TasteFood by Lynda Balslev

Tame the Rooster: Embrace the Cold Weather With Coq au Vin

The origins of coq au vin (cock in wine) is steeped in frugality and addressed how to cook a tough rooster by tenderizing the meat with a long braise. The resulting stew was deliciously rich in wine and aromatics, so it's easy to see why this French specialty has transcended time.

Coq au vin is rustic and homey and especially cozy as a winter meal. Nowadays, a roasting chicken is easily substituted for the rooster, and the length of cooking time is somewhat shortened. Nonetheless, the dish is best when left to simmer over low heat or braise in the oven, while the sauce absorbs the flavors of the chicken and aromatics before it's reduced and thickened into a luxuriously rich stew.

In this version, I omit the frequently added bacon and pour in a generous glug of cognac to deglaze the pan and further fortify the stock. Tomato paste brightly rounds out the sauce, and the final touch is a spoonful of brown sugar, which is a useful way to add extra depth to a stew. This is the epitome of winter weekend food, and a perfect way to fill your home with warmth and comforting aromas when it's cold and wet outside.

Coq au Vin: Chicken Braised in Red Wine

Active time: 40 minutes

Total time: 2 hours and 10 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 (3- to 4-pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces

1/3 cup cognac

4 garlic cloves, smashed

2 to 3 large carrots, sliced 1/2 inch thick

1 large onion, chopped

8 ounces white mushrooms, halved (quartered if large)

1 (750 ml) bottle full-bodied red wine

1/4 cup tomato paste

2 teaspoons dried thyme

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon brown sugar

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat the oil in an oven-proof pot with a lid or a Dutch oven over medium-high. In batches, add the chicken pieces, skin-side down, and brown, turning once or twice, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a platter.

Reduce the heat to medium and carefully add the cognac to the pot (it will sizzle and steam). Stir to deglaze the pot while you let the cognac reduce by about half.

Add the garlic, carrots, onion and mushrooms, and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the wine, tomato paste, thyme and bay leaves. Return the chicken to the pot and nestle the pieces in the wine. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven to cook for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Transfer the pot to the stove top. Remove the chicken and vegetables with a slotted spoon and place in a large bowl. Boil the sauce over medium heat until reduced by about half and thickened to a sauce consistency, about 20 minutes, skimming the fat. Add the sugar and salt and pepper to taste. Return the chicken and vegetables to the pot, and gently simmer to thoroughly heat through.

Serve warm in low bowls with mashed or roasted potatoes.