Thursday, 18 December 2008

Roast Chicken and Other Stories

I know I haven’t had much chance to talk about Paris – things have been a bit ker-razy since we got back.

We had some great food. Really amazing food. We had some deeply average food too but the good stuff outweighed the OK stuff by a ratio of about 4:1 so I like to concentrate on the positives.

There were a couple of occasions where we forgot to eat lunch and by the time hunger pangs and low blood sugar started to cause the onset of grumpiness, every single eatery was closed apart from Greek and Middle Eastern places that had enormous rotating elephant’s feet in the window. Doner kebab is fine, providing you have imbibed a significant amount of alcohol but at three in the afternoon it is less appealing.

I will (shamefully) admit that we resorted to falafel.

The best meal we had was probably at a tiny restaurant in Les Halles. We stumbled upon it just as the hunger was starting to cause a little tetchiness and it was a welcome site indeed. The menu was written up on a chalkboard and consisted of two choices – one of which had sold out. It was perfection.

We both had brochette d’onglet, a supremely tasty cut of meat that, although not famed for tenderness, is one of the most delicious cuts of beef I think there is. It is hard to get here but if you ask your butcher for skirt then you wouldn’t be far off. Cook it fast and hot and no more than medium rare or else you will end up with something to re-sole your shoes. What’s more, it’s cheap so perfect for these lean times.

We washed it down with a bottle of fresh Beaujolais, barely two weeks old and spent the afternoon ambling the streets in a warm and happy fuzz.

For the first half of our trip we were lucky to have the use of an apartment complete with cooking facilities which we chose to make full use of.

Like many other fellow foodies, I have something of a bee in my bonnet about chicken. We simply don’t buy intensively raised birds. They taste bad. Really bad. They are unnatural, full of a disgusting cocktails of drugs, hormones, growth promoters and antibiotics and generally lead a pretty shoddy life before they get the chop.

But we are so used to seeing these Frankenstein’s monster type birds in the supermarkets, with their wet flesh and odd proportions (thanks to selective breeding we now end up with chickens with very large breasts. When was this a good thing? Who requested this? The rest of