This series of articles will highlight some of our favorite culinary offerings around the world. For us, the joy of travel is inextricably linked to eating well, and we like to recreate our favorites at home. Join us as we share some of our best travel stories and then take our turn cooking the iconic dishes that make our travels so special. Check out our previous installments here and here.
It is almost impossible to not fall in love with Burgundy.
It is rustic, with a rolling rural landscape, dotted with rows of meticulously maintained vineyards, and understated, austere estates. Yet, it is simultaneously luxurious, decadent, and indulgent. The food of Burgundy is simple and humble, like beef bourguignon or andouillette sausage, yet it is the also home of the famous Burgundy wines, from full-bodied chardonnay to supple, aromatic pinot noir, often commanding eye-watering prices.
The success of the wine industry in the area doesn’t seem to ruffle even the most famous Burgundian winemakers, who are often found in the fields, tending to their crop. It is said the official uniform of a Burgundy winemaker is jeans and work boots.
This differs from Bordeaux (another preeminent French wine region), where major estates are now owned by large, multinational companies.
We spent a long weekend in Burgundy last summer with some of our London expat friends, doing some serious wine touring and tasting. We hired a private guide to take the four of us (plus our friends’ three month old baby) around Burgundy. Over the course of nine hours, we explored a large chunk of the Cote d’Or, the core of the Burgundy wine region.
Luckily, baby Finn took well to the wine tour, and found dark, cool, quiet wine cellars as the perfect napping area.
We rented an apartment in the town of Beaune, in the middle of the Cote d’Or as our homebase for the weekend. The farmers’ market held on Saturdays was deliciously tempting, so after a long day on the road, we decided that a home cooked meal was in order. We splurged on a local Bresse chicken, one of the most famous and sought after chickens in the world.
A great chicken, some local produce, and a few bottles of delicious pinot noir from a local vineyard for cooking and consuming. Is there a better way to spend a night? I don’t think so.
The Burgundian classic, coq au vin, is a perfect example of the rustic nature of the region. The dish was created as a way to cook old roosters, which were not typically eaten. Slow braising the meat in red wine was the best way to make the old birds tender enough to eat.
Coq au Vin
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 thick-cut strips of smoky bacon, sliced
8 small shallots, peeled
1 lb (450g) button mushrooms, sliced in half
3-4 large carrots, peeled and chopped into large chunks
1 whole chicken, broken down into 6 pieces (2 breasts, 2 leg quarters, 2 wings)
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3 tablespoons brandy
1 bottle of red wine, preferably from Burgundy
2 cups of chicken stock
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons flour
1 bunch of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1/2 bunch fresh parsley, roughly chopped
- If, like me, you have a gluten intolerance, just substitute gluten-free flour. I did for this dish and it thickened nicely.
- It is best to use one whole chicken, because you can make homemade chicken stock with the leftover carcass. Just place the bones in water with carrots, celery, onions, and garlic, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for at least one hour, though longer the better.
For the coq au vin, start by heating the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat and add the bacon. Let it brown and render some of its delicious fat, then remove the bacon and set aside. Next, season the chicken with salt and pepper, add it to the pot, skin-side down and sear for a minimum of 5-8 minutes. The chicken will not all fit in the pot at once, so work in batches. You want to achieve some nice color on the skin and render some of the fat out of the skin. Once the chicken is nicely browned, remove and set aside.
Add the shallots and carrots, season with salt and pepper, and let brown for at least 5 minutes before stirring (we’re looking for lots of brown bits, so no need to overstir). Add the mushrooms and garlic, and let sauté for 5 minutes, until the mushrooms begin to soften slightly. Next goes in the tomato paste and flour, stirring so the flour combines with the fat in the pot and the tomato paste cooks slightly, about 2 minutes.
The bottom of the pot should be dark and full of browned bits of bacon, chicken, and vegetables at this point. Add the brandy and a touch of wine (if you are afraid of the liquor flaming, add the wine first, then the brandy), and with a wooden spoon, aggressively scrape the bottom of the pot to remove all of the browned bits. It is key for developing a deep flavor to your coq au vin.
Add the chicken and bacon back to the pot, then pour the rest of the bottle of wine and the chicken stock. The liquid should just cover the chicken. Tie the thyme and bay leaves together with some twine, and nestle it into the liquid. Let the whole lot come up to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and slow cook for at least 90 minutes. The chicken is done when the meat will yield with even a gentle tug.
Remove the chicken, which should be falling apart tender at this point. Put the heat back up to high, and while uncovered, let the sauce and vegetables boil for 15 minutes, or until reduced by about a quarter. This will thicken the stew, making it more unctuous and rich.
Serve the chicken with plenty of the broth and finish with some freshly chopped parsley. Make sure to pop a bottle of Burgundy, like Beaujolais, a perfect companion to this Burgundian comfort dish.