Coq Au Vin – A Classic Recipe from my Childhood:
Now I’m past my forties, I’ve become a firm believer that fifty is the new twenty. Despite that, I increasingly find myself spotting things that were significantly different when I was growing up. There are certain foods which really seem to have changed in terms of taste. And, others which simply were not available. Coq Au Vin was a classic even then, but, somehow I’ve struggled to get the same depth of flavour when I’ve made it more recently
I don’t remember ever being able to buy pre-jointed chicken back then. My mother bought our meat from a family butcher with a black and white tiled floor, liberally covered with sawdust. We’d queue and talk first to the butcher who would recommend various cuts of meat and then package everything up in paper and string. Then, we’d walk over to the cash desk to pay. The cashier was a slightly scary character, an elderly lady who had lost one eye and had a glass one, like a marble, to fill the socket. Everything was rung up on an old fashioned till, like a typewriter. And my mother would hand over cash in exchange for her packages of meat and poultry.
Chicken came ‘whole’. The giblets were an important part of the bird and were always supplied. My mum would boil them up for gravy if we were having a roast and our family cat would enjoy a feast of chicken liver, neck and heart. If she wanted to make a casserole, she’d joint the chicken with comic-book-large poultry shears, usually following the instructions in Mrs Beeton or something similar. There would be much cursing but the end result was 6 or 8 pieces of chicken that made a perfect family casserole. Small portions of wings and thighs, white meat on the bone to stop it drying out in the casserole and the prized drumsticks. And, the remaining part of the chicken carcase would be boiled up to make stock as a base for the casserole or for soup. Coq Au Vin was something for a special occasion – my parents enjoyed the idea that they were well travelled and something like this would have been a dinner party dish. Any leftovers went to the kids for supper the next evening though…
Given enough time and half a chance, I still prefer to joint a whole chicken rather than buying chicken pieces. So, when I was sent a fabulous free range chicken by The Thoughtful Producer team, instead of roasting it, I decided that I’d use it to make Coq Au Vin. The breeding method used by The Thoughtful Producer makes for a chicken which genuinely does taste the way chicken did when I was growing up. The chickens are reared in the best possible free range conditions, in the fields and orchards of the Berkshire countryside. And, they are reared for three times as long as standard supermarket chickens. Then, they are dry plucked and game hung for great flavour and texture. It’s pretty much what I would have expected of the chickens we bought from that old butcher’s shop in Hunstanton, in the days when chicken was something of a luxury – as special as a good roast of beef. And that suits me fine, I’d like to see myself as a ‘feastarian’ – I don’t want to give up meat, but I’d rather eat less overall, and stick to better quality, humanely reared meat – which does tend to be a little more expensive.
It’s a while since I’ve made Coq Au Vin. I suspect my mother’s version came from the Cordon Bleu recipe book series.
Mine was something of a hybrid – I used Nigel Slater’s recipe as an aide memoir and adapted it in the way I remember my mum making the dish, without any celery or brandy It was utterly delicious and the perfect autumnal supper – served here with dauphinoise potatoes to mop up all the sauce. I am now firmly convinced that a jointed whole free range chicken is essential for that full depth of flavour you should get with a properly made chicken casserole.
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Disclosure: I was sent my chicken by The Thoughtful Producer for the purposes of review.