“I’m having fruit salad for dinner. Well it’s mostly grapes actually.
OK, it’s all grapes. Fermented grapes. I’m having wine for dinner
– Julia Child.

Julia Child, seminal American cook and author said “Wine is part of the food chain, it makes meals more pleasant” adding “I like to cook with wine…sometimes I even put it into the food”.

Wine has been part of a chef’s mis en place since the Roman occupation of Europe. Apart from the inner pleasure it may generate whilst the cooking process is underway – along with Julia Child it was something our own Keith Floyd repeatedly enjoyed – wine provides any dish with a combination of sugar, acidity, astringency and welcome enzymes, along with that uplifting mainstay; alcohol. It offers to marinate, tenderise, moisten and enrich, and our favoured Le vrai Coq au Vin below uses the full spectrum of its culinary largesse.

As wine so rarely gets sound guidance in cookbooks and in the interest of good house keeping and the need to regulate some frequently quoted platitudes, wine/food mythologies occasionally need an upgrade when heading for the kitchen.

The temperature at which you are likely to boil, roast or deglaze, removes much of a wine’s unique character along with most of its alcohol. The oft repeated maxim of TV chefs is to cook with the wine that will be drunk with the meal, however such reckless opinions serve to flatter the chef rather than your supper. Fine, expensive, nuanced and exciting wines, ones that you cherish and adore drinking, will be wastefully overcome in the pot and seriously diminish the volume of good stuff available later by the glass. With present day prices, you would have to be certifiably insane to empty a bottle of Gevry-Chambertin or Chateau Latour into a simmering pot of Boeuf Bourguignon or Coq au Vin – these days you’d need a second mortgage alone just to drink it. A robust, balanced and palatable wine is all that’s ever required in the cooking process, trust me – I’m a wine merchant. As for the guidance that you mustn’t cook with a wine you would not drink, it’s as fatuous as the suggestion that you shouldn’t fry chips from potatoes you wouldn’t eat. It’s also obvious, and in an age of technically superior wine technology – increasingly irrelevant.

Julia’s other passing quote when appearing on WBGH Boston TV to prepare this dish, using an authentic cockerel rather than a hen, opened with the instruction to ‘... first look for an old cock‘. I’ll leave you to select the most appropriate and available gender here.

Our most tested and approved recipe is from another American giant in the food profession – Anthony Bourdain. His book Les Halles Cookbook (2004) is an homage to French cuisine.

Coq au Vin

Ingredients. Serves 4

1 bottle plus 225 ml red wine
1 onion, cut into 2.5 cm dice
I carrot cut into slices
I celery rib cut into slices
4 whole cloves
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
1 bouquet garni
1 whole chicken around 1.35 kg
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
75 g butter
1 tbsp plain flour
112 g slab of bacon, cut into lardons
225 g button mushrooms, stems removed
12 shallots
Pinch of sugar

The day before you cook, combine the bottle of red wine, the diced onion, sliced carrot, celery, cloves, peppercorns and bouquet garni in a large deep bowl.
Add the chicken and submerge it in the marinade.
Cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight.

The following day remove the chicken from the marinade and pat dry.
Strain the marinade, reserving the liquids and solids separately.
Season the chicken with salt and pepper inside and out.
In a cast iron casserole or Dutch oven heat the oil and 2 tbsp of butter until almost smoking and then sear the chicken, turning to evenly brown the skin.
Once browned, remove it from the pot and set aside.
Add reserved onions celery and carrot to the pot and cook over medium-high heat stirring occasionally, until they are soft and golden brown, about 10 minutes.
Sprinkle flour over the vegetables and mix well with a wooden spoon so the vegetables are coated.
Now stir in the reserved, strained marinade.
Put the chicken back in the pot, along with the bouquet garni.
Cook for 1 hour 15 minutes over low heat.
While your chicken stews slowly in the pot, cook the bacon lardons in a small sauté pan over medium heat until brown.
Remove the bacon from the pan and drain on paper towels, making sure to keep a1 tbsp of fat in the pan.
Sauté the mushroom tops in the bacon fat until golden brown, set them aside.
Now in a small saucepan, combine the shallots, a pinch of sugar, a pinch of salt and 28 g butter.
Add just enough water to cover the onions, then cover the pan.
Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the water has evaporated. Remove lid and continue cooking until the onions are golden brown.
Set the onions aside and add the remaining 225ml of red wine to the hot pan, scraping up the caramelised residue.
Season with salt and pepper and reduce until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
When the chicken is cooked through, carefully remove from the liquid, cut into quarters, and arrange on a deep serving platter.
Strain the cooking liquid (again) into the reduced red wine.
Now just add the bacon, mushrooms, shallots then adjust seasoning and swirl in remaining butter.
Pour the sauce over the chicken and dazzle your friends with your brilliance

Wine thoughts

Conventional wisdom associated with Pinot Noir consistently expresses its perfect marriage to casseroled meats. I think it’s something to do with both having a noticeably silky texture, along with Pinot’s willingness to offer restraint when partnering a dish. And nothing so restrained as the standard bearer for this style of red; Burgundian Pinot Noir from the Côte d’Or.

Seven Communes dominate the best of the wine here, along with the prices, but if you’ve just inherited, look the out for a case or two – Aloxe-Corton, Flagey-Eschézaux, Vosne-Romanée, Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny, Morey-St-Denis and Vougeot. Of course there are other villages and wineries in the region and it’s worth paddling around in the less-expensive waters where you’ll find some delightful Pinots to accompany our dish.