My wife took me to Paris for a birth treat recently and we headed for the highly recommended Le Coq Rico – a sensational chicken restaurant in Montmartre.
It uses all the parts of the bird and so for starters we had Chicken Giblets – soft melting livers on wasabi toast; seared hearts; breaded gizzards. They were out of this world.
But the show-stealer by a million country miles was the whole Poulet de Bresse, roasted on the rotisserie, then carved into its component parts and served with a ridiculously chickeny sauce, fries and cos lettuce dressed with a tangy vinaigrette. Oh, and a bulb of sweet roasted garlic to squeeze and smear on your breasts!!!
As I’ve written before, Poulet de Bresse is THE king of chickens, bar none. Just ask Heston Blumenthal, who swears by them. They taste like the chicken of your memories – or fantasies.
And cooked on a rotisserie, so that its juices baste the skin, leaves you with incredible succulent meat and skin so crisp and salty you could pop it in a bag and flog it in a newsagents.
This was – I have to report – an EXPENSIVE treat. 98 Euros, for one chicken. Not to be sniffed at – but something to be tried, if only the once.
It was, without exaggeration, the single greatest chicken I have ever tasted. Just typing that makes me want to weep on my keyboard because I fear I may never get to eat it again. It was like a fowl crystal meth – though a very pleasant fowl, if you catch my drift.
Can it be re-created at home? No. That is a tragic fact. Poulet de Bresse chickens are available online by mail order (at £32 for a bird) but my kitchen space, or budget, won’t stretch to a rotisserie.
But the second we stepped off the Eurostar, I was determined to re-create at least some of the experience at home.
The first thing I did was to buy a free-range bird. This one comes from Fosse Meadows, sourced from my local farmers’ market and the best I could find in my area.
The next thing was to find a way of seasoning the skin that might somehow re-create that crispy chickeniness I’d experienced at Le Coq Rico.
After fingertip-experimenting with different salts, blending spices and stock cubes, I settled on White Pearl Chicken Seasoning, bought from my local grocer. It contains salt, celery salt, chilli powder, paprika power and onion powder. It’s incredibly salty, but used in the right amounts, is a wonderful flavour enhancer for the bird.
The next was to crack that amazing gravy – and so I turned to Oxo. Yes, the crumbly stock cube we’ve been brought up with. Dissolved in boiling water, then mixed with a glass of white wine, a couple of branches of fresh thyme and the incredible juices from the roasted bird, this made a gravy that was second to none on the Chicken Scale.
Finally, the cooking method. When we ordered our chicken at Le Coq Rico, we were told it would take an hour. I saw the chicken when it was uncooked, and an hour later, when it had just come off the spit. The chef then carved off the legs to give them a blast in a fiercely hot oven because they were slightly underdone compared to the breasts. You see, that’s the problem with cooking chicken: if you cook the breasts to perfection, the legs will be underdone; if you cook the legs to perfection, the breasts will be overdone.
So I settled on this – which produced amazing results: crank your oven up to the highest possible setting (mine goes to 230C/Gas 8).
Bung in your chicken (you can stuff it with half a lemon, half an onion and fresh herbs, such as thyme and rosemary, as I did).
Cook for 45 minutes.
Remove the chicken from the oven. Carve off the legs and return them to the oven for 15 mins.
Meanwhile, transfer the de-legged bird and the roasted garlic to a plate and allow the chicken to rest while you make the gravy, by pouring off as much of the fat as you can.
Then de-glaze the pan with a little wine before gradually adding the stock you’ve already made. Boil fiercely until the gravy become the consistency you desire.
Take the legs out of the oven.
Chop the chicken into breasts, back and wings.
Serve with triple-cooked chips and a crisp Cos lettuce salad, dressed with a tangy vinaigrette.
Ciel sur un plateau!