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Eye Prefer Paris: Charlotte’s French Kitchen: Le Poulet

September 11, 2012
Several years ago I had the marvelous opportunity to travel to Paris with one of my sisters and my daughter for 4 nights for $399….you can imagine how fast I jumped on that. One day we took a cooking class with Charlotte Puckett, arranged for by Richard Nahem, an American ex-pat who offers tours. Today Richard’s blog included information from Charlotte about French chicken. I thought a glimpse at another culture’s efforts to eat would intrigue the other foodies out there.  

Charlotte’s French Kitchen: Le Poulet     Posted: 03 Sep 2012 10:44 PM PDT
I am happy to debut a new monthly feature, Charlotte’s French Kitchen. Charlotte Puckette is a Cordon Bleu trained chef and also teaches our Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes. Every month Charlotte will write about different aspects of French food from market to kitchen to table and will include a recipe. This month Charlotte has written an informative article about the incredible varieties of the divine tasting French chickens and how to shop for them. She has also included a fail-proof, simple recipe to prepare the best roasted chicken possible, even better than finger-lickin’ good.Le Poulet

The French have had a long love affair with any type of fowl, chicken in particular and some of the most glorious creations in the French culinary repertoire are based on poultry. Poultry is the 2nd most popular meat in France and as a result there is a chicken for every taste and budget ranging from the inexpensive, intensively reared hybrid standard broiler (Poulet ordinaire) and progressively moving through the more selective slow growing breeds with higher standards of care to arrive at the most highly sought after, expensive and elite chicken in the world, the Poulet de Bresse.

What to Buy:
The essential elements of a really good table bird are breed, diet, growth time and roaming space and it is the quality of each that is reflected in the final taste and texture of a chicken.  While husbandry methods may vary, all birds raised to be sold commercially, have to pass through a government approved certification process with rigorous specifications, monitored by independent third party organizations and all birds in France benefit from feed that is 100% vegetal and a ban on the use of animal flours and growth hormones.

These days almost every chicken has a label to give the impression that it spent its’ days clucking around the farmyard. The term Poulet fermier, farm chicken, is very open ended and more often a marketing concept than a reflection of how the bird was raised.

Only chickens labeled  Poulet fermier éléve en plein air  or Poulet fermier éléve en liberté  can be considered free range.

The Pecking Order

Standard broilers (Poulet ordinaire)
In France, the lives of battery chickens have been slightly improved in that they are no longer confined to cages but in sheds allowing them some degree of freedom to move about, however, their short growing cycle of only 6 weeks causes the cells in their muscles to absorb a great deal of water and as a result the fat in their diets is not metabolized and remains under the skin giving them a mushy texture and bland taste. These chickens are inexpensive and usually found whole or in cut pieces.

Certified Chickens (Poulet certifié conforme)
A better choice than a poulet ordinaire and generally found as pre-packed whole or cut pieces in grocery stores. These chickens, slaughtered at 8 weeks, are a cross between a slow growing hen and a hybrid rooster. They have been confined under slightly better conditions than standard broilers with fewer birds per square meter, giving them more space to roam freely and develop some muscle and taste. Some of these birds may be labeled “fermier” or farm chicken but that is most likely using the term in the broadest sense of the word.

Red Label Chickens (Poulet label rouge)
Free Range chickens from rustic breeds, raised and processed following rigid standards defined by the Ministry of Agriculture in regard to origin, rearing, feed veterinary treatment and age. In general Label Rouge birds are heavier and more elongated than standard broilers and depending on their genetic heritage can have yellow or white skin, red, black or golden feathers and feet that are yellow, blue or black. Their long growth period, almost 12 weeks, is a key element to the taste and texture of these birds. The time spent moving about outdoors allows their bodies to metabolize the fat from their feed resulting in well-marbled meat that is firm but not tough.

