Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman



It was the simplest of observations. I’d never heard it made, but it crystalized for me yet another facet of America’s dysfunctional relationship to food.

I was listening to a podcast of “This American Life,” maybe the greatest show on radio, one from the archives called “Americans In Paris,” and featuring still another American treasure, David Sedaris.

One of the Americans interviewed by the show’s host, Ira Glass, noted the joy with which the French eat and said, “Americans treat their food like medicine.”

Exactly! We eat what’s “good” for us. We avoid what’s “bad” for us without really knowing what is good or bad for us. We eat probiotic food, such as yogurt with active cultures because it may be good for our gut flora. We avoid gluten because that’s what’s trending now. Yes, trending, unless you’ve got celiac, which is horrible and I’m sorry. Though, in fairness, Jane Brody reports in the Times today about growing evidence of actual “sensitivity.”

I believe that we would all be healthier and happier if we didn’t try to eat “good for you food,” and just ate what pleased us and made us feel good after we ate it. That’s really all there is to it, that and actually cooking the food. I repeat the words of the cynical market research guy who, when pressed by Michael Pollan to give him some hopeful advice on how America might change its diet, said, “Here’s a diet for you. Cook your own food. Eat anything you want as long as you cook it yourself.”

Wise words, and one the joyous, food-loving French embrace.

So herewith, my recipe for weekday coq au vin. Eat and enjoy.

Coq au Vin

  • 4 chicken leg quarters
  • 4 ounces bacon strips, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed with the side of a knife
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 carrot
  • 8 shallots, peeled
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ pound white mushrooms, quartered
  • 1½ cups red wine
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C. Place the chicken legs on a large baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 325°F/165°C.
  2. While the chicken is roasting put the bacon, onion, and garlic in a large ovenproof frying pan, Dutch oven, or other heavy oven-safe pot. The cooking vessel should be large enough to hold the chicken legs snugly in one layer. Add two 3-finger pinches of salt and enough water to just cover the ingredients. Cook over high heat until the water has cooked off, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring, until the onion has begun to caramelize, about 5 minutes more. Sprinkle the flour over the onion and bacon and stir to distribute it.
  3. Nestle the chicken skin-side down into the onion mixture in one layer. Tuck the carrot into the pan, followed by the shallots, bay leaves, and mushrooms. (The mushrooms can rest on top if there’s not enough room in the pan; they’ll cook down.) Add the wine and honey and season with pepper. Add enough water to reach three-fourths of the way up the chicken. Bring to a full simmer over high heat. Slide the pan, uncovered, into the oven.
  4. Cook the chicken for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from oven, turn the chicken pieces skin-side up, and stir the ingredients to make sure that they cook evenly. Taste the sauce; add salt if it needs more. Continue to cook until the chicken is tender, about 20 minutes more. Remove the pan from the oven. Just the skin of the chicken should be above the liquid.
  5. If serving the chicken immediately, turn on the broiler or grill. Broil/grill the chicken until the skin is crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove and discard the carrot and bay leaves. Serve the chicken and sauce in pasta bowls and garnish as desired.

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© 2014 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2014 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.


31 Wonderful responses to “Eat Your Medicine”

  • Carri

    That picture looks so good I think I can smell it!
    You always make such a compelling argument on this issue and one with which I agree whole heartedly. Then my daughter storms in the door complaining about how we don’t cook dinner at home anymore. My husband and eye each other sideways and shrug, it’s true, what can we say? In our case with one kid out of the house at college and two high schoolers that are so busy they are hardly home and me gone 60+ hours a week in my work kitchen, my husband generally tries to keep us stocked, but complains because no one is ever around when it’s ready to eat. This is how it is for a family with ridiculous access to quality fresh food. I imagine what it’s like for people who work hard outside of the food industry who live in places where they don’t have ready access to fresh food!

    • Paddy

      When my kids were in high school and I worked a lot of late hours I started making food in large batches; soups, stews, casseroles, etc. I’d freeze it in individual servings in Tupperware then pop the portions into freezer bags and freeze. Ergo, there was always a homemade meal to simply microwave regardless of when everyone came home.

      Thirty years later I’m still doing it for lunches at the office for my husband and myself.

  • Miles

    Coq au Vin without wine? Maybe you mean Coq sans Vin? This recipe is an insult to the “joyous, food-loving French”. Do you make apple pie without apple too?

    • michael pardus

      I suggest being gracious and admitting that you did not completely read the recipe before commenting. MR knows how to cook, how to read, and tests each recipe before posting . Larousse and Bocuse both call for about 1/2 liter of wine per small chicken, MR calls for 360 ml for 4 quarters,- roughly equal proportion. If you choose otherwise no one here will object, but illiteracy and poor manners diminish your authority to critique.

  • Brenda

    I’ve taken to using turkey thighs in more traditional coq au vin recipes — they hold up to a long braise so much better than contemporary chicken does.

  • Cathryn

    I just returned from Paris. I totally agree. Eat anything, shop for it yourself, and cook it. The taste will amaze you. Put food together that you wouldn’t think blend, you will be amazed. Thanks for the thoughts, I will remember this to share! Fondly, A Foodie and Proud of It!

  • Michael Smith

    Great and simple. Thanks for sharing both the thoughts as well as this recipe. Since I am fresh out of Rooster’s, this looks doable and delicious!

