The most important factor for a good tasting chicken? Their age.by Wendell Steavenson / May 19, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
Spring has arrived in the French countryside. Neon bright leaf buds sunlit against dark grey thunderheads, tender green grass growing like a lush carpet, fields striped with yellow rape. In April, weeks of rain had swollen the Saône river, a tributary of the Rhône. We drove across the bridge at Chalon-sur-Saône, into the flat alluvial plain of Bresse. Hamlets of low timber-and-brick farmhouses huddled in the downpour; low-lying fields had become swamped, turning them into mud lakes. In the fields, white chickens—the famous Poulet de Bresse—pecked at worms. Poulet de Bresse are distinguished by being the only chickens in France to have their own appellation d’origine contrôllé. They have white feathers, blue legs and red combs making them practically the emblem of the French Republic. According to the strict criteria of their premium label, each bird must be raised in an open field with at least 10m2 of space, fed on cereal grown only in the Bresse region and be fattened in crates for their last two weeks.
We had rainbow weather: downpours and bright sunny skies. At the market in Louhans I bought, naturally, a handsome Poulet de Bresse. It weighed almost two kilograms. The seller told me to roast it slowly at a low temperature for almost two hours.
“I always thought the Poulet de Bresse is overrated. I found them to be bony,” said Peter Bouckaert, our host who has a weekend house overrun with children, guests, banks of rosemary, sheep, chickens, geese and ducks. Peter is Emergencies Director of Human Rights Watch and is an amateur cook with a close affinity for the nuances of an exceptional ragu (“it is essential to add parmesan rinds”) and a culinary reference library several times larger than mine. He shook his head at my purchase, which I planned to roast. “It will hardly feed four adults and three kids, what else is there to eat”?