Whole Label Rouge chickens can be found in grocery stores or in open-air markets, ready to cook or partially eviscerated.  Red label chickens are also sold cut into portions. These birds are high quality and can be cooked any number of ways. Poultry raised under the label rouge standards are on average thirty percent more expensive than standard birds.

Organic Chicken (Poulet biologique, Label AB/Bio)
Similar to Label Rouge birds, organic chickens come from slow growing rustic breeds, but the main criteria in their rearing is that 90% of their diet is made up of certified organic soybeans and grains, grown without any chemical fertilizers or herbicides. They are not allowed antibiotics and health issues are dealt with using natural remedies. Neither pesticides nor herbicides can be used in the yards where they roam. Sold whole or in pieces at a price two to three times higher than standard chickens.

Rare and Traditional Breeds (Volaille de Race Ancienne)
It seems that every region in France has its own famed rustic breed, many around since the middle-ages. These purebred chickens are raised on small farms throughout France and often named for the towns that produced them. Because the flocks are small, only a few birds make it out of the region where they are produced. These aristocratic, pastured birds have elongated breast and long muscular legs. They are generally leaner and the meat to bone ration is generally less. Having built up muscles their flesh is darker and slightly firm and will have much more flavor. Because of their springier texture, these birds, benefit from a low, slow cooking method. Raised in limited quantities, they are expensive and very few make it to tables outside of their local region. Look for them in butcher shops, local markets and on restaurant menus in the areas where they are raised.

Bresse Chickens (Poulet appellation origine controllée /AOC)
Basically a simple countryside chicken raised as a chicken should be, spending the majority of its life clucking around green pastures, eating local grains and drinking fresh spring water. The Bresse chicken is hardly the only bird in France treated to a traditional upbringing, but what distinguishes these chickens from the rest of the flock is the fact that they have been given the coveted AOC status. This is the official government recognition that the unique characteristics of the local grain, water and climate combined with a much coddled production method are what make Bresse chickens a gastronomic benchmark.

These birds are sold whole and not in portions and like any high quality product, they carry a premium price tag. Because they have spent the majority of their lives moving around, their meat will have a firmer texture than standard chickens and will need a longer cooking time at lower temperatures. To best appreciate their flavor they should be poached and served with a sauce made from the cooking liquid. If roasted, count on 45 minutes per kilo at 180°C.

 

At the Market
In France, chickens can be purchased from the butcher, grocery store, outdoor-markets or directly from the farmer. A whole chicken should serve 4 people well. A half breast or two drumsticks or thighs per person is sufficient if serving parts.

Depending on breed, chickens can have white or yellow skin. Whole chickens are sold either oven ready, P.A.C. -prêt a cuire/ P.A.C. – or in a more natural state, sometimes, but not always plucked with head and feet left in tact to allow the consumer to judge the freshness and authenticity of the product. Freshly slaughtered birds should have bright eyes, a red comb, smooth, blemish free skin, soft scaled legs and feet that appear to have had some use. Unless you want to do it yourself, ask the butcher or vendor to prepare the bird and truss it for roasting or have it cut into pieces for sautéing or stewing. You can as to keep the feet and head to make stock.

Whole chickens or pieces should be plump, with firm meat and smooth skin, without tears or bruising. Birds and pieces tightly wrapped in plastic and oven ready have been specially conditioned and will stay fresh for up to a week depending on the sale by date.  Fresh chicken sold at the butchers or bought in the market should be cooked within three days.

If you don’t feel like cooking, stop by the market stand or a butcher shop with a rotisserie and pick up a slow roasted bird. It will be popped hot and steaming in a foil lined bag along with sauce that will keep it warm until you get home. And don’t forget take some of those wonderful potatoes that will have been basting in the juices slowly dripping off the roasting birds.

