Coq au Riesling: the other famous French chicken

by Terry B on December 19, 2012

An Alsatian take on classic coq au vin, Coq au Riesling combines chicken, lardons, shallots, mushrooms and dry Riesling wine in a braise that’s even better the next day. Recipe below.

We sometimes think of national cuisines in monolithic terms. “How about Chinese tonight?” “Nah, I’m in the mood for Italian.” But countries large and small are made up of regions, each with their own distinct cuisines. So you get classic Northern Italian dishes and Southern Italian dishes. North Indian and South Indian. And Chicago restaurateur Tony Hu has built a career of highlighting regional Chinese cuisines, with individual restaurants serving the foods of Szechaun, Hunan, Beijing, Shanghai, Yunnan…

No country takes regionalism to greater heights than France. Partly, that’s due to size. France is the third largest European nation—and that’s only if you count Russia and Ukraine as part of Europe (Wikipedia sniffs that they’re actually part of Asia). Partly, though, it’s France and food. They’re very good at it and take it very seriously. What other country names a carrot soup for a town in a region known for growing good carrots?

Even classic French dishes like coq au vin get their regional tweaks. Essentially chicken braised with wine, lardons, mushrooms, onions (or shallots) and garlic, the variations come mostly in the wine chosen. Burgundy and other reds are most often the wine used, but not always. As Julia Child puts it in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, “This popular dish may be called coq au Chambertin, coq au Riesling, or coq au whatever wine you use for its cooking.”

I went with Riesling, the wine of choice in France’s Alsace region. Located on the eastern edge of France, Alsace is just across the Rhine from Germany and Switzerland. In fact, it only became part of France in the 17th century, and even after that, it changed hands between France and Germany four separate times in 75 years. Although French is now the official language, nearly half of the adult population also still speaks Alsatian, a dialect similar to German. So it’s only natural that their food would be influenced by their German history.

Wines produced in the Alsace region tend to be white, most of them styled after German wines, including Gewurztraminer and Riesling. Often, they tend toward off-dry or even sweet in flavor. There are dry Rieslings as well, though, and this is the direction I chose. An off-dry Riesling would work too. The Riesling is more delicate than big reds used in coq au vin, and the resulting sauce is much less wine forward in flavor. Think of it as a sauce with wine rather than a wine sauce.

Coq au Riesling is wonderfully comforting on a cold winter’s night. It’s rustic, earthy and layered. And like the more famous coq au vin, it’s better the next day. The flavors meld and deepen in the fridge overnight. Which makes it the perfect make ahead meal for dinner with friends. You can join in the cocktails and conversation, then quickly warm it up as you cook up some parsley potatoes, buttered egg noodles or rice to serve with it.

More traditional recipes call for cooking a whole chicken cut into pieces. Others call for using just chicken thighs or drumsticks and thighs. That’s what I did. First, chicken legs are juicier and more flavorful than breast meat. And in serving, each diner gets a drumstick and a thigh—elegant looking on the plate and no fussing over who got what.

Coq au Riesling
Serves 4

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
4 slices bacon cut crosswise into 1/4-inch lardons
4 each, chicken drumsticks and thighs (or a whole chicken, cut up)
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 shallots, sliced (or 1 large onion)
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons brandy or cognac (see Kitchen Notes)
1-1/2 cups dry Riesling
3 sprigs thyme (or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon—see Kitchen Notes)
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, quartered (or button mushrooms)
1/2 cup crème fraîche (or sour cream—see Kitchen Notes)
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

buttered egg noodles or cooked rice (see Kitchen Notes)

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large, lidded nonstick sauté pan over medium heat. Add the bacon lardons and cook until they begin to brown and much of the fat is rendered, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Don’t let it get too crisp—you want chewy little bites in the finished dish, not bacon bits. Don’t worry if it’s not cooked all the way through. It will finish cooking with the chicken. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon.

While lardons are cooking, salt and pepper chicken generously on both sides. Add chicken to the bacon fat in the pan and brown on both sides, about 4 minutes to side. Transfer chicken to a plate. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat in pan and reduce heat to medium low. (If you pour off too much fat—I did—drizzle in a little olive oil.) Add shallots and sweat until soft, stirring frequently to avoid browning, about 4 minutes. Add garlic to pan and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds.

Turn off heat and deglaze pan with brandy, scraping up any browned bits. Add Riesling to pan. Quickly bruise thyme sprigs by rolling them with a rolling pin or the side of a glass. Add to pan, along with lardons. Bring mixture to a boil over medium high heat, add chicken to pan, cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in another large skillet over medium heat and sauté mushrooms until they’ve released their juices and are nicely browned. Turn off heat and leave mushrooms in pan.

Transfer chicken pieces to a warm serving platter and tent with foil. Raise heat to medium high and slightly reduce liquid in pan, about 2 minutes. Discard thyme sprigs and add crème fraîche and mushrooms to pan and stir to combine. Cook until mushrooms are heated through. Spoon sauce and mushrooms over chicken and garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.

Alternatively, you can plate this dish. Spoon buttered egg noodles or rice on individual plates and top with a drumstick and thigh each and spoon sauce and mushrooms over chicken. Or serve chicken next to parsley potatoes.

Kitchen Notes

Brandy? Cognac? When recipes call for a deglazing liquid at all, they call for cognac. I’m sure it’s a delicious touch. We had brandy on hand, also delicious—and less expensive than the kind of cognac you’d have on hand if you had it.

Thyme? Tarragon? The one herb all recipes agree on is parsley. For many, that’s the only one they call for. As much as I love parsley, I didn’t want it to do all the heavy lifting, especially because it’s added at the very end. Either chopped tarragon or some thyme sprigs added along with the Riesling help flavor the sauce and the chicken as it braises.

