Simply food



Rich and tasty

The recipe file is getting fat and disorganised, a bit like my desk at the end of a long winter, and this delicious chicken casserole presents itself, perfect for a chilly evening, while I’m looking for something quite different.

I’ve been travelling in warm places, (I wrote at the time) but back home I need to cook up something to keep out the cold. Diane spots a recipe for Coq au vin in the Globe and Mail, but I don’t much care for the writer’s take on this classic, adding parsnips and red grapes to what is usually an uncluttered, simple one-pot dish. I haul out my old orange Le Creuset enameled cast-iron 9 1/2 quart oval French oven, now retailing for $480 (on sale) at Amazon. I bought it for an appearance on a television show in the mid-80s and it’s still going strong. It is the perfect tool for a slow cooked dish like this, but any heavy casserole will do, or even an electric skillet at a pinch.

There’s been some debate in the house about whether coq au vin is made with red or white wine. Le Paradis Bistro just down the street (now entering its 28th year at the same location, with a new lease and a promise to paint out the ghastly mural it inherited from its predecessor Cycles) makes it with white wine. Larousse Gastronomique, my bible for French cooking, makes no such concession. I am reminded that coq is actually the French for cockerel, and this dish was traditionally made when the old cock of the roost could no longer serve his duties in the farm yard. Tough old bugger that he was, he needed a long slow cook to make him tender. Nowadays, ordinary chicken is more readily available.

Yellow predominates for a spring touch

Yellow predominates for a spring touch

One hates to subject guests to experimental cooking, but I’m pretty confident this will turn out well, as there really is nothing one can mess up. We talk about who to invite for an impromptu mid-week supper and decide on two dear friends, a mother and daughter, whom we’ve known for years, but haven’t had round for a while. Fran Vallée is one of Canada’s top voice actors and if you phone several of Canada’s largest corporations Fran’s will be the voice that welcomes you. She and I travelled the length and breadth of the country shooting corporate videos for RBC for more than a dozen years. We have some pretty good stories about pre-dawn shoots in Chicoutimi, Quebec, pretending pig barns don’t stink in Steinbach, Manitoba, and braving the drums at a pow-wow in Kelowna, BC. I’ve watched her daughter Amy McConnell grow up and have been proud to mentor her career as a video producer. She’s even more talented as a jazz singer and we have been playing her marvellous new CD Stealing Genius with trumpeter William Sperandei. It’s getting amazing airplay on Jazz FM and even CBC radio.

Diane decides the house needs an antidote from these grey days and gets yellow roses, yellow freesias, yellow tulips and daffodils for a spring like display throughout the house. She digs out pale yellow place mats and bright yellow napkins and finishes the table with brightly polished antique brass candlesticks. I insist on using the funky painted yellow ceramic coasters we bought in Puerto Vallarta, even though they are a bit down market compared with the rest of the table setting. But the overall effect is very cheerful and adds an excellent atmosphere. Did I mention that Diane is a designer?


  • Servings: 4-6
  • Print

Bouquet garni

Bouquet garni

Shopping list

  • 1 kg (4 lb) cut up chicken, legs and thigh
  • 90 g (3 1/3 oz) thick lean bacon
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp white flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 62 ml (1/4 cup) cognac (or brandy)
  • 500 ml (2 cups) full-bodied red wine (Beaujolais or similar about 2/3rd of a bottle)
  • 250 ml+ (1 – 1 1/2 cups) brown chicken stock
  • 20 pearl onions
  • 20 small brown mushrooms
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • bouquet garni (a bay leaf, parsley and thyme)

1. Cut the bacon into thick strips (about 1/4 in by 1 in) and brown them in the pan. You may find it more convenient to use a large frying pan for the bacon and chicken, and later for the onions and mushrooms, and then deposit each in the casserole as it is cooked. Remove to the casserole and leave as much as possible of the bacon fat behind.
2. Cut the chicken up into pieces (leg, thigh etc), wash and dry thoroughly. Brown the skin on each side in the bacon fat and remove to the casserole. Season with salt and pepper, cover and cook slowly for 10 min, turning the chicken once or twice. Uncover, and pour in the brandy. Standing well back, light with a taper and shake the dish until the flames subside. Mind your eyebrows!
3. Pour the wine into the casserole. If it does not cover the meat, add as much or as little chicken stock as needed. Reserve about 1/4 cup of the stock to blend in with the tomato paste and garlic. Add to the casserole along with a bouquet garni. Make the bouquet garni with a few sprigs of parsley, thyme and a couple of bay leaves tied together with butcher’s string. It will be discarded later. Cover and simmer for 30 to 45 min, until the chicken is cooked.
4. Make a roux of butter and flour in a separate saucepan. Leave off the casserole lid. Remove about 2 cups of liquid (and discard the bouquet garni) and use this to make a gravy. When it thickens, return it to the casserole and stir in to blend with the remaining liquid. Simmer the sauce to reduce the amount of liquid and bring it to a consistency thickness.
5. In the frying pan, brown the peeled pearl onions and washed and quartered mushrooms. Add them to the stew and cook for another 15 min. The coq au vin can now rest until you need to serve it. Just bring it back to a simmer to heat it through.

In the tradition of the dish, I served tiny new red potatoes, buttered, in their skins, and baby green beans, lightly steamed and still crunchy. Add a basket of crusty French bread to sop up the rich sauce.

I cooked with Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages, but Diane preferred we serve La Fiole Côtes du Rhone with the meal, both fine robust wines and well priced.

NEWS UPDATE: My fully illustrated e-book, Market to Table: The Cookbook started as a project for novice cooks, but after I was picked to host a cooking show featuring food bought at farmers’ markets, developed into a more complete collection of the recipes from the series, including some from guest chefs on the show, as well as those from my well-read foodie blog. It is easy to read, divided into chapters that cover the main mealtimes of the day, and into recipes that are concise and guaranteed to work. Most recipes are accompanied by an entertaining story. Brilliant young Chef Dan Frenette, who now hosts the TV series, has written the Foreword and contributes to the book.

How about a copy as a gift idea for yourself, friends, family or anyone who loves to cook, now available on, i-Tunes and Amazon.

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