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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Coq au Vin (French Chicken with Wine): The French Meal I Wished I Had

Updated from the archives August 15, 2009:

Coq Au Vin (French Chicken with Wine) 1

I was in Paris, eating a Greek gyro on the steps of the Seine, below Notre Dame, while watching a juggler practice when a man walked down the steps to take a call on his cell phone. He ended his call, turned around, and noticed me.

"Bonjour," he said and then he attempted to have a conversation with me but he barely spoke English. And I, I only speak five words of French - bonjour, bon soir, merci, au revoir, voila! (The last said with a gallic shrug, of course.) Nonetheless, with a combination of smiles and hand gestures, we had a conversation that lasted for hours.

Somehow I managed to figure out that he was a Berber from Morocco. Some of the conversation went like this: "I sportive," he said as he held up his arms and flexed his biceps. "Tae kwon do. Vo vi nam." No way! He does Vietnamese martial arts? How cool is that? Picture me sitting there amused. Him talking and gesticulating wildly. And yet he tried so earnestly to communicate with me that I was flattered. He also bought me a rose from a wandering street seller.

Coq Au Vin (French Chicken with Wine) 2

So when the sun had set, we strolled along the lower banks of the Seine where spontaneous groups of people gathered around various street musicians. There was a group of people waltzing, a large group of Greek dancers who apparently brought along picnic baskets complete with watermelons, and a very lively group of salsa dancers. We joined in with the last group for a bit. It was one of those lovely aspects about Paris that I wouldn't have discovered otherwise.

Coq Au Vin (French Chicken with Wine) 3

We walked some more, stopping underneath a bridge when it began to rain. As he walked me back to my hotel, it being around midnight at this point, he stopped off an Algerian musician and requested he strum a few tunes on his guitar. I should have left it at that because it would have made a nice memory. But he was so persistent in asking me out again and again ("Moi invite' you a cafe'?") that I decided to say yes and met up with him the next day on my last night in Paris.

I imagined a candlelit bistro and a dinner of coq au vin. I had been enjoying three-course meals for around 10 euros so my expectations weren't completely unreasonable. He wore a nice black suit and a bold red shirt, no tie. And where does he take me to experience French food?

To his college cafeteria for a 2.60 euro meal -- dry chicken, fries, mushy broccoli. And yes, I even had to push a tray along a line. I should also add that the guy was 31 years old. He should have known better than to take a woman to a cafeteria for dinner. Sigh. Ah well.

We also went to a nice dark little cafe afterward. But by then, the moment was lost.

Oh, and as an addendum to my little story. He sends me an email in French a month later telling me how he'll always treasure the memories of our walk in Paris. He closes with a phrase that my fluent French-speaking friend insists isn't to be taken literally. But it's oh so lovely, that I choose to take the meaning as such. "Je t'embrasse tendrement partout et surtout avec délicatesse," which according to worldlingo.com means, "I tenderly kiss you everywhere and especially with delicacy."


While my sweet and then funny encounter didn't quite net me the meal I expected, I can easily make my own. Especially since my parents had sent me fresh chanterelle mushrooms that they had foraged themselves.

Coq Au Vin (French Chicken with Wine) 4

Coq au vin is a French stew of rooster in wine. We'll simply make that chicken instead. I usually make this when I've got extra red wine leftover, but you don't have to wait for that.

Coq Au Vin (French Chicken with Wine) 6

Coq au Vin (French Chicken with Wine)

For a 5-quart pot, you'll need:
4 chicken thighs, or any other part of your choice
1 large onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 lb mushrooms, halved or quartered
1 cup red wine, or more according to taste
4 strips of bacon, chopped
2 tblsp tomato paste, or if you like more like me, use the whole 8-oz can
1 tsp thyme, or more according to taste
2 tsp salt, or more according to taste
About 1/4 cup flour or more, for dusting

This recipe works best with a cast iron enameled Dutch oven to retain the heat and tenderize the meat, but any stockpot will do.

Liberally dust chicken thighs with flour. Fry in olive oil on high heat until browned. Set aside.

In the same stock pot, fry the chopped bacon until almost crispy.

