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Roast chicken in Paris

Someone on the France board asked a question about roast chicken in Paris, but my response was deemed off topic there -- here it is again, if anyone's interested.

Chicken in Paris are the best in the world. Not because they're well cooked: they're not. But because of the quality of French chicken, and the fact that only French people (and only a little number of that) are ready to pay the price that a good quality chicken costs. That's because really good chicken (eg Gauloise Blanche, Bresse, Géline de Touraine) requires a long growth (up to 120 days for some of them, as opposed to less than 40 for the crappiest environnemental chicken) and a lot of free space each (up to a few sqm per chicken, as opposed to 20 chicken par sqm for said crappiest), which results in very high individual costs -- easily 16e/kg (that's 9$/lb), so that a really nice chicken can cost north of 30e. (An occasion to reaffirm that 78e for that same chicken roasted and served with unlimited fries is not expensive -- eg l'Ami Louis).

I never found a rotisserie or a restaurant in Paris that cooks chicken correctly, no matter their quality. It's so true that non-connoisseurs end up preferring lower quality chicken, because they resist the atomization that passes for cooking these days better. Because they're full of water, they get less dry and never get tough, whereas a badly cooked high end chicken is hard to chew and unpleasant. Even l'Ambroisie and their rididulously expensive Gauloise Blanche (230e....) actually tends to overcook the breast.

So, the recipe for you best roast chicken in Paris, while in Paris, is as follows: buy a very high end chicken from a high end volailler or butcher (Coq Saint Honoré, Desnoyer, Grande Epicerie). Bresse is not a great choice for roasting. Stuff it inside and under the breast with anything, it does not really matter. I found that soaked bread or brioche is the easiest way, but old onions, potatoes or lemon would do, even if you would not use them for anything else. Then roast it either on rotating spit (many ovens have one) with the door open, or in a traditional oven by cooking it mostly on its thighs and not showing the breast to the heat.

The only alternative I'm aware for roast chicken that is cooked as it should be is not open yet. A home delivery service in the 15th will actually cook the breadst and thighs sousvide separately, then finish the chicken in a professional rotisserie. Chosing a poulet fermier from those guys shold come close to perfection in its class.

That said, every other butcher has a rotisserie outside his shop, so there has to be a good one somewhere (though their process actually ensures it's not the case).

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  1. I'm not sure this belongs on Home Cooking but I found it very interesting. It's along the lines of Julia Child's complaint in My Life in France on chickens in Paris vs. what she found in the US. She developed her recipes in Paris but when she tried them in the US, she said the chickens themselves have no flavor, were bland, nothing compared to Parisian chickens. Maybe that's why people say everything tastes like chicken. Because chicken doesn't taste like much.

    2 Replies
    1. re: chowser

      The first thing that comes to mind when I think Paris and chicken is BUTTER!

      1. re: mnosyne

        Yes--Julia Child uses quite a bit of butter in MtAoFC. It caught my eye as something I'll have to try when it's cooler.

    2. Very interesting! For me, a really good roasted chicken is just about the best meal out there. If you're lucky, you might be able to get really good chicken in the U. S. -- you have to find someone who raises it themselves. I've been lucky enough to find a few of these, which I like to roast, breast side down, stuffed with bread and fresh herbs.

      But 10 years ago I recall having a very good chicken from the market on the Avenue Richard-Lenoir. The vendor told me all the chickens were reserved, but eventually took pity on me and coughed up one rather mingy specimen, which was far, far tastier than any pre-prepared chicken I've ever had in this country.

      1. Souphie, I finally found this, via my original post, Thanks for this!

        1. Fantastic post indeed. Do you have any more detils on this venture soon to open in the 15th!?

          1. After witnessing Julot in action (and tasting the result, OMG), my husband and I had to had to had to try.

            Last week when we were in southwestern France, we saw in our fave market, in Villefranche de Rouergue, a farmer selling only half a dozen chickens and nothing else, with the kind of nice coloring and elasticity that only the freshest chickens can have. It must have been squawking only that morning.
            We bought it, went home and worshipped it, then made it your way. Except that I remember you recommended stuffing it with foie gras. Foie gras practically grows on trees in that part of rthe sud-ouest, but I am too petit bourgeois to use it that way. We stuffed the bird with a country sausage with espelette pepper, in addition to the stuffed stuff that I saw you use.

