Posts Tagged ‘poulet’

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French Chicken

March 28, 2012

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It has always tickled me pink that the paltry poulet (chicken) – such a common bird, so plain on the plate unless wed with other ingredients – can be so prized by French gourmets. Enter the reason why a weekend flit to small town Bourg-en-Bresse in eastern France excited me so.

Poulet de Bresse is no cookie-cutter chicken. Raised, cherished and tended with care according to exacting AOC rules on small family farms (the sort where Grandma still helps out as best she can), this chicken is god among knowing gourmets and France’s top chefs. One bite and there is purportedly no going back: the taste of that firm, well-bred, baby-tender Bresse flesh is strong, almost gamey, a tad on the wild side and just a teeny bit heady. Marry it with a crisp white Chardonnay or rich red Pinot Noir from nearby Burgundy and you enter gastronomic heaven.

Perusing the over-sized menu at Auberge Bressane in Bourg-en-Bresse is akin to savouring the descriptive card in a lavish box of Swiss chocolates – Bresse chicken and pricier poularde (fatted hen) in every guise imaginable. Being something of an impromptu family trip decided upon with wild abandon last minute, the moment to order an entire €120 poularde de Bresse rôtie (roast hen) was past (50 minutes wait and we were with the children).

So, aspiring to the pure and unadulterated, I skipped chicken au vinaigre de framboises and à la crème au chardonnay for a kid-simple, no holds barred thigh of roast chicken – while the shiny white porcelain Bresse chicken with signature blue-grey legs and punk-style red wattle in the centre of the table gazed at me unfaltering: Happy are young chicks in this neck of the woods which peck around freely in the open for the first 12 weeks of life (after which reality kicks in with wired pen, and corn and milk to fatten for several weeks). Few Bresse birds leave France, making the ostensibly simple dish all the more special.

As with so many of French cuisine’s hearty regional dishes with unabashedly peasant-kitchen roots, greedily mopping up the fragrant puddle of pan juices left behind with chunks of chewy bread was the sweetest part. The chicken was perfectly roasted, with gorgeously finger-licking crispy skin and moist succulent meat, but it was that irresistible swirl of meat juice begging to be devoured that really left me yearning for more.

Dessert? Skip across the street and gorge on the gleaming cream façade of the extraordinary Monastère de Bou, a 16th-century monastery with a breathtaking Flamboyant Gothic church, an unusual trio of cloisters, and respectable modern art collection.