A wild sage grouse twist on a classic French dish
It’s a privilege and a joy to be able to hunt sage grouse, but when it comes to turning those beautiful Artemisia spp. obligates into table fare, it can be challenging. I learned this firsthand when I had my first successful sage grouse hunt last fall. Enter coq au vin: a traditional French dish designed for scrappy old roosters.
Wild Coq au Vin
This version of coq au vin swaps traditional lardons for easier-to-find bacon, garlic for additional herbs that better complement sage grouse’s flavor, and a yard bird’s shorter cook time for a longer one that will help break down tougher, leaner wild meat. This dish is excellent for a dinner meant to impress, for cleaning out the freezer in late summer (it goes great with fresh garden produce), or for deep winter when you need something to warm you up to your core. Plus, it’s arguably most delicious when eaten as leftovers.
If you don’t have sage grouse, there are some alternatives that work for this coq au vin. Birds like sharptail grouse or chukar that have darker, more flavorful meat are great. I supplemented my sage grouse breast with chukar legs. If you like, you can brine your wild game meat prior to cooking it in this recipe, too.
Coq Sauvage au Vin
- Chef's knife
- Stove top
- Large (12-12 inch diameter) lidded enamelware pot or cast iron Dutch oven
- Wooden spoon or spatula
- Optional: cheesecloth and baker’s twine (for bone-in meat)
- Optional: large Pyrex bowl (for brining), paper towels (for drying brined meat)
- 2-2.5 lbs sage grouse, sharptail grouse, or chukar meat skin removed but fat attached
- 4 cups cold water optional, for brine
- 1/2 cup kosher salt optional, for brine
- 1/2 cup brown sugar optional, for brine
- Fine salt to taste
- Finely ground black pepper to taste
- 6-8 oz room temperature bacon uncured, thick cut
- 2 yellow shallots diced
- 2-3 ribs celery leafy portions removed, sliced thin
- 1 medium carrot peeled, quartered, sliced thin
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 6-8 oz button mushrooms stems removed and quartered
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 cup unsalted venison stock (substitute ½ cup chicken stock and ½ cup beef stock, unsalted)
- 2 tbsp fresh parsley chopped
- 1/2 tbsp fresh tarragon chopped
- 2 tsp thyme leaves diced
- 10-20 small pearl onions ends and skins removed
- 3 cups pinot noir
- 1/2 tbsp rosemary chopped
- unbleached all purpose flour to thicken liquid
- buttered egg noodles
- mashed potatoes
- mashed cauliflower
- pureed parsnips
- Optional: Brine the meat for up to 12 hours. Refer to the ingredients for a simple brine mix. There’s lots of flavor in the dish; no need for anything fancy here.
- Remove the meat from the brine. Place on a baking sheet with paper towels underneath; gently pat the meat dry with a paper towel.
- Season meat to taste with salt and pepper. Note: if you brined your meat, go easy on the salt.
- Arrange the bacon in a single layer at the bottom of a large cast iron Dutch oven or lidded enamelware pot. Over medium-high heat, sauté the bacon until it begins to release its grease.
- When the bottom of the pot is covered with grease, add the bird meat to the pot. Brown the meat, 3 minutes per side. You may need to do this in several batches; just make sure the bacon grease doesn’t get too hot and start to smoke. When the meat has a nice toasty brown crust on each side, remove it from the pot and set aside on a plate.
- Put the pieces of meat that have bone in them in cheesecloth, then tie them into pouches using food-safe twine. You can put up to 4 bird legs together in each pouch. This helps to ensure any bone fragments or pin bones won’t migrate out into the rest of your dish.
- Reduce the heat to low. Add the diced shallots, using a wooden spoon to swirl them around; this will help remove the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Once most of the browned pieces have lifted, add your celery; sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add carrots; sauté another 5 minutes.
- Add the unsalted butter. Swirl in; keep heat low and do not let the butter burn. Let this mirepoix cook for about 10 minutes, or until all the veggies have softened.
- Raise the heat slightly and add the mushrooms. Cook for another 5 minutes, or until the mushrooms begin to give up some of their moisture.
- Add the tablespoon of tomato paste. Stir until it’s well mixed with the vegetables, using the moisture from the mushrooms to help integrate it. Add the stock. Stir, then add parsley, tarragon, and thyme. Raise the heat to medium and cook until the liquid has reduced by half.
- Arrange the meat pieces in the bottom of the pot, nestling them into the veggies. Add the small whole onions. Pour the red wine over everything, make sure the meat is covered, and put on the lid. Check after 10 minutes to see whether the liquid is at a rolling simmer or boil— and if it is, lower the heat; you want the liquid to be burbling just slightly.
- Allow everything to simmer together for at least 3 hours, checking periodically. Cook times to reach fork-tenderness will vary depending on the type of bird you’re using, but if you can spare the time to keep the heat lower and cook longer, do: I let mine go for about 6 hours.
- 15 to 30 minutes before serving, add the rosemary.
- If you have pieces of meat with bone, remove the pouches and cut them open, and carefully pick the meat from the bone using forks or your fingers. Return the meat to the pot.
- Optional: prepare egg noodles with butter or mashed potatoes (mashed cauliflower or pureed parsnips would also work) to serve the dish over.
- Divvy up the meat and vegetables evenly among plates. You should be left with just the liquid in the pot. Raise the heat up until the liquid is at a rolling simmer; let it cook for at least 10-15 minutes, until it’s more of a thin gravy-like consistency. If you’re having trouble getting it to the thickness you’d like, sift in a small amount of flour, stirring frequently.
- When the liquid is at your desired thickness, turn off the heat. Pour the liquid over each dish.
- Optional: for a pop of fresh color and flavor, garnish with a pinch of finely chopped parsley. If you’re using particularly flavorful meat, use finely chopped tarragon, too. Bon appétit!