Sunday, 13 May 2012

Cockerel au Vin - A Tale of Two Cockerels

I never had the pleasure of meeting Bushman, or his brother for that matter. Well, that was until one of them met the fate of the big black pot. I'd been looking forward to this meal for some time. When my South African foodie friend Ben said he had a 3.5 kg cockerel in the freezer and was saving it for our next visit I felt honoured. Each time we visit he makes such a special effort and this was no exception.

Bushman's brother was nameless for a reason. He was destined for the pot. Bushman however was to meet a bizarre fate of his own. The two brothers were offered to the Van Vuuren family by their local tree surgeon and with five beautiful hens in need of a 'man', they could not resist. The cockerels were delivered, Bushman got the girls, and shortly after was the slaughter. It was a ritualised family event, involving their kids and Ben's wife Tersia as executioner's assistant. I'd been grilling Ben in advance of our visit to his enviable place in Herefordshire as I knew this would be a good story to tell, so he emailed me his own touching and entertaining version of the event (see link below).

Two weeks after Bushman's brother found his new home in the freezer, Ben was decorating their new kitchen and heard a shriek coming from the orchard. Tersia had discovered poor Bushman who had fallen into an old cast iron bath filled with water and had drowned. Miraculously, after some CPR and mouth to mouth (I kid you not), Bushman actually came back to life and started walking around. But his second life was to be an even shorter one. Minutes later he coughed and spluttered his way back to oblivion, and with no hope of return. Ben mercifully finished him off, and he was honoured with a proper family burial and funeral. Unlike his brother.

0 hrs 10 mins
So, back to the coq au vin. This was a big bird and and worthy of one of the most famous French provincial dishes around. The recipe was created for exactly this. 'Coq' in French means cockerel, not chicken yet we have become so used to what is probably 'chicken' au vin. In this context, the extended marination in red wine, garlic and herbs starts to make some sense. It's brown meat all the way, even the breast and can really only be eaten like this, cooked long and slow in a rich and aromatic marinade. The recipe and method is uncannily similar to 'bouffe Bourguignon', right down to the shallots, bay leaf and bacon lardons, as both have the intention of delivering meltingly tender results.

0 hrs 15 mins
Ben researched long and hard and came up with a hybrid of all the best recipes around. He started with the overnight marination in red wine, garlic, thyme, bay and onion, then the high temperature browning off of the cockerel. With the cockerel temporarily removed from the pot, onions, carrots and more thyme were then sauted, and the cockerel returned to the pot with about a litre of stock made from the back bone and wing tips.

1 hr 0 mins
From then it was just time, and lots of it (3-4 hours ideally) on a gentle simmer. Ben sauted the shallots and bacon lardons and added them to the pot about 30 minutes before the end. A handful of fresh thyme, parsley, minced garlic and grated lemon zest before serving and there you have it.

1 hr 25 mins, our amazing seafood starter hits the table
There was more to the meal than the coq of course. Ben amazed us with a seared mixed seafood starter and Tersia prepared some amazing chocolate meringues with Kahlua cream. As always, we had a fabulous time and before long, they'll be coming to us so time to get thinking about what to serve. Fire will be involved. I promise.

All Roads Could Lead to Coq au Vin (by Ben Van Vuuren)

Five lovely ladies (the widows)

3 hrs 30 mins - Totally worth the wait


Hester @ Alchemy in the Kitchen said...

Oh poor old Bushman! Glad his brother made it to the pot. I've had plenty of chicken au vin but it is kinda difficult to get a cockrel these days. Bet it was delicious. I love the stories your photos tell too.

Woodworkin' & Good Eats said...

Oh boy, I was just out surfing the web and stumbled across your blog . . . and I'm sure glad that I did. Looks like your a man that loves to good. I'm into grilling, smoking, and barbecue. I'm your newest follower, Steve :) Come on over and visit my blog, when I'm not at work or in the backyard cooking, you'll find me in my woodworking shop. I just finished a table for my Big Green Egg. Maybe, you will decide to follow me, too. P.S. The one thing I do not had is a rotisserie, those birds sure looked good. They made my mouth water.

the food dude said...

Slow cooked, the only way to go for a classic coq au vin. Great story!

Lizzy said...

What a feast! The whole meal sounds marvelous!!! I'm not sure I'd want to know my dinner by name...LOL :)

fallen from flavour said...

loved the photos and accompanying story. my condolences to the 5 widows...

All That I'm Eating said...

This looks incredible; I bet it was worth the three hour wait! I can't imagine how good that tasted. Your kitchen looks wonderful too!

Lola Lobato said...
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