I have to admit that I have not eaten a lot of coq au vin in my life and have never cooked one. I am a philistine I know, and I should remedy this one day. It is not that I have not cooked stews before. I love cooking a good Steak and Guinness stew, or a boeuf Bourguignon. I love the slow process in which the hard meat gets tender, and the sauce gets thicker and more flavorful as the hours pass, and then suddenly it all comes together and tastes wonderful. Yet Coq au Vin has been curiously absent from my culinary field of action, it somehow feels to me like the kind of food you should eat at a restaurant but not make at home, in my fuzzy brain it has been categorized that way.
Now Coq au vin sounds to me like one of the most French dishes ever, mixing wine, a quintessential French drink, and cockerel. The cockerel being the French emblem, because as I heard it said in France, it will still crow even when standing with his feet deep in the shit, which is somehow a reflection on France’s history and diplomatic posture.
I just read a story about the invention of the Coq au vin in one of my cookbooks (just browsing, you know, never thought of cooking one, as I explained). And I thought it was a good story so I shall share it.
Around 50 BC, Gaul (i.e., more or less modern-day France) was conquered by the Romans, led by Julius Caesar. During a particularly long siege somewhere in modern-day Auvergne, the encircled Gauls, as Caesar hoped, were starving. However, if the Romans hoped that this would make them capitulate, they had done a slight miscalculation. The leader of the Gauls, to show that their spirits were not broken, sent to Caesar an old and famished cockerel, who despite his ragged appearance was still fighting like a young and fit cock.
The next day Caesar proposed a small truce and invited the Gaul leader for dinner. There he served him a bird drowning in a rich dark sauce. When the Gaul enquired as to what that succulent dish was, Caesar explained that this was his cockerel, which was marinated and then slow cooked in wine.
Now wine at the time was mainly a Roman drink, the Gauls were mainly producing and drinking a type of beer called Cervoise. So drowning the Cockerel in wine was very symbolic.
After Caesar conquered Gaul, all the Gauls got nicely assimilated and became what is known as Gallo-Romans. They started producing wine and, not unlike the Cockerel in the story, blended deliciously into the Roman way of life.
It’s a nice story but (after a bit more research) unfortunately most likely invented in the XIX century and apparently first published in a feminist newspaper called “La Fronde”. Why a feminist newspaper would want to publish an article about a cock that drowns in wine is beyond me.