Crème fraîche? Sour cream? If you can find crème fraîche, splurge. It’s a French sour cream that’s less tangy than its American counterpart and has a higher fat content. So it adds a luxurious richness to the sauce. Crème fraîche is becoming more widely available here—I found mine at Trader Joe’s. But in a pinch, sour cream will do.

Noodles? Rice? Potatoes? According to Julia Child, coq au vin (and its variations) are typically served with parsley potatoes. Many recipes call for buttered egg noodles with fresh parsley. The first night, we had the buttered noodles, the second night, rice. Honestly, I liked the rice better, partly because it absorbed the sauce nicely.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

randi December 19, 2012 at 5:25 pm

Now this looks delicious! The first time I made Coq au Vin I was about 22 and thought I would make a nice dinner for my now husband. Being a novice cook, I used a cheap red wine and probably did not follow instructions correctly. The result was a purple dinner. Everything including the potatoes were purple. It’s hilarious now but I was embarrassed. I guess one of the best ways to learn is through mistakes. Baptism by fire. I’ve copied and printed this. It’s on my ‘make really soon’ list. I can imagine how nice the sauce tastes.

kitchenriffs December 19, 2012 at 6:10 pm

Gosh, I haven’t made Coq au Vin in years, and never with a Riesling. Partially, I guess, because I always think of red wine with this dish. and partially because I get nervous when buying Riesling — I understand why the sweeter ones are so good, but I really prefer the dry ones, and I’m never sure what I’m going to get (although my wine merchant has always been right on the money when I ask about this). Alsace has some wonderful food that’s probably not as well known in the US as it should be. I was lucky enough to be living in New York when André Soltner’s Lutèce was in its prime, and always enjoyed the great Alsatian food that would emerge from his tiny kitchen. Anyway, this is such a nice, direct preparation of a classic dish. Tarragon is a must in this dish, IMO. I don’t believe I’ve ever had it served with rice — an excellent idea. Really good stuff. Thanks.

Anita December 19, 2012 at 6:50 pm

First of all, thanks for all the recipes and hints through the year… Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

Now to the nitty-gritty… would you have any suggestions for something to use in place of Cognac OR brandy? I’d really like to try this recipe, but very rarely like the taste of strong alcohol in my food (I will cook with beer or wine, though); plus, I don’t keep it in the house, so it’s just not available. Not to mention I’d have to make a trip to the booze store just to buy a teeny tiny bottle. Thank you!

Terry B December 19, 2012 at 7:11 pm

A wonderful story, Randi. And he married you anyway, so you obviously had more going on than your culinary skills! I’ve certainly had my share of cooking embarrassments, for dates and company.

Kitchenriffs, we discovered dry Rieslings when we were on a visit to the Northwest. Oregon and Washington state produce some excellent ones. We’ve even found a really nice and modestly priced one from Washington’s Columbia Valley, Pacific Rim Dry Riesling, at Trader Joe’s. Regarding the tarragon, I’m sure it would add a lot to the dish. I thought I had some on hand when I started cooking, but didn’t. The thyme (which I’ve seen in some recipes) was substituted at the last minute—and did okay, I have to say.

Happy holidays to you too, Anita! No need to buy a bottle of booze you won’t use for this. Just use a couple extra tablespoons of the Riesling to deglaze the pan. This will help cool the pan slightly (remember to remove it from the heat first) so that less of the 1-1/2 cups of the wine evaporates and spatters all over the place.

The Rowdy Chowgirl December 20, 2012 at 3:41 am

I’ll bet this really is good the first day and even better the next day! And the picture is beautiful, too!

dani h December 20, 2012 at 7:39 am

looks and sounds delicious, Terry!

Happiest of holidays to you and your family!

dani

Maiken December 20, 2012 at 7:50 am

Great recipe. I love the idea of ​​Riesling instead of red wine. Maybe it will give an ease to the course. I think I’ll try to make this recipe to my colleagues for lunch here before Christmas break.
Maiken

jeri December 21, 2012 at 1:33 am

I’m usually such a recipe tweaker, I’m a little ashamed to have never thought of a white wine variation. This would be fantastic for New Year’s Day or the Superbowl. Keep the chicken in the crockpot on warm and some rice in the rice cooker. Delicious, and you’d get to totally enjoy your own party.

Terry B December 22, 2012 at 1:17 am

Thanks, Rowdy!

Welcome back, Dani! And happy holidays to you and your family too.

I hope you like it, Maiken. Let me know if you get a chance to make it.

Sounds like a great plan, Jeri. We’re big fans of make ahead meals when possible.

eeka December 22, 2012 at 11:19 pm

Mmmm! This inspires me to make a pot soon.

Randi- I’ve made my share of purple coq au vin- it’s always tasty, despite looking odd.

Meg January 14, 2013 at 12:32 am

Made tonight and wow, so wonderful! Deglazed with the Riesling and used sour cream as that was all my store had. Rave reviews from the family! Cannot wait to make for company! Thanks!

Terry B January 14, 2013 at 1:45 am

Thanks, eeka!

Meg, I’m so glad you liked it!

Eric March 16, 2013 at 2:56 am

Nice simple instructions, thank you.

For an overnighter, do you prepare to the point just before parsley garnish and refrigerate in that state?

Thanks in advance.

Eric

Terry B March 16, 2013 at 4:20 am

Eric, if you’re making it the night ahead, I would cook it up to the point of preparing the mushrooms. While the chicken reheats over medium-low heat, prepare the mushrooms and take it from there.

Sylvie March 21, 2013 at 2:18 am

Omg! This was absolutly amazing! I didn’t use the creme fraich, because I wanted to serve it over a Parmesan risotto. Thanks for such a great recipe!!!

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