Coq Au Vin — In Meatball Form

Moist chicken meatballs and meaty shiitakes, all in a creamy-dreamy sauce.
Moist chicken meatballs and meaty shiitakes, all in a creamy-dreamy sauce.

Classic French coq au vin in winter is total comfort. But when the weather warms, you might not crave something quite so hearty, heavy, and long-simmered.

Enter “Coq Au Vin Blanc Meatballs,” which lightens up the traditional chicken parts braised in red wine until fork-tender for flavorful little meatballs simmered in white wine instead. This version also shaves off a good amount of cooking time.

This fun recipe is from “Half Baked Harvest Every Day” (Clarkson Potter) by New York Times best-selling cookbook author Tieghan Gerard of Colorado, whose Half Baked Harvest blog has grown into a true phenomenon.

In her newest cookbook, she offers up more than 120 recipes sure to get you salivating morning, noon and night. Try your hand at everything from “Giant Spinach and Artichoke Soft Pretzel” and “Pizza Pasta” to “Blackened Salmon Skewers with Feta Caprese,” “Malted Milk Cookie Dough Cups,” and “Spiced Blackberry Whisky Sour.”

Just like classic coq au vin, there’s bacon involved. Chopped pieces get rendered in a pan, then set aside. Meatballs, formed from ground chicken mixed with an egg, panko, and salt and pepper, then get seared in the residual bacon fat.

A generous amount of fresh shiitakes also gets sauteed with butter, shallots, thyme, garlic, and red pepper flakes, adding meatiness plus earthiness.

A lighter alternative to the classic.
A lighter alternative to the classic.

The browned bits from searing the meatballs and mushrooms gets put to good use in an easy pan sauce made from white wine, a splash of water, and milk or cream (I used whole milk). A dollop of mustard will help emulsify the sauce, turning it creamy with a body that will hug everything beautifully. The only change I made in the recipe was to suggest whisking the pan sauce, rather than stirring it, because it may break a bit and look curdled unless you do so.

The 2020 Benziger Sauvignon Blanc that's certified sustainable.
The 2020 Benziger Sauvignon Blanc that’s certified sustainable.

To pair with this dish and to use in the pan sauce, I opened a bottle of the 2020 Benziger Sauvignon Blanc ($16), of which I received a sample. Made by one of California’s first certified sustainable farms that also raises sheep and cows, this crisp white is all grapefruit and lemon meringue pie on the palate with a hint of just-cut grass.

Its freshness was a nice contrast to the velvety-sauced meatballs that are reminiscent of cocktail-party meatballs and mushroom duxelles combined into one fabulous dish.

The family-owned Sonoma winery and farm also sent me a bottle of its estate olive oil, verdant with tomato-leaf aroma and a subtle pepperiness. It was just the ticket for drizzling on grilled bread to accompany this riff on a standard that’s sure to become a new favorite.

Benziger's estate olive oil.
Benziger’s estate olive oil.

Coq Au Vin Blanc Meatballs

(Serves 4)

1 pound ground chicken

1 large egg, beaten

1/3 cup panko bread crumbs

Fine pink Himalayan salt (or kosher) and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for your hands

2 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped

3 cups shiitake or cremini mushrooms, sliced

2 tablespoons salted butter

2 shallots, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, plus more for serving

Crushed red pepper flakes

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped or grated

1 1/2 cups dry white wine, such as pinot grigio or Sauvignon Blanc

3/4 cup milk or your choice or heavy cream

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

In a medium bowl, combine the chicken, egg, bread crumbs, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Coat your hands with a bit of olive oil, then roll the meat mixture into 1-inch balls, placing them on a plate. You will have 15 to 20 meatballs.

Place the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat. cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is crispy and the fat has rendered, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a plate, reserving the fat in the skillet.

Add the meatballs to the same skillet over medium heat. Cook, turning them a few times, until browned and crisp, about 5 minutes total. Transfer the meatballs to the plate with the bacon.

Add the olive oil to the same skillet over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Add the butter, shallots, thyme, and a pinch each of salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are golden brown and the shallots are softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute more. Transfer the mushrooms to the plate with the bacon and meatballs.

Pour the wine and 1/4 cup of water into the skillet. Cook, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom, until reduced slightly, about 10 minutes. Whisk in the milk and mustard. Return the bacon, meatballs, and mushrooms to the skillet and simmer until the sauce is slightly thickened and everything is warmed through, 5 to 10 minutes.

Transfer the meatballs to plates and spoon the sauce over them. Garnish with fresh thyme.

Adapted from “Half Baked Harvest Every Day” by Tieghan Gerard

More Meatball Fun: Chicken & ‘Nduja Meatballs

And: Chicken (or Turkey)-Zucchini Meatballs

And: Lamb Meatballs with Warm Yogurt and Swiss Chard

And: Lamb-Ricotta Meatballs Braised in Tomato Sauce

And: Spiced Meatballs with Green Olive & Tomato Sauce

And: Vietnamese Pork Meatball Banh Mi Fried Rice

And: Lion’s Head Meatballs

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