            The result would have done you proud, Maître, - where the skin was a separate tasty entity and inside the tenderest meat tasted as though the bird had been fed with all the right food forever, which it no doubt had been. As 3 women and a man moaned through the chicken, leaving only a shiny carcass for the next day's broth, it certainly took the sting out of les Bleus being kicked out of the World Cup in such a transcendentally pathetic way.
            Thank you, Soup, again and again.

            1. Interesting post indeed, as I was in Paris this weekend. It also caught my attention how expensive chickens are in Paris. I saw a Bresse chicken for 25 euro at our boucherie next to our hotel. The same chicken in Holland would also cost approximately 20 to 25 euro. I would have thought Paris would be cheaper though!

              That said, you can see by the sheer variety of chickens on offer that Parisiens love their chickens. I can only dream of having such butchers in my neighbourhood.

              I actually bought a roast chicken from a very busy local boucherie down rue brea, and it was excellent although on the dry side. But that's probably because I could only eat the bird after 5 hours or so.

              Have heard of l'ami louis and am curious whether the 78 euro is for a whole chicken, so for two persons. Then it would be priced fair I guess. That said, I love the poularde roti at le comptoir du relais in the 6th, for 21 euro. It is one of the best chicken dishes I have ever eaten. Not dry roasted, but I think something of a cream is added later on as well as some rice. Pure excellence.

              1. hey! could you diffrentiate high end chicken form store bought chicken in terms of taste but not in terms of healthiness ?

                2 Replies
                1. re: hae young

                  o yes, day and night. That is one of the most important part of Soup's advice, if not the most important. Go out of your way, go to the end of the earth to the best source. Believe me, it's worth it.

                  1. re: Parigi

                    A big difference is the large amount of water in store bought chicken. You will notice this if you are trying to fry the chicken, and out comes a lot of water. The result: you end up steaming your chicken which will make it soggy. Higher end chicken meanwhile can give you a nice browned and roasted chicken.

                2. Hi Souphie,

                  Hopefully you will see this reply despite the fact it is several months since you posted the original post. I hear you on the chicken and wholeheartedly agree on the statement that the best chickens are to be found here in Paris. Your analysis of the whys reads like my endless rants to friends and family when we are in the US. It is by far the item we miss the most when in the states (yes before bread and pastry).

                  I used to have a rotisserie attachment here in my Paris oven, but alas no more.
                  I know you had more detailed instructions on non-spit chicken roasting on your blog, but now I can't seem to track it down (link on your profile does not work?). Could you elaborate or post the link to your blog? Specifically I would like to know what temp you recommend and some idea of timing (I know size of bird is a factor, but nonetheless...). I get the Cou Cous from Desnoyer. I seem to remember 180 oven, bird on one thigh for 15 min., then on the other for 15 min. then out of the oven for 10 and then back in on it's back for more time? But that doesn't seem like enough time... Also, do you truss? If so is it classic trussing w/ a needle? Or the non-needle trussing? What size pan to you use (specifically, how much larger than the bird itself, e.g. allowing 1, 2, or 3 cm between the bird and the side?),and how high are the sides? Is it metal or ceramic? Last but not least, is the bird on the bottom of the pan or on a rack?

                  Your feedback here would be **greatly** appreciated

                  1. I swear by Judy Rogers' (Zuni Cafe) method. You do need to start with a small or two small chickens. This is not a method for bigger birds. But it does turn out a crispy, well colored bird with very moist meat. http://smittenkitchen.com/2008/12/zun... I seldom bother to make the bread salad, which is delicious, but religiously use this method of roasting.
                    Here is one of my birds.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: mangeur

                      Hello mangueur - I hope you come across this thread again! That looks delicious. The Zuni cookbook is one of my absolute favorites (as is Zuni, for that matter!), and this method is similar to the Thomas Keller method I usually use (found on Epicurious). I wonder if you have any advice in terms of treating one of the birds I will seek out when in Paris - is high heat still the way to go?

                    2. Found this thread while poking around the boards for Bell and Evans commiseration stories. Undoubtedly the best chicken I've bought and prepared in the US, but meh compared to even the not-so-special, much less AOC, little skinny backbone hens in your average Parisian market.

                      That said, I did splurge for the Poulet de Bresse once, and because my house kitchen advice-dispenser was out of town for the weekend, didn't know that they weren't particularly suited to roasting (I think the Internet probably told me so, but with a week left in Paris, I had to satisfy my fancy-chicken and crispy-skin cravings in one go, and ignored any challenges to this). Reflexively prepping it for dry-brining Zuni-style, I marveled at the thick layer of yellow fat all over the thing, not able to imagine what would happen to this fat in the oven. Well, the thing basically fried itself in its own fat. I drained it and stuck it back in the oven breast-side down to more evenly, uh, glisten the thing, made my bread salad, and made the mistake of allowing the boyfriend in the kitchen.

