Coq Au Vin and…Entertaining Perils

Entertaining can be full of perils and the perils absolutely multiply if you’re trying to pull off a dinner party with your own small and unpredictable children under your feet.

My mother didn’t like to do things by halves so instead of inviting a manageable amount of six guests, she would invite 12.  And there would be no hired help, you’d just be run off your feet the entire evening.

On this occasion when 12 were coming for dinner, we five daughters had been fed early and put to bed so the business of the dinner party could get underway without any interference from us.  Well, that was the idea.

Coq Au Vin

Once the guests had arrived and enjoyed their pre-dinner drink they were taken through to the dining room and my father would pour the drinks while mum plated up the entree – yes, when you don’t do things by halves you have to also include an entree.  Between the kitchen and the dining room was a little hole in the wall framed in chocolate brown louvre shutters.  When mum had finished plating up she would open the shutters and dad would be there on the other side to take the plates to the table.  After the entree which could have been something like deep-fried camembert or French onion soup, the plates would be cleared and passed back through the servery window.  The chocolate shutters would then be closed so the guests were spared witnessing any kitchen mishaps.

While sorting the plates in the kitchen mum turned around to see a slight white figure in the doorway saying, ‘I feel sick’.  And it was one of the five of us who was just about to vomit and she informed my mother that two more of us had just vomited all through our beds.

What had they given us for dinner?

Mum raced my sister upstairs where she vomited in the toilet.  After stoking the fire and pouring everyone another drink and turning over the record in the record player, dad rushed upstairs to find me and my sister Emma sitting up in bed with vomit all over our sheets and blankets and through our hair.

While the guests listened to the music and chatted amongst themselves, they remained oblivious to the goings-on upstairs.  My mother now had the three who had vomited in the shower and was shampooing out the vomit.  Dad was checking the other two to make sure they weren’t going to follow suit.  Then dad stripped the beds and changed all the sheets and mum towel dried our hair and found us some clean pyjamas and put us back to bed.

They raced back down the staircase, hurried into the kitchen and plated up the main course which could have been something like Coq Au Vin or Beef Wellington.  Dad then ran back into the dining room, turned over the record, re-stoked the fire, poured everyone another drink, opened the little brown shutters and took the main course plates to the table.  And as they sat down with their guests no one asked them where they had been.

While mum and dad can’t remember what it was they served for the entree and the main, they do remember the dessert.  It was crepes suzette and dad remembers it well because when he reached for the cognac bottle for the impressive flaming part of the dessert that wasn’t done privately in the kitchen but was set alight at the table, it was empty.  Not to worry, dad just re-filled it with brandy and no one could tell the difference.  Or if they did, they were too polite to say anything.

That was a night that could have gone more smoothly.

Have you ever got away with a substitution?

Coq Au Vin

Serves:  6

Degree of Difficulty:  3/5

Cost:  If serving this for a dinner party it is a fairly inexpensive main course.

  • 2kg chicken pieces (I use thighs, legs and wings)
  • plain flour, salt pepper
  • 2 tbspns olive oil
  • 2 tbspns butter
  • 200g speck
  • 16 pickling onions, top, tailed and peeled
  • 400g Swiss brown mushrooms
  • 400ml dry red wine
  • 4 fresh bay leaves
  • handful of fresh thyme
  • mashed potato and steamed green beans to serve

Pre-heat oven t0 180C.

Coat chicken pieces in flour seasoned with salt and pepper and shake to remove excess.

Heat a large flameproof casserole dish over high heat.  Add olive oil and butter.  Add chicken pieces in stages and cook until brown – about 5 minutes.  Remove and set aside.

Add speck to pan and cook over medium heat until crispy.  Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add mushrooms to pan and cook briefly until lightly browned.  Remove and set aside.

Add onions to pan and cook for a few minutes until lightly browned.

Return chicken, speck and mushrooms to pan.  Add thyme and bay leaves.  Pour in wine.  Bring to the boil then cover and place in the oven for 60 minutes or until chicken is tender and onions are soft.

Serve with mashed potato and steamed green beans.

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  1. Hi!

    sounds like a solid story. Why did u girls get sick?
    Your parents managed it all smoothly, I dont think so anybody else would have been so good in managing this type of incidents. 12 people sounds like a handfull of work already and then 3 out of 5 kids sick,.. I would have gonne nuts! lol

    I am surprised that u add red wine instead of white wine into the coq au vin. our college teacher would stretch our ears whenever we would try to combine white meat with red wine and the opposite.

  2. This must be one of the reasons our parents didn’t keep alcohol in the house. We six girls would have snitched it like I suspect you girls did that night. Bunch of lushes. I like the red wine substitute. Help me out. What is “speck”?

