Start this recipe a day ahead to prepare the chicken and stock. Serve this with fettuccine, boiled potatoes or a purée of two parts potato to one part celeriac.
Cooking with wine is a signature of French cuisine and probably nowhere more so than in Burgundy. Coq au vin, first recorded around 400 years ago, is a classic example, along with boeuf Bourguignonne.
Coq au vin was originally a humble chicken stew made with a large rooster (le coq of the name), onions, carrots and sometimes celery, and braised with bacon in red Burgundy. The sauce is thickened partially with flour and then by reduction. It's then garnished with small glazed onions and sautéed mushrooms.
Of course, the journey from home kitchen to restaurant, as is usually the case, has meant the use of more sophisticated wine and the forsaking of the older, richly flavoured bird for a tender chicken.
Bacon is essential. In France cooks use petit salé, salt-pork cut into lardons. This is seldom seen in Australia so I substitute lardons cut from a slab of streaky bacon, but it needs to be blanched starting from cold water for about eight minutes, then rinsed well (and dried before frying) to remove the smokiness. Pancetta is another alternative, but because it's so strongly flavoured it should be similarly blanched for two or three minutes.
Recipes for coq au vin won't be found in the books of the great master chefs such as Escoffier simply because of the dish's peasant origin. Some older recipes call for thickening the sauce with chicken or pork blood, as I discovered reading Paul Bocuse's French Cooking, but this appears untraditional.
The key to making authentic coq au vin is in the attention to detail, namely the searing of the chicken and glazing of the pickling onions. A good non-extravagant red Burgundy (or Australian pinot noir) is important, as is a fine chicken as well as some giblets for the stock. While there are now several producers of quality poultry I prefer the barnyard flavour of a Saskia Beer bird.
Start by cutting the chicken into eight pieces. Place the chicken breast-side up on a cutting board. Pull away the legs and cut through the skin where the leg separates from the breast, then cut between the ball and socket to detach the legs. Find the middle joint of each leg and cut through the socket to halve them. Cut down on either side of the breastbone to release the breasts and cut through the wing joint. Gently pull away each breast from the carcass from the wing end. Cut each breast in two. Stretch out wings and cut them off at the joint closest to the body, and cut off the wing tips and reserve for stock along with the chopped carcass.
Place the chicken pieces skin-up on a metal cooling rack and refrigerate them uncovered for at least six hours or overnight to dry them out. This helps in the colouring of the flesh when it's seared in clarified butter.
At the other end of the cooking process, the traditional accompaniment is triangles of fried bread (I like to cut them into heart shapes) placed around the platter to serve, but modern recipes usually call for boiled new potatoes or noodles. I've also seen coq au vin served with a purée of potatoes, and a purée of celeriac and potatoes would make an excellent alternative.
For the celeriac, use half the weight of the peeled potatoes. Boil the peeled celeriac until tender, then drain it and purée it in a food processor. Combine it with a potato purée passed through a mouli or potato ricer (using a food processor to purée potatoes overworks the starch, making for a gluey result), and finish it with butter and hot cream, seasoning it to taste with a touch of star anise, and salt and pepper.
Enjoy your visit to Burgundy via one of its most delicious dishes, le coq au vin.