Coq au Vin; the Chocolate Connection

I have been making Coq au Vin for years.  It's always been a delicious family favorite but never quite achieved the same wonderful glossy, rich sauce of the bistro. 

This was brought home once more the last time we were in Paris.  At  Chez René we had the best Coq au Vin ever created by human hands; but how did they get the sauce so decadently rich?  It glistened.  It was so dark it was almost black; so intensely flavorful it defied description. 


The quest was on.  The first conclusion was that the sauce must be based on one of those slow reductions, you know the kind: reduce 5 quarts of flavorful beef stock down to a teaspoon then thicken with butter.  On further investigation that fell to the wayside.  The only liquid in Coq au Vin is the Vin. 

Then I ran across a recipe in my 'Saveur Cooks Authentic French' that called for cocoa powder. Could this be it?  Could I have discovered the ancient secret of the Bistro?  Should I share this with the world?  Upon reflection I decided it was my duty to share this incredible piece of cooking magic, since I am the only person in the world that owns this cookbook

Naturally I modified it a bit,  Natural arrogance?  Inability to follow the rules?  Irresistible urge to tinker?  All of the above, I'm afraid.  Here it is.  

Chicken in red wine. Traditionally this would use a cock (rooster) and cook for several hours (as the coq would tend to be a tough old bird – but full of flavor).

You can use a whole, cut-up chicken, (broiler-fryer) or, do what I did, use skinless breasts and thighs. Without the skin the flavors get deeper into the meat and we eliminate a lot of the fat.

Use a full-bodied Burgundy or Cote de Rhone (or equivalent) for this. Not expensive, but drinkable. Do not use 'cooking wine'.

The secret to this dish is the cocoa – it gives an amazing richness and depth of flavor.

  Coq au Vin

Coq au Vin

4 chicken thighs, skinless
3 chicken breasts, boneless, skinless
OR 1 whole chicken, cut up
1 onion
1 carrot
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 bouquet garni – or 1 bay leaf, 1/2 tsp rosemary, 1/2 tsp thyme, 1/2 tsp parsley
1 bottle red wine
2 tbs olive oil
3 slices bacon
4 oz mushrooms
6 – 8 shallots (the recipe calls for pearl onions but I normally have to buy a huge bag to get the few I want, so I often use shallots.. Plus I like the taste better)
1 chicken stock cube or 1 tsp granular or paste chicken base, optional
pinch of nutmeg
1 tbs pure cocoa not a 'hot chocolate' mix
2 tbs cornstarch (corn flour, maizena) dissolved in 3 tbs water (you may not use it all)


To marinate: Roughly chop the onion and carrot. Smash the garlic lightly. Put the chicken, onion, carrot, garlic and bouquet garni in a deep bowl. Pour the wine over and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

chicken marinating in red wine


To cook the chicken: Remove chicken from marinade and drain well (over marinade). Reserve marinade. Heat oil in heavy, deep pot over medium-high heat. Brown chicken on all sides, a few pieces at time, about 10 minutes. Return all chicken to pan and pour over reserved marinade and vegetables. Add nutmeg and chicken base (if using). Cover, bring to a simmer, reduce heat and simmer for an hour.

chicken in red wine, marinated

To cook the vegetables: Clean mushrooms and shallots, leaving shallots and small mushrooms whole; slice large mushrooms in half. In nonstick skillet sauté bacon until crisp. Remove and crumble (don't eat!) Add shallots to pan with 2 tbs water, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Uncover and cook off liquid. Add mushrooms to skillet and sauté over medium heat until both are nicely browned on all sides about 15 minutes. When done, cover until time to add to chicken.

To finish:
Remove chicken from pan and cover to keep warm. Strain sauce, discarding solids. Return sauce to pan removing 1/2 cup. Bring sauce to a boil over medium heat. Put cocoa into a small bowl. Slowly whisk in 1/2 cup reserved sauce. Slowly whisk cocoa mixture into simmering sauce. Continue whisking until it returns to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and allow to reduce slightly, about 5 minutes. Dissolve cornstarch in water. Use to thicken sauce to desired consistency if needed. (The cocoa will thicken it slightly.) I used about half – the sauce is supposed to be a bit thick but not gluey. Return chicken to pan along with mushrooms, shallots and bacon. Allow to heat through over low heat, 10 – 15 minutes. Arrange chicken, mushrooms and shallots on a small platter. Spoon some sauce over and serve the rest on the side.

Of course there are leftovers…..

Coq au Vin with Pasta, leftovers

Just reheat and toss with some cooked pasta.

I resisted the urge to just heat the sauce and eat it with a spoon….but only just….

How does the cocoa work this magic, transforming a merely good sauce to one fit for the gods? 

Are we mere mortals meant to know?  Who cares, it works.  It's sooo good it deserves my D.O. award!  (digestive org*sm). 

Reprint of 1/2007 post

11 thoughts on “Coq au Vin; the Chocolate Connection”

  1. Whoa. Shocker. I would NOT have thought chocolate was the key to coq au vin. I feel so educated now that I know the secret to this French classic.

  2. I feel like making one of my infamous bad puns like calling it cocao-vin!
    What doesn’t taste better with chocolate?
    I made Ina Garten’s coq-au-vin once. It took two hours of work and my husband totally didn’t aprreciate it. Maybe he’d like it more if there were chocolate involved!

  3. I really will try this next time – I love Coq au Vin when it is made properly and all the flavors mesh beautifully. One thing you might try next time is leaving on the skins but making it ahead, refrigerating and skimming the fat when it congeals. That allows you to get all the flavor from the chicken skin (which is considerable) without eating all the fat.

  4. Joanne, I wouldn’t have guessed it either – but, there are the Mexican mole sauces that use choclate, so it’s not too weird!
    Ina, it really adds they ‘je ne sais quoi’
    Rachel, this is ever so much easier…. 2 HOURS!?!?
    Howard, no, but I do have to slap mon mari’s hands frequently!
    Mimi, you’re welcome…. flavor’s rich too :-))
    Charlotte – perfect for those old hens!
    Penny, let me know how youn like it!
    Zoomie, great idea… I never thought of that. I’ll try it! (I know you’re right about the skins)

  5. I’ve made mole sauce before (to die for) – but never thought of using in this dish. Many thanks again Katie for opening our eyes up to the wonders of what we can make so simply in our kitchen (I have a big problem with eating out – because I know I can make food taste just as good (or better).

  6. Anna, mole sauce is on my list to try – any recipes? As to eating out – we’re much the same: why bother?

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