4.2 Coq au Riesling
In the 16th century, Henry IV of France is said to have declared that ‘no peasant in my realm will lack the means to have a chicken in the pot on Sunday!’, and chicken has been a French Sunday-lunch staple ever since. Chicken is now so readily available and affordable that we often forget it was an expensive luxury right up until the last quarter of the 20th century.
Most people know the classic French dish Coq au Vin — chicken slowly cooked in red wine — and I remember it being a stalwart of nearly every restaurant menu throughout the 1970s and ’80s. Although made in much the same way, I’ve always preferred this white wine version from Alsace. Coq au Riesling is a rarer bird than its Burgundian cousin, but hopefully not for too much longer.
- 1 free-range chicken weighing about 1.5 – 2kg, portioned into eight pieces (find out how to do this online, or ask your butcher to do it)
- 100 g plain flour, seasoned with ¼ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
- 2 shallots or 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped 150 g button mushrooms, finely sliced
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 600 ml dry Alsace Riesling or other unoaked dry white wine such as Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc. Avoid Sauvignon Blanc as its flavour can be overpowering.
- 200 ml good quality chicken stock (or 1 chicken stock cube diluted with 200 ml of boiling water)
- 15 g dried morel mushrooms, rehydrated in 75 ml boiling water (optional, but highly recommended)
- 50 ml brandy
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Olive oil for frying
- 75 ml double cream or non dairy equivalent (optional)
- Preheat your oven to 150°C / 300°F / gas mark 2.
- Place the seasoned flour in a large freezer bag followed by the chicken pieces. Make sure the chicken is well coated with flour. Remove from the bag and shake off any excess.
- Fry in olive oil over a medium heat until golden in colour. Please note: the chicken will not be cooked through at this point.
- Remove the chicken pieces from the frying pan and place them in a casserole.
- Wipe or rinse your pan to remove the oil and browned flour then gently fry the chopped shallots or onion in a little more olive oil until they turn translucent, then add the sliced mushrooms and the chopped garlic.
- Continue to cook gently until the moisture from the mushrooms has been released and has almost completely evaporated.
- Add the brandy to the pan and flame off the alcohol. Ensure that you deglaze the pan thoroughly.
- Add the chicken stock, the Riesling and, if you’re using them, the rehydrated morels and their water.
- Turn up the heat and reduce the liquid by a quarter.
- Stir in the Dijon mustard and the sugar.
- Season with ¼ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper.
- Pour the sauce over the chicken in the casserole, put the lid on, and place it in your preheated oven for 1½ hours.
- Periodically check that it is not drying out. If it is, add a little more water, wine or chicken stock. When cooked, remove the chicken pieces from the casserole, cover them, and keep them warm.
- Place the casserole on the stove over a high heat and reduce the volume of the sauce by about a third until a good coating texture is reached. Check the seasoning and adjust as necessary.
- In Alsace, where it seems cholesterol and calories are not recognised, the sauce is thickened and finished with cream. The choice is yours.
- Add the chicken pieces back into the casserole and coat them well with the sauce.
- Serve with mashed potatoes or, perhaps more authentically, spaetzle and some lightly cooked vegetables.
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