Être comme un coq en pâte


This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to food. Browse the list of idioms featured so far.

This week’s idiom is, “Être comme un coq en pâte.”

Literally translated as, “Being like a rooster in dough,” it means feeling cosy and pampered, being in a state of absolute contentment, with one’s every need catered to. I’ve seen it likened to the English idiom, “being in clover” or “like pigs in clover,” but I understand the latter refer primarily to financial comfort, whereas the French expression implies a more general sense of physical and spiritual well-being.

Example: “Quand il est chez sa grand-mère, il est comme un coq en pâte.” “When he’s at his grandmother’s, he’s like a rooster in dough.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

(If no player appears, here’s a link to the audio file.)

Coq en pâte (literally, rooster in dough) is an olden, luxurious French dish in which a poularde (fatted chicken*) is stuffed, trussed, wrapped entirely in a short crust, and then baked until golden. It is traditionally served with sauce Périgueux on the side, a sauce flavored with port and truffles.

The idea behind this seventeenth-century idiom is that the bird, while it is being prepared for this recipe — handled with loving care, adorned with prized ingredients, and bundled up snugly in a buttery blanket — must feel really, really good. (One might argue that its bliss is short-lived, but this idiom is perhaps a good illustration of how the French popular wisdom considers it an honorable thing for an animal to finish its life as a delicious dish on a plate.)

If you’re curious, or maybe in need of inspiration for your Christmas menu, here is the recipe for Coq en pâte, as found in my grandmother’s 1938 Larousse Gastronomique — the very twin of the one Paul Child gives Julia for her birthday in the movie (abridged translation follows):

Coq en pâte

Coq en pâte

I’ll note that the recipe also appears in the most recent edition of the Larousse Gastronomique (just published in English), but the typeface and wording are less charming.

[Quick-and-dirty translation: start with a ready-to-roast fatted chicken, with the wishbone removed. Make a stuffing with thickly diced foie gras and truffles, seasoned with salt, spices, and a little Cognac, and combined with a small amount of farce fine [Clotilde notes: that’s a poultry stuffing made of veal, pork, poultry liver, and breadcrumbs].

Truss the chicken with its legs folded back tightly into the flesh. Sear in butter on all sides to color. Coat with a matignon (100 grams carrots, 100 grams onion, and 25 grams celery, finely minced, cooked in butter until soft, seasoned with salt, pepper, ground thyme and laurel, and combined with 75 grams finely chopped cured ham). Soak a piece of pork caul in cold water and wrap the bird in it.

Make a dough with 500 grams flour, 300 grams butter, an egg, 1.5 centiliters water and 10 grams salt. Spread the dough out into an oval, and place the bird on it. Make a second, similar dough and cover the bird with it. Bring the edges of the top and bottom doughs together and pinch to seal. Brush with eggwash. Create an opening in the middle so the steam can escape. Bake in a hot oven for about an hour.

These days the dish is often prepared this way: stuffed and sear the bird as above, place it in a terrine dish large enough to accommodate it, and covered with dough across the top. Brush with eggwash and cook in the oven.

Coq en pâte is to be served with a sauce Périgueux on the side.]

* The term coq (rooster) is sometimes used in culinary French where it is in fact preferable to use a poularde (fatted chicken) or a chapon (capon), if available. Because the rooster is kept around for reproduction purposes, it is old when eventually slaughtered, so it isn’t the choicest type of poultry.

  • Sadly, I think that the closest American equivalent is probably the not-very-elegant, “Happy as a pig in $#&*”. Sigh. I guess that shouldn’t be too surprising.

  • I’m afraid that Nina’s is the only equivalent that came immediately to mind for Ireland as well…
    It’s quite possible that the Irish brought it to the USA?

  • Mary

    Agree with above as translation that immediately comes to mind. Yet it’s not exactly the same, of course, which is the charm of language learning. When my kids were little I always wanted a saying like “une fois n’est pas coutume” and couldn’t find an equivalent.

    Clotilde, I love this series and admire your skill as a translator dans les 2 sens, ce qui n’est pas de la tarte!

  • Katy

    Love this series! What about “happy as a clam in the mud” which I’ve also heard as “happy as a clam in the mud at high tide.” Which is to say, one very secure and happy clam.

  • I love the 1938 description of the Coq en Pate recipe! The expressions, especially when you live abroad and have the time to think about your own language, always make me laugh.

    • It is very interesting to learn new idiomatic expression. It will make a person be more poetic at speaking.

  • This is lovely, perfect.

  • Cadi

    We always used “snug as a bug in a rug”. It may be more of a Southern US saying though.

  • Joan

    Here, in Australia, we say “happy as a pig in mud” ~ I remember that from my childhood…’n now I recall the joy of making mud pies. Do children still do such things I wonder…

    Clotilde, I love the accompanying photo..

    as ever, am loving the series..

  • I cooked coq au vin the other day with my french workmate and we spent two days looking for a rooster but had to make do with some nice big organic chickens instead and it was delicious!

  • In Ukraine (Central Europe) we say it pretty similar to US variant. It sounds like: happy as a pig in a mud.

  • In Ukraine (Central Europe) we say it pretty similar to US variant. It soundslike: happy as a pig in a mud.

  • kp

    I think the more classic, quaintly equivalent phrase is actually “as happy as a pig in a poke” :)

  • “Happy as a clam in the mud at high tide” – that’s how we say it Moldova. It makes you laugh when you translate it to the other language:)

  • Jim Katz

    Actually ‘pig in a poke’ is an entirely different idiom meaning ‘sight unseen’. A poke is a sack, and ‘buying a pig in a poke’ is taking a chance for your money.
    Jim-from a place where the ungraceful ‘pig in@#$%’ is the norm.

  • Edible idioms are awesome as usual. I used a bit of info from here for one of my french essays. Thanks guys in comments for sharing their national idioms.

  • Valerie

    Thank you for this!! I dug out my old high school cookbook today just for my coq en pate recipe; it’s been years since I’ve made it. Was looking up alternate versions and your site was all I found– thanks for the authentic version plus great background info!

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