Add chopped onions, carrots, and celery and saute until softened, scrapping the bottom of the pot to get any browned bits. Add browned chicken thighs and tomato paste into pot. Then add about 1 cup of red wine or more if you wish, and just enough water until the chicken and vegetables are covered by about an inch or so. Season with salt and thyme. Turn heat down to medium-low and allow to simmer for about an hour or until the stew is thickened to your liking.

About half an hour before serving, add mushrooms so they don't become too mushy.

Serve with crusty French bread.


And let's look at the old photo that necessitated this update. Eek!

Coq Au Vin (French Chicken with Wine) 5

My other French recipes:  
Boeuf Bourguignon (French Beef Burgundy)
Buckwheat Crepes  
Clafoutis aux Cerises (French Cherry Clafouti)
Gratin with Purple Cauliflower, Fennel, and Leeks  
Pate (Faux Gras with Chicken Livers)
Roasted Artichokes with Chili Aioli
Roasted Potatoes with Rosemary and Duck Fat


  1. His college cafeteria? Smoooooth. And yet, I'd probably have been flattered by too by how earnestly he was trying to pick you up. Cute in a geeky sort of way.

    Great story.

    - Chubbypanda

  2. CP,
    Yeah, it's cute and geeky in memory. But at the time was a total wtf moment. Heh.

  3. I was drawn in by the coq au vin, charmed by the "meeting a mysterious stranger in Paris" (too cool), but did not see that ending coming! ; )

    I love the mushrooms you used in your recipe photo -- did they change the flavor of the dish for you?


  4. Hi Manju,
    Hehe. I'm glad you liked the story. The mushrooms are chantarelles and my parents foraged for them. I actually think criminis are better for such a stew b/c they're creamier.

  5. This post of yours is more than a year old, but I just stumbled across it today (by way of mmm-yoso). You have a gift for storytelling that drew me right in.

  6. Alan,
    Thanks so much for your nice words. :)

  7. WC, I came over from Kirk's blog. I love that Kirk's blogger friends are so erudite and have such great taste. You've got some great recommendations for your restaurant choices and I'll definitely try them out when I'm in Los Angeles.
    Your coq au vin looks like a great recipe to make. I remember my first time I had coq au vin. I was in Boston for post grad and one of my teachers had it for lunch and she invited me to try it. It was delicious. I've always wanted to try to make it but was always intimidated because it was french and it used copious amounts of red wine. But now I know better and will try it out. Too bad my wife doesn't like red wine or French wine sauces, though she does love French patisseries. That I found out when we were in Tokyo and she dragged me to depatchkas in the department stores in Shinjuku.

  8. Jeffrey,
    heh, I don't think anyone's ever called me erudite before. Thanks. :)

    I hope you try out the recipe. I don't use too much wine, just enough to cover the stew so perhaps your wife will like it?

  9. ok. awesome story. it's so lovely and i am swooning over the last line of his email.

    and this dish, it's something i could totally dig into.

  10. Lan,
    Thanks. This is still one of my favorite posts. :)

    And wouldn't you take the literal translation of his words as well?

  11. I like the new photos you added! They add a lot to the story and the last photo is simply beautiful :). Great perspective shot.

    Hmm...not sure about this but I see that a bit of your watermark is being cut off on some of your photos. Just the curl of the g at the bottom and the p on the old photo of the Coq au vin and the picture of the chanterelle mushrooms.

  12. I did so like your story and your photos are lovely. The mushrooms picked by your parents are a treasure and I'm sure made your chicken better.

  13. That's awesome Parisian experience!! you ARE a good story teller! I'd totally buy your book when you get published!! :)

    GREAT photo of notre dame!!

  14. ETE,
    Thanks. I always felt like this post needed some photos of Paris to round it out. Yeah, old photos, I was still learning my way around Flickr and watermarking.

    Thanks. My parents are always foraging and fishing for their summer. One of those things I really miss about Oregon actually.

    Haha. Thanks for the vote of confidence!

  15. I made this last night, and it was the best coq au vin I have ever made. Many thanks! The only thing I did differently was to use a pressure cooker (45 minutes). Glad I found your site. :-)

  16. Saskia,
    Great to hear! It's such an easy recipe.


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