, but straight porcinis would be wonderful, too) hydrated in 8 ounces boiling water
16 ounces mushroom stock from above (if you're a bit short, add a little more beer)
3 juniper berries, 6 peppercorns, 2 bay leaves tied in a piece of cheesecloth
1 1/2 pounds mushroom caps (I used brown mushrooms)
14-ounce bag frozen pearl onions, thawed
Salt and pepper
In This Recipe
FOR THE MUSHROOM STOCK
If you have some mushrooms hanging around that are a bit past their prime, they’re perfect for this. Also toss in the stems from the mushrooms you’ll use in the final preparation.
Place all ingredients in a covered soup pot and bring it to a boil. Remove the lid and allow to simmer until about 2 cups of lusciously-flavored liquid remain. This may take an hour or so. Strain and discard the solids.
FOR THE COQ
Pour the dried mushrooms into a mixing bowl and add the boiling water. Be sure all are submerged, and cover the bowl with a plate to retain the heat. Let them steep while you prepare everything else.
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.
Generously film with olive oil the bottom of an oven-proof pot large enough to hold a whole chicken. Warm it over medium heat. Rub the chicken with salt and pepper. Place it in the pot, and brown it on all sides, giving it a good 5-7 minutes on each side.
When browned, remove the chicken to a platter. Add the onions and allow them to caramelize a bit, about 15 minutes. Stir them around as their juices effectively deglaze the browned bits from the bottom of the pot.
This is always my favorite part. Add the brandy, stand back (especially if you have long hair), and light it with a fire starter. When the flames subside, add the beer, dried mushrooms and their liquid, the mushroom stock, and the seasoning bag. Bring everything to a boil (raise the heat if you need to).
Return the chicken to the pot, cover it with a lid or foil, and place it in the oven. Allow to braise until deeply flavorful, 3 to 4 hours.
One half hour before serving, remove the lid and add the whole mushroom caps and pearl onions. Replace the lid and allow them to cook until softened.
To serve, remove the pot from the oven and use a couple of wide spatulas or skimmers to lift the chicken from the pot. It’s going to fall apart, which is actually what you want it to do, so be prepared and have a platter right next to the pot. And wear an apron. Lift out any pieces that fall off. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper.
I served mine over a blend of wild and brown rices and quinoa, but use whatever you like as a base - rice, pasta, or other grains. A fork works well to pull off tender chunks of chicken, and be sure to spoon a generous amount of the sauce, mushrooms, and onions over the top. Garnish with some fresh parsley. Serve with a glass of your favorite beer.