    • hotlyspiced says:

      Hi Rachel, speck is like bacon. You can alaways use bacon instead of speck in this dish. I buy the speck in one piece (rather than sliced) and chop it myself into little batons. xx

  3. Oh, what a scene. Was the empty cognac bottle why the reason you were all sick? (Just kidding.) I am so impressed with your parents. I would not have been able to stay so level-headed. Everyone in the house would have known what happened.

    Jeff has made Coq Au Vin and it is wonderful.

  4. This looks delicious. I love the presentation of a wonderful one dish meal!

  5. To tell you the truth if this situation was meant to happen in my home when I was a child.., I can see it now in front of my eyes, All the women of the company are inside the kitchen with my mom, so.. I guess my mom has to clean us, while the other women look and prepare for the dinner.. Now if we run out of booze.. it’s not gonna happen!!! My Dad owned a liquor store.. 🙂
    I love Coq au Vin!

  6. I just googled coq au vin, didnt know the dish before, its realy with red wine! =O now I am convinced our teacher was not always right!

  7. Loved your story how the show must go on and how well your parents handled the situation. I don’t do dinners for 12 but I like eight. While my husband and I are doing the plating, the six people left usually carry on such a lively conversation that we aren’t missed.

  8. Was the missing cognac the reason of you all being sick 😉 ?
    I have never made coq au vin, but I loved it every time I had it. Yours looks delicious.

  9. I often look at our mothers’ generation as a collection of near-saints. Will our kids do the same, I wonder? It is so easy to see this evening unfold in your wonderful writing. What a horror–for the sick girls, for the parents…yet I’ll bet the evening was a resounding success in the eyes of the guests.

    Coq au vin–such a classic. Always welcome. Always comforting. One of the first dishes I learned to cook with wine. Nice recipe, Charlie.

  10. This slice of life differs so from my growing up years on a Minnesota farm. We had dinner guests only on holidays and then everyone brought food for the meal. We did, however, “have company” occasionally on Sunday evenings. Guests, typically extended family, would show up unannounced after barn chores were finished. The adults would visit while the children played. Around midnight, my mother would prepare a “little lunch,” typically sandwiches, dill pickles, bars or cake and coffee. The kids drank Kool-aid. Nothing fancy. We kept it simple. I have wonderful memories of “visiting.”

  11. What a hearty and delicious dinner, fit for any guest, Charlie. the vomit story interspersed somewhat quelled the appetite appeal, I must say. I’ll have to do a taste test to see if brandy and cognac are discernible. Although I thought Crèpes Suzettes were made with Contreau or some other orange flavoured liquor?

  12. Your parents dinner party sounds like the event of the season :). Even with you guys sick, they made sure you were alright first.. now that’s family for you :). I loved reading this story. And the Coq Au Vin was sooooo easy on the eyes.. let me tell you lol

  13. OMG wow…that’s a really interesting story! That you’re parents were able to take care of the 3 sick kids and change the bed sheets, at the same time, still be able to hold a dinner party! That’s really impressive! I probably would’ve politely asked the guests to leave or hahaha help out because I wouldn’t be able to multi-task like that hehe 🙂

    Hmmm substitutes…let me think…I’m always telling Mr Bao i’m using the expensive vanilla extract in his cookies, but when really i’m sometimes get lazy and just use the essence I have in my cupboard hehe ~

  14. I want you in our dinner group!

  15. HAHA! Love this story……now I know why I never had more than 2 kids 🙂 Highly entertained by this. And great recipe too, I love a good coq au vin

  16. What an adventure! Your parents are the ultimate in dinner party hosts! I think I would have enlisted the entire group to help out. I chuckled thinking of the little window with the shutters, that’s how things used to be done. Now everyone’s in my kitchen stirring the pot!

  17. Your coq au vin looks great–I’ve had some entertaining misadventures, but nothing quite like that. It’s quite the story!

  18. Your parents were an amazing example of grace under pressure. My biggest substitution was the day I invited my best friend and her new husband to my house so I could serve them home made pizza. Just as I was taking the pizza out of the oven, with my two friends watching for the glorious reveal, I touched the damp towel to one of the burners and the resulting steam made me jerk and drop the pizza, top side down on the burner, door and bottom of the oven. Billows of smoke resulted.

    I closed the door, went to the phone and ordered a replacement and the three of us left the kitchen and went to the living room to drink, discuss kitchen mishaps and eventually, laugh about the whole thing.

  19. You have four sisters? I’m so jealous. I only have one.

  20. We used to have dinner parties in my flat, but our table would only seat 4, so Stephen and I would sit on the couch like we were in the naughty corner or something.

