Recipe #4: Coq Au Vin à la Sud-Africaine

Just what you want when it's cold and dark outside.

Just what you want when it’s cold and dark outside.

I took my (slightly chewed) apple crumble with me to a dinner party last week, where we were served superb pistachio-nut soup topped with Turkish saffron, followed by a traditional French coq au vin, stewed for hours in a Le Creuset casserole, complete with shallots brought specially from France. My hosts had slaved for hours over these dishes, so I felt a little cheeky pulling out the humble crumble, but it seemed to go down rather well anyway.

Despite the exotic allure of the soup, I was put off by grim stories of spending hours shelling nuts so, although I asked my friend for both recipes, I only intended to try the coq au vin. And, of course, I planned to make it as easy on myself as possible. Good news: I succeeded.

Here then, is my coq au vin recipe à la Sud-Africaine.


Yes, there are a lot of them, but they’re very simple and you should have most of them in your kitchen already.

  • 1 very cold and rainy day when you have a few hours to kill and want an excuse to drink wine.
  • 1 large, fresh chicken. Or two. It depends on how many people you plan to feed and how big your casserole dish is.
  • 2 or 3 bottles of Pinotage. Traditional coq au vin calls for Burgundy, which is usually Pinot Noir. But with the price of Pinot Noir in this country, there’s no way I’m cooking with it. I chose an el cheapo Black Tie Pinotage, available for about R26 a bottle at Pick ‘n Pay.
  • 2 or 3 shots of brandy. Not your best stuff, please.
  • 1 packet streaky bacon, chopped
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • A few sprigs of fresh parsley, thyme and rosemary, tied up with string. Or, in my case, an elastic band. I’ve seen Bridget Jones.
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Small sachet of tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of flour
  • A punnet of white button mushrooms
  • Plenty of butter and olive oil
You need a fairly large frying pan to fit a whole chicken into. Remember to turn it over.

You need a fairly large frying pan to fit a whole chicken into. Remember to turn it over. The chicken, not the frying pan.

What to do

  • Preheat the oven to 140 C.
  • Fry the bacon, onions and chicken (whole) in a large frying pan with some olive oil. Then put them all in the casserole dish.
  • Pour the brandy over the chicken. Attempt to ignite it, as per friend’s fancy French recipe. Fail. Sulk. Carry on.
You probably need two people to do the 'igniting the brandy while pouring it on' routine.

You probably need two people to do the ‘igniting the brandy while pouring it on’ routine. Poking the brandy-splashed chicken with a match doesn’t work.

  • Add 1 bottle of red wine, the herbs, bay leaves, sugar, lemon juice, tomato paste and garlic, cover the dish, and put it in the oven for 2 to 2.5 hours. If your chicken/s aren’t covered by the wine, take them out and turn them over once or twice.
  • In the same large frying pan as before, fry the mushrooms whole, with plenty of butter and olive oil and a bit of fresh thyme. Keep them until the chicken is ready.
  • When the chicken is very tender, melt some more butter (about half a cup) in a small saucepan, add the flour and mix to form a creamy paste (it’s called a beurre manié if you’re posh. Or French). Take the chicken out of the oven and add the beurre stuff to it, along with the mushrooms.
  • Serve in the casserole dish, sprinkled generously with parsley (after all, it’s the only green stuff in the meal).
It's going to take a fair bit of willpower not to just gobble these up as soon as they're fried. Maybe wait until just before the chicken is ready.

It’s going to take a fair bit of willpower not to just gobble these up. Maybe wait until just before the chicken is ready to fry them.

Wine pairing suggestion

I was almost stymied until I realised that there is only one wine you can serve with coq au vin, and that is the wine you made it with. That is why, my observant readers, I said you need 2 or 3 bottles of wine, even though the recipe only calls for one.

I did try drinking a very good Bordeaux-style blend, but it simply didn’t work, and I had to recork it. Which is why tonight I am drinking this:

It's cheap, but you can drink it.

Black Tie. It’s cheap, but you can drink it.

It’s really not as bad as it looks. A friend of mine reckons that some winery had oodles of excess good stuff and just packaged it in these awful-looking bottles so they could sell it off cheap. I don’t think that’s true, but it’s still quite drinkable and exceptional value. And, if you’re making this meal for a boozy dinner party, here’s the really good news: It comes in five-litre boxes too.

Time needed

  • Actually doing stuff: 20-30 minutes
  • In the oven: 2-2.5 hours

Dishes dirtied

  • 1 chopping board
  • 1 knife
  • 1 large frying pan
  • 1 small saucepan
  • 1 wooden spoon
  • 1 casserole dish