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May 29, 2010 01:39 PM

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!?