  21. I have difficulty having ingredients to make this – I usually end up drinking the wine.
    Lucky the guests were not fed what the kids ate otherwise puking kids upstairs and puking guests downstairs would have been too much to handle

  22. Great story! Your poor folks did a great job keeping everything going. Hopefully no one else caught the nasty bug.

  23. Now that was a night to remember! Your parents certainly did rise to the occasion. I never would have been able to pull it off. Well, for one thing, I’d be wondering where in the world 5 kids came from, let alone that 3 of them were sick. To say I couldn’t handle it is a gross under-statement. Your coq au vin sounds delicious! It would make a perfect main course for a dinner party.

  24. I wish I had 4 sisters!! 🙂 It must be a slumber party every night at your house 🙂 This dish looks great!

  25. Yes large dinner parties are a chore, you spend the whole time in the kitchen!!

  26. Very impressive that they managed to pull off a dinner party with three sick kids! Some of us find it a challenge just doing the dinner party! 🙂

  27. Well Charlie, even though I was one of four girls, this is one of the only things we probably had in common when looking at our parents entertaining. Dad was never so helpful, ( and probably would not have noticed mum cooking AND cleaning) and mum hated cooking. What a wonderful team your parents made!

  28. Gosh! Your parents are superheros! hahahaha I substitute permanently as I don’t always have the ingredients in Spain…!

  29. I think this is why it’s sometimes better to do things by halves…though maybe because there were so many people, no one noticed your parents’ absence?

  30. love this memory! sounds like your mom was quite the entertainer!

  31. Wow, your parents were masters of entertaining! I can barely take care of a couple of cats when we have people over drinks or dinner. And, I’ve always been afraid to flame anything inside. I should try that some day though.

  32. What a funny (in retrospect) entertaining story!! Sounds like they dealt with it all with grace, which is very impressive under the circumstances. Coq au vin is a perfect entertaining dish and yours looks just wonderful.

  33. Never underestimate the distracting power of a stiff drink!

  34. I love the idea of this slightly Fawlty Towers behind the scenes going on whilst a smooth dinner party takes place with the guests oblivious. The pressures of a dinner party!! GG

  35. WOW!!! Well done to your parents!
    I can’t believe they managed to pull that off!

    Thankfully I have never had such a near disaster, but my dinner parties are always a lot less formal.

    I make my Coq au Vin with red wine too. It is a gorgeously rich dish with bacon and mushroom so I think the red wine is the right choice.

  36. Charlie, that’s the sort of story you laugh about 20 years later, but at the time.. 😉 Your poor folks. Actually, what DID they feed you guys that night? Certainly not that magnificent coq au vin, or you’d never have heaved it back up.. 🙂

  37. That’s why moms have the hardest job in the world. And they always save the day — and do so with aplomb. 😉

  38. Cakelaw says:

    Oh no! Love how your parents just soldiered on, like nothing had happened.

  39. my god! ur parents must have some super power to o through such a night & yet come off with a succesful party!

  40. Fun story and you must have many growing up in a house with FIVE girls!

  41. Now I wonder if the guests ever suspected anything. And, now you’ve reminded me of how much I love crepes suzette. I’ve made a few times myself. But not for company. I couldn’t be that brave, fearing the worst would go wrong.

  42. All I can say is your parents were heartier stock than I am. I would have been completely undone by all the vomiting and everyone would have just had to go home…no substitutions necessary! You’re coq au vin looks grand and I love the china with the black on cream…a perfect plate for a rustic dish.

  43. Wow your parents were quite a team …I hated when my family entertained because Mum always got cranky and stressed. I suspected similar experiences were why. I do love coq au vin though, but she would have called in chicken casserole.

  44. Missing cognac, sick children……. Hmmmmm
    Your poor parents! They must have been frantic! There is nothing wrong with some clever substitutions, I always say ‘fake it till you make it’ its amazing what you can get away with if you do it with confidence 😉

  45. If I had to deal with all that happening I think I would be well on the way to a nervous breakdown….your parents are champions to have handled it so smoothly!

  46. I loved reading this great story! You had great parents taking care of all of you before the dinner guests arrived! I know my parents also gave dinner parties like your parents! They gave their best to each of them. I listened a lot sitting on the stairs. There were a lot of cigars involved, a lot of Ladies perfume, laughter , great company & good food. The day after, we ate the leftovers. I liked that a lot! 🙂
    Your coq au vin looks scrumptious & tasty! 🙂

  47. Too funny, we just had this dish last night! I hadn’t made it in… well ever. But it’s so classic and tastes great.

  48. Wow, that is quite a story you have. Iam amazed at how calm your parents are. They handled the situation so well.
    The chicken looks delicious! I have been wanting to make this for so long. After seing this post, going to make it soon.

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