  • David Vos

    Coq au Vin was a staple in our apprenticeship, and still some 30 years later, still a treasure. We served it over egg noodles, and marinated the chicken in wine for a day before cooking- the dark hues of wine soaked meat add to the dish’s complexity and wonder.

  • Tags

    You might try Dr. David Perlmutter’s NYT bestselling book “Grain Brain” or his PBS TV show “Brain Change.” He’s a neurologist who specializes in treating Alzheimer’s patients, (including his Dad) and he demonstrates what he says is a direct link between gluten and inflammation. He also insists that our brains need fat, and telling people to cut down on eating fat is downright unhealthy.

  • Michael Trippe

    YES !!! A Coq au Vin from Michael Ruhlman… I enjoy how you have done your homework and always seem to come up with the simplest ways to make the best meals… So many recipes out there but this one I shall make… As always thank you.

  • carol

    “One of the Americans interviewed by the show’s host, Ira Glass, noted the joy with which the French eat and said, “Americans treat their food like medicine.”

    Exactly! We eat what’s “good” for us.”

    Well, perhaps that is what wealthy Americans can say.

  • Victoria

    I spent the weekend in D.C. with a friend of mine who is originally from Cleveland so let’s just say she is a little Chavinistic about Michael Ruhlman (and says he is movie star handsome and VERY tall). A signed copy of Schmaltz was sitting on her kitchen counter when I arrived and the Macaroni and Beef recipe re-posted recently was in the oven. She made it with farfalle and added some cooked chopped mushrooms. It was unbelievably DELICIOUS, a real keeper.

    I know this one is too as I’ve made it from Twenty.

  • Joan

    “I believe that we would all be healthier and happier if we didn’t try to eat “good for you food,” and just ate what pleased us and made us feel good after we ate it. That’s really all there is to it, that and actually cooking the food.”

    This is great advice but it doesn’t lead to the conclusion that everyone avoiding gluten should start eating it. In fact, since this is a chicken recipe, I struggle to understand why you contextulized it in generalizations about gluten free trends and healthy foods.

    I eat according to the principles you cited. Since I don’t feel good after I eat gluten, I don’t eat it. Instead, I eat what pleases me.

    In fact, if you are just cooking at home with whole fresh ingredients, then avoiding gluten is barely an issue – gluten should be pretty obvious (bread, pasta) and only is tricky when we are eating processed foods.

    So, my point is that just because you can cook and care about food doesn’t mean it’s ok to presume that what “makes you feel good after eating” is the same for everyone or that you (or any of us) can or should be the arbiter of what that is for others.

  • Chris

    Just flipped the chicken. House smells good. Thanks Michael for the ideas….

  • gwyn

    i just learned Oct. 10th is World Egg Day!!! What to make, what to make. Now THIS is a holiday i’d get a Hallmark card for…..

  • Allen

    did you write this weeks gleuten free episode of South Park?

    Cheers, happy Friday all!

  • Jessica

    I only recently read that a study has defunct theories of gluten insentivity (as in not scientifically verified). Is there an available link to research suggesting it’s been revised?

  • Goober

    I just listened to that rerun episode of TAL during the last hour of a long drive home, and I thought the food/medicine comment was apt for many people. I come here a couple hours later, and there it is again. What a coincidence, which is the focus of another TAL episode.

  • Andrew

    Easy to see why lifestyle diseases ,such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and hypertension, are soaring in the US with lousy advice like this. Hippocrates nailed it 2400 years ago when he wrote “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”

  • Kevin

    So is the troll count three up to here? One doesn’t read, one thinks this post was about gluten and eating the things the author subscribes (I don’t think he suggests any one course for everyone other than what makes people feel good, and he does bring up an argument for gluten sensitivities). Coq au Vin is FRENCH, not another sugar free, fat free, gluten free, probiotic, Brazilian butt lift, cut 90% out of your fat stomach so you won’t eat so much unhealthy FAD! And one, I’m sorry – I wouldn’t put all my chips into 2400 year old wisdom – much of which was actually wrong. I prefer to eat what I cook. I feel better when I don’t eat a lot of breads, carbs, and sugar – but I still do occasionally. Listen to your own body and mind.

  • E. Nassar

    Funny you are addressing this Michael! A local Houston chef who I have a lot of respect for runs a series of dinners/demos at her restaurant that she calls “Food as Medicine”. I literally cringe every time I get one of those emails announcing them in the restaurant’s newsletter. It’s for that same reason I will never ever buy a cookbook by anyone with “M.D.” after their name. It’s just unappetizing frankly and reminds me of hospital food.

  • Ken

    Our philosophy at WellBeingMD is that food is medicine. We teach people how to cook healthy foods that are tasty. Thankfully this trend seems to be growing. Your books point this out. So does the healthy cooking cooking partnership between Harvard University and the CIA. Our logo, Recipe for a Healthier America is not just a catch phrase. We appreciate your thoughts , Michael. Thanks

  • Mz

    Of course, France (in common with most countries) has a strong food culture. Perhaps what does set France apart is that maintaining this culture, transmitting it to the next generation are social priorities in which government, employers, the workplace, educational institutions, and, less importantly, parents, all play a role. In America, it seems that a lot of shouting takes place when it comes to food, not least in praise of ‘The French way’. But would Americans really be prepared to commit to creating a strong food culture, making a food education for all children a priority? Seems to me there is more interest in chasing the new, or just repackaging the old, as long as there’s a buck to be made.


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