 French Style Roast Chicken
Serves 4

All chickens can be roasted but fattier birds will be juicier. In France some of the best juicy roasters are the Label Rouge free range yellow skinned chickens from Landes and the white skinned, grass-fed chickens from the Southwest. The more expensive birds such as the Bresse chickens and heritage breeds are often roasted but their lean, firm meat is better appreciated using a moister cooking method, if roasted they should cooked breast side down at lower temperatures (325 F) and for a longer time and basted often.

There is no one true way to roast a chicken, breast side up or down, trussed or not trussed, rub with butter or duck fat, lemon or onion in the cavity – these can all be debated. The number one error most people make when roasting chicken is to over cook it.  Slightly pink meat around the leg and thighbones does not mean your bird is undercooked but it does mean the difference between juicy breast meat and a tough, dry over cooked dinner.

INGREDIENTS

1  whole chicken, about 4 Lbs (1.8 kg) giblets reserved

 Salt (preferably sea salt)and freshly crushed black pepper

1/2  lemon

1  onion, peeled and halved

1  sprig fresh rosemary

1  sprig fresh thyme

1  tablespoon of butter

1  cup (220 mls) dry white wine

1  tablespoon parsley

INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat the oven to 375F (190C).

1. Remove the wing tips, leaving the last joint only. Using your fingers reach inside the neck cavity and remove any excess fat with your fingers then trim any excess skin. Wash the inside of the chicken thoroughly with cold running water, shake out any excess water and pat the skin dry. Season the inside cavity with salt and pepper and insert the lemon half, half the onion, rosemary and thyme inside the chicken cavity.

2. Rub the outside of the chicken with the soft butter, making sure to get into all the folds between the wings and legs but taking not to tear the skin.

3. Chop the remaining half of the onion and add it along with reserved giblets to the roasting pan and place the chicken on top, breast side down. Add ½ cup (110 mls) of white wine.  Roast for 30 minutes basting at least once with the fat and butter that accumulates in the bottom of the roaster.

4. After 30 minutes, increase the oven temperature up to 450F (230C) and cook for another 10 minutes then remove the roaster from the oven, turn the bird breast side up and roast another 15 minutes.  Remove the chicken from the oven and tip any juices from its interior back into the pan.  Transfer to cutting board and allow resting for 10 to 15 minutes loosely covered with foil before carving.

5. To make the sauce, using a large spoon, skim off most of the fat from the pan juices. Place the roasting pan on the stovetop over high heat. Add the remaining wine stirring and scrapping the bottom of the pan with the wooden spoon for any residue. Bring the wine to a boil and cook until half reduces it. Discard the giblets and onion and whisk in the remaining softened butter. Stir in the parsley, season with salt and pepper, and serve alongside the chicken.

Poultry Glossary

French English
Abats Giblets
Aiguillette Filet Mignon
Aile Wing
Blanc Breast
Coeur Heart
Cou Neck
Crete Cockscomb
Croupion Parsons Nose
Cuisse Thigh and Leg quarter
Foie Liver
Gesiers Gizzards
Goujons Breast Strips
Haute-de-Cuisse Thigh
Jambonette Deboned, stuffed thighs
Les Pattes Clawed Feet
Pilon Drumstick
Poumons Lungs
Supreme Breast, with part of wing and skin
Sot-l’y-laisse Literally “the fool who leaves it”, oyster

Charlotte Puckette, from Charleston, SC left the world of shrimp and grits and moved to Entebbe in Uganda with the Task Force for Child Survival for the Carter Presidential Center. Staying in East Africa for three years, she traveled the world and developed a passion for cooking.  Charlotte moved to France and graduated from the prestigious Cordon Bleu cooking school in 1992 with top honors and the Grand Diplôme. She briefly worked at L’Oasis restaurant in La Napoule and later at Fauchon gourmet shop, before starting her own catering business Cuisines et Traditions du Monde, introducing people to ethnic cuisine. She is the co-author of the bestseller The Ethnic Paris Cookbook (with Olivia Kiang-Snaije) She also teaches the Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes and is constantly on the prowl for new restaurants or sources that will provide her with inspiration for her creations.

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