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Jan 1, 2012 01:11 PM

French Butchers - Chicken with heads and tails

Just came back from Paris and noticed that the butchers leave the head, feet and tail feathers on their birds. Is this just a matter of style or do the French consistently use these for stock, etc.? Personally, I prefer not to have to hack those things off at home, but maybe you fell differently?

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  1. I've been told by a several different (French) people that it harkens back to a day when what you paid for might or might not be what you thought you were really buying. Thus feet and heads are left on so that you KNOW that the chicken is a chicken, the duck is a duck, etc., etc., etc. (This is pretty crucial for some types of bird -- especially a poulet de Bresse, which is known by its white feathers, blue feet, and red comb.)

    Feet frequently go into stock -- not always, but it's pretty common.

    If you don't want the head and feet, you just ask the volailler or butcher to remove them for you -- they''ll even ask if you want them in the package. (They'll even customize THAT for you -- I keep the necks for stock, but tell them to throw the heads away)

    Before you leave, though, they'll remove all the excess feathers and carefully singe them all off for you with a small torch.

    1. Many butchers do not keep those parts. If they do, it usually means that they are proud of the chicken's distinctive origin, an example being the ne plus ultra Barbezieux with its strange head.
      I like chicken feet, a great ingredient for making broth, but most butchers do not keep them. I always have to remind the butcher, and my fave buther Marcel at marché St Quentin would say an absent-mindedd oui then chop and toss away the feet. Well.
      If you don't want the head and feet, just tell the butcher so.
      I agree with sunshine 842: Usually all feather is carefully singed off by the poulailler. Since you use the plural "butchers", you seem to have found several butchers who have established this pattern of keeping the head, feet and feather. Not standard at all. Surprising.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Parigi

        Maybe it's different in the city? I'm not in Paris, but I'm in the Ile-de-France, and at all of the volaillers at my local marche couvert, the birds (and rabbits, for that matter) are more intact than not. Whether it's partridges, pigeons, squabs, ducks (wild and farmed), pheasants, geese, or quail, (or something else I've missed in this list) most of them are still head-on in the display case. (The wild-killed game in particular always, always has the head on -- the wild rabbits aren't skinned until they've been bought) Turkey is only ever in parts, other than the few weeks around the holidays.

        After purchase, the volaillers are almost obsessive in the way they then dress the birds so that they're ready for cooking. (one corner of the market, where the most popular stand is, perpetually smells of singed feathers)

        You can even buy poultry carcasses and all the rabbit heads you can carry.

        At the boucheries/volaillers that have regular storefronts, the birds are considerably cleaner, but usually have at least the heads and feet, especially the Bresse birds.

        1. re: sunshine842

          "fter purchase, the volaillers are almost obsessive in the way they then dress the birds so that they're ready for cooking. (one corner of the market, where the most popular stand is, perpetually smells of singed feathers)"

          How true. Once watching the whole process, my mum exclaimed: "your poulailler is doing embroidery !"

          1. re: Parigi

            (and just for those wondering -- volailler means that they carry all sorts of poultry -- including rabbits, which are considered poultry in France -- a poulailler usually only carries birds)

            And a reminder that all of these folks, no matter what they sell -- are only too happy to share cooking recommendations, recipes, etc -- they're proud of their product and want to help you cook them so they are at their best. It inevitably becomes an impromptu recipe swap, as the other customers get involved in the discussion, too. (my vendors also then want to know what something is called in English, and how I might cook it in the US...everyone always wants to know how everyone else eats!)

            1. re: sunshine842

              I love to get recipes from butchers, esp in Spain and Italy, where I can also take my me-Tarzan-you-Jane language level for a walk. :-)
              Butchers always have great recipes using the smallest number of simple ingredients. They never seem to use more than 5 ingredients. But often with ultra-precise heat instructions.

              1. re: Parigi

                You two are making me jealous, me who is in the US and faced with mostly grocery store meat! I am so looking forward to my trip in Jan just for the experience of looking at the beak and the feet!

      2. A whole chicken keeps better, it is less vulnerable to bacteria of all sorts. Having whole chicken is a hygiene thing as much as a showing quality thing.

        1 Reply
        1. re: souphie

          All the poultry (and rabbits) where I live in the Dordogne come with heads attached.

          I also remember the time we were helping clean up after a local fete, and the mayor came in with a number of wild ducks he had just shot (he's a great hunter) ready to pass them out to the loyal helpers. I'm used to chicken heads, but this little duck with his bill rather surprised me, and so I think I let out a little squeak. Oh, you dont like the heads he said? Got out his pocket knife and cut it off right then and there,and handed me the duck.

          At this point I realised that it was heavier than I expected - of course, it hadn't been cleaned. As a city girl, I had never done this, so off to visit friends who gave me (and another French friend) a lesson on how to do do this. Can't say that I learned much though, as I had my eyes shut for most of the process.