The Last Mad Rooster Of Winter
Far Too Aggro To Avoid The Pot
NEVER Discard Your Shiraz Lees
by PHILIP WHITE
You think you’ve seen men dribble? Uh-huh. Pussycats. You’ll not see man-dribble til you see me run a gusher at the mention of coq au vin.
There is no dish more dribblingly evocative than a healthy young farmyard rooster cooked in red wine the French way, and no better reflection of the homely quirkiness of rural France than the myriad recipes you’ll find from region to region, village to village, and home to home.
Apart from the plethora of half-mystical theories about rooster selection, the types of pork used, the herbs and the vegetables, there is always fierce obstinance about which is the best wine to use. This rule book starts of course with wine of the cook’s region, but quickly narrows to wine from nearby vineyards, and eventually to the wine from the cook’s own barrels.
One master is the formidable Chris, the hotelier and chef at La Chateau, a homely country pub tied to the rocky banks of the Rhone by its ivy, directly opposite the famous hill of Hermitage. That hill is where the world’s Shiraz evolved. Once you’ve sat there in the little courtyard with your breakfast of eggs scrambled with truffles - collected by Chris and his hound, and pickled in his old madiera - marvelling at that legendary hill and its precipitous vineyards and the sheer bloody splendour of it all, you begin to realize that the only thing better is the coq au vin you’ll have with your lunch. The dribbling begins when the waft of the simmering marinade first oozes from the kitchen window. This usually floats in somewhere beween the arrival of your scrambled eggs - in the tinned copper pot in which they married their truffles - and your first glass of wine.
Even when you attempt to fill the gap between eggs and rooster with a few friendly throws of the old boulles in the carpark beneath the plane trees, you will dribble uncontrollably every time a zephyr eases itself up the gorge and past that little kitchen window.
At one long lunch well-had by experts, Chris used Hermitage lees delivered by the late Gerard Jaboulet from his family’s nearby cellars, and his Paul Jaboulet Ainé La Chapelle 1978 was the perfect accompaniment. I’d give anything to be there now, with dear Gerard and that grand travelling partner I last saw dining there, the mighty Lord Twining, who, I believe has been in the Royal Adelaide Hospital for his ten million bottle overhaul. Get well soon, dear John. Let your ground crew have their way.
When wine is left on its yeast lees in barrel, these eventually fall out of suspension, and form a grainy sludge at the bottom. These are usually discarded through waste disposal systems or used for making industrial spirit or grape concentrates. I have always believed that winemakers could sell this precious tincture by the flagon. Cooks everywhere would go nuts for it, and our cuisine would take a big step closer to the men with wings and feathers.
I recall another great coq in a Burgundian household, cooked, of course, in Pinot noir lees. This simmered away in a big black oval pot on a giant wood-fired stove, filling the village with its disgustingly good aroma, and bringing senior villagers into the street to smoke and dribble and sagely discuss ingredients and methods. As the pot was borne bubbling to the table, eggs were carefully broken into it: one for each of the four of us. By the time the sinister brew has ceased to bubble, the eggs had poached to slightly runny perfection. These were gingerly served first, leaving us to add the rooster, vegetables, and broth as we pleased. The colours were brilliant: bright white and yellow emerging from the black concentrated broth.
When my landlord suggested he had one too many roosters in his handsome organic flock of fowl, and that the said larrikin was a bully, ripping into the boss cock and his harem with far too much machotesto, I dribbled immediately. Having saved some gross lees from the bottom of his Yangarra Ironstone Shiraz barrels, I knew exactly what I’d be doing with Peter’s rooster.
Here’s what I did.
YANGARRA SHIRAZ COQ DONE BLACK BY WHITEY
Despatch, hang, pluck, and dress a good young rooster. Those whose spurs have developed are best. Collect the blood in a bowl and refrigerate. Cut the bird into pieces, and submerge them – feet, heart, neck, carcass and liver included - in a bowl of gross lees from the bottom of a Shiraz barrel. Cover it with cling wrap and leave it in a cool, quiet place. Use more lees to soak a handful of dried shiitake mushrooms until tender.
After 24 hours of marination, take the meat out, and while it drains, braise two thick slices of fresh soft pork belly ribs in butter and olive oil in a solid iron pot until sizzling and golding. Remove them from the pot, slice them crossways into 3cm chunks. Put this back in the pot, add all the pieces of fowl, and braise it all gently for a few minutes with the lid on, stirring now and then. Keep on the heat, tip a cup of St Agnes brandy in there and set fire to it. Once the flames are out, pour the marinade back in, add a cup of young vintage port, and get it simmering with the lid on.
Cut two red onions into chunks, along with two or three cloves of garlic. Slice two carrots. Fry this in a pan with butter and oil til golding, then put it in the pot with the meat, and replace the lid.
Make a bouquet á garni with a sheath of leek and some fresh herbs. I inserted three sticks of bitter Ku Ding tea, which acts a bit like juniper. Plop it the pot, and let it all bubble gently away for about an hour and a half with the lid on, stirring occasionally.
At intervals, take a walk outside outside with a glass of wine, pause, and then return, to see how freely you dribble over one of the world’s best and most inimitable perfumes.
Slice four or five fresh Portobello mushrooms and fry them in butter and oil in a pan with the shiitake. Keep going til the fresh mushrooms have softened and reduced.
Strain the solids from the marinade and let them sit in a bowl with the mushrooms while you put the marinade back in your pot and reduce it briskly by about a quarter. While this happens, make a roux, for thickening the sauce. Take some plain flour and an equal volume of soft butter. Melt a dob of butter in a pan, and using a wooden spoon, gradually stir in an equal proportion of plain flour. Add little dollops of your reducing marinade. When it’s about the consistency of Clag, stir this, spoon by spoon, carefully into your reducing sauce, ensuring each addition is assimilated before you add another. Don’t let it get too thick or gluggy: your sauce should still pour easily from the spoon.
Stir in the bird’s blood, and then all the meat and vegetables, add salt to taste, and maybe a little sugar, grind in some black pepper, replace the lid and let it simmer on a low flame while you boil some kipfler potatoes.
Serve your coq au vin in flat bowls with the kipflers on the side, sliced in half longtitudinally. You’ll need a loaf of good crunchy bread for dipping, and a bottle or two of finished wine from the same vineyard as your Shiraz lees.
Here are two typically characterful and contrasting versions of coq au vin: practice your dribbling technique thoroughly on them before sharpening the axe.