What Is Coq Au Vin And What Does It Taste Like?

Pronounced coke-oh-vahn (via Julien Miquel), coq au vin is one of those sophisticated-sounding French dishes that will impress your friends, but isn't actually that difficult to pull off.

Coq au vin literally means "rooster with wine." This stew is a traditional peasant food with origins in the French countryside. Though dozens of variations of chicken cooked with wine exist, the essential ingredients for classic coq au vin are: bone-in chicken (dark meat, such as legs and thighs), red wine, bacon, mushrooms, and onions.

According to Taste Atlas, one of the first documented recipes for coq au vin dates back to 1913 when French natural philosopher and zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson encountered the dish in the Chaîne des Puys area, a place with a long history of prolific wine production (via Forbes), in Central France's Auvergne region.

Slowly braised, coq au vin came about as a way to make tough old roosters tender and delicious. Today, roosters aren't easy to find, but any large bird that can stand up to stewing without falling apart will do, according to Epicurious. Early recipes also incorporated a cup of the rooster's blood, both for its rich flavor and ability to thicken the stew. However modern versions of the recipe skip this ingredient. (Interestingly, a commenter on the Epicurious coq au vin recipe points out that unsweetened cocoa powder added to the recipe mimics the flavor of the blood.)

Coq au vin is rich with flavors

As she did with so many French dishes, Julia Child introduced coq au vin to a broad American audience in the 1960s (via Fork + Plate) and it subsequently became a popular dish in U.S. homes and restaurants. Kitchn describes Child's coq au vin as "saucy...with that dark tang that comes from red wine." Coq au vin can also be described as rich, complex, layered, earthy, aromatic (thanks to herbs like thyme and parsley), and of course, chicken-y.

There are plenty of excellent recipes with varying degrees of difficulty for those who want to try their hand at coq au vin. Once Upon a Chef's Jenn Segal adds layer of complexity to her coq au vin with Cognac. She also uses only thighs, citing their ability to stay succulent even after hours of braising. The Epicurious recipe calls for marinating a roasted chicken in a wine mixture for at least one day. The Food Network's Alton Brown created a recipe that utilizes the classic techniques of sauce reduction (cooking down the wine produces more concentrated flavor than "raw" wine straight from the bottle) and creating a beurre manié (a paste of mashed butter and flour) as a binder.

Coq au vin is one of those dishes that lends itself well to the slow cooker. There are highly rated recipes from places like Williams Sonoma and Leite's Culinaria to help you add this complex, rich, and hearty, classic dish to your dinner repertoire.