Chicken From Scratch

When the roosters get tough, the tough make coq au vin.

Coq au vin — literally, “rooster in wine” — is a recipe that can be simple or complex. My version is geared toward those starting with a big ol’ tough rooster in the yard, but it works for any chicken. An old hen would also do the trick, but I don’t kill my hens. So that leaves the roosters: the meaner the better. It makes them easier to kill.

Rusty was a mean old rooster from a three-bird flock that also included a postmenopausal hen named Annabelle who hadn’t laid anything in years, and a submissive, possibly gay rooster named Marco Pollo. Suffice it to say, the eggs were not flowing.

Those three were all that remained of a flock that had been relentlessly pared down by wild animals, and as the flock dwindled, Rusty ran out of young hens to harass. His thoughts turned to Annabelle. He would hold the old girl down with ease while he did his business. Marco Pollo, usually a gentlemen to her, got in the habit of gingerly pecking at Annabelle’s face while Rusty raped her. After witnessing one too many of those sessions, I boiled a large kettle of water and brought it to the garlic patch. Then I caught Rusty, which was easy, because mean roosters run at you.

I held him upside down by his feet. He fought at first, but was sleepy by the time we got to the garlic patch. I laid Rusty on the ground. Before he had a chance to wake up I swung a machete through his neck and into the dirt beneath it. I held him upside down over the garlic patch to drain the blood.

I submerged him using two sticks for 10 seconds and did a test pluck, and the feathers came out easily. I hung him by his feet and plucked every last feather and wisp, and threw them on the garlic patch. (Chicken feathers are great for the soil.)

I carefully cut the skin across his gut just below the sternum, and reached my hand up and in along the rib cage, taking hold of his throat and pulling it down into the gut cavity. I kept pulling that throat, through the slit and out, as the rest of the guts trailed behind.

I didn’t starve Rusty for 24 hours prior to killing him, which made the gut cavity stinky with half-digested food, so I didn’t feel like saving the heart and liver. Shame on me for letting those tasty organs go to waste.

I rinsed Rusty in cold water, then brined him overnight in saltwater. The next day, I drained and rinsed him and let him rest a few days in the fridge, covered, until his rigor mortis loosened up. Do not skip this step, as a fresh-killed chicken will be rubbery and awful.

Every coq au vin recipe I’ve read assumes that nobody will really go to the trouble of finding a tough old bird to cook. That’s why you’ll find cooking times of 30 minutes, which is a crime against gastronomy. Even with a storebought spoon-tender bird, that’s not enough time for the red wine sauce to fully come together and impregnate the chicken. And if instead of doing all those fancy recipe steps, you just chilled and simmered your bird in wine, you might be happier with the product.

After we ate Rusty — and boy was he delicious — Marco Pollo and Annabelle enjoyed a brief period of peace. Two weeks later, she died on a cold night, my first chicken to ever die of natural causes. Sadly, she never got to meet the new brood of chicks, chirping inside under the heat lamp the night she died. They’re all so cute now, but surely some of them will turn into Rustys. Yum.


Here’s my coq au vin recipe, based on what I did to Rusty. It’s simple: no bouquet garni, no butter and flour, and I often don’t use pork fat. If you want a fancy recipe, try Nigella Lawson’s, available online.

Put the bird in a baking pan in the oven at 350. While it bakes, prepare the following: chunks of carrot, parsnip, and potato; whole garlic cloves; chopped onions; thyme, bay leaf, pork fat (or bacon, or not). Turn the bird once or twice for even browning.

Mix the above items with olive oil, remove the chicken from its pan, and spread the veggies into the pan. Replace the bird, lower the temp to 300, and continue cooking. Turn the bird if necessary, and stir the veggies a few times. When the veggies have developed a light brown crisp, remove the whole business from the oven and let cool. If it’s a tough old guy, remove the skin — it will probably be too tough to eat. Note all the bulging muscles you didn’t know a chicken even had.

Pull and cut the coq into 5–10 pieces, and put them to a large pot along with the roasted veggies and juice from the pan, as well as some mushrooms (I used dried morels and porcinis, and fresh buttons) and a bottle of red wine.

Everybody says Burgundy, so with Rusty I used Burgundy. But when I make it with deer (Buck au Franz, as I call it), I use Franzia cabernet, with no complaints.

Cover the contents of the pot with equal parts water and wine, and simmer. Season with salt and pepper and maintain the liquid level with additional water and wine as necessary. The longer you cook it, the thicker the sauce gets, as everything merges together. Coaxed by the wine, fatty flavors leech from the cartilage and bone, reducing the need for butter and pork. Everything, especially the potatoes, begins to disintegrate, which thickens the sauce in lieu of flour. Simmer at least an hour. When in doubt, just add more wine and keep cooking.

People serve it with all kinds of filler, like bread or pasta, but I reserve all my belly space for coq au vin, with perhaps a dollop of mayo.

Wine Tasting @ Vino! A Wine Shop

Fri., May 20, 3-6:30 p.m.
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