                      Crispy-skinned, moist, gently birdy tasting high. Bread salad saved for another night. When the kitchen-adviser returned, she was horrified and told me Bresse has to be braised for an eternity in milk, or something...? Next time, I guess.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: pampelmuse

                        O! Get back on the horse. Roast another chicken tomorrow. Tonight!

                        1. re: Parigi

                          I'm going to reopen this old thread with a question for Souphie, or anyone else.

                          An old time dish I've never seen in a French restaurant is chicken with 40 cloves of garlic. Maybe it's too "home cooking" or old fashioned? To my friends in the US it is an unusual and delicious French dish.

                          Anyway, the question is what would be a good bird choice in Paris for this dish? It's roasted, but in a sealed casserole. Is it even worth using an expensive chicken?

                          1. re: RandyB

                            I actually don't think that this is an old-time recipe. I can't quite recall the name of the chef, but I somehow think that this is a recipe that was invented in the US -- maybe by a chef of French origin. I could be completely off here, but I have all but the details of this gnawing at m memory right now...

                            1. re: roxlet

                              I don't know for sure. However, I've seen it on French recipe websites referred to as a "classic" or a "Sunday dinner from my youth" recipe.

                            2. re: RandyB

                              My new best friend, the intern butcher at P. Dugast, in Marche de Passy continues to make great recommendations. Last weekend I asked for this very thing. Which is the best bird to roast? He reccommended the jeune coq. I roasted it on a vertical roaster. First it must be rubbed with either olive oil or butter. It really depends on my mood and what seasoning I will use. I start it in a high heat oven for 10 minutes then bring the heat
                              down to around 160 C for the last hour or so, about 20 minutes per pound.
                              Another time I took home a Coquelet. It was a perfect dinner for two. I roasted it, used butter this time and then basted it in the last ten minutes a with 1/4 cup of cream. Loved the crust it created. Yum. I also ordered my turkey form them, for Thanksgiving and it was better than any Canadian farmed raised, or Whole Food's bio/free range birds, I have had in North America. Tonight I will pprepare my Capon. Can't wait.

                        2. What I find interesting is that, with all the emphasis on heritage this meat or that, no one has really done much with chicken. I'm surprised that there isn't an enterprising farmer somewhere in th US producing this French birds in the way they're produced in France. I guess that there isn't the same amount of respect as there is for other poultry, like turkey, or other meats.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: roxlet

                            Take a look at

                            It's sort of good news, bad news, but does have a lot of explanation about chicken breeds in the US.

                            But, roxlet, I have to agree with you anyway. I'm thinking of many friends who raise chickens. They all do it organically (though not necessarily certified), really free range, etc. But they, too, limit their outlook on breed choices.

                            1. re: RandyB

                              Interesting -- but this also looks like a web site that hasn't been updated since 2008!

                          2. We have been following Souphie's instructions and experimenting with roasting different chicken species from our Ultimate Chicken Guy Marcel (his stand keeps the old name "Toutoune") from Marché St Quentin in Paris.
                            So far we have roasted: coucou de Rennes, Bresse, Challan, La Géline de Touraine. We are esp fond of Challan and Géline.
                            During our xmas-new year holiday in Nice, we discovered from the wonwderful poultry butcher's in the old town La Poulette the awesome poulet de Tarn. So good we got it twice.
                            I encourage everyone to rent a place with kitchen instead of staying in a hotel on your next trip to France. The markets are a big part of the enjoyment of the French lifestyle. Besides, you will not have to eat out twice a day. Even if you have unlimited budget, eating out twice a day is a tiring and touristy thing to do.
                            One last thing: the smaller the bird the better, it seems.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Parigi

                              And here you are! I don't know why I didn't come here first. One question - how hot is your oven, and without a spit, what vessel do you recommend?

                              1. re: saticoy

                                I use a stainless poultry, standing roasting frame. I found it in the South off France 30 years ago.

                                1. re: picardsvintagelady

                                  Merci - I am going in June, and will assess the kitchen in my rented apartment, and perhaps augment with something I can easily take home. If I am going to splurge on a costly small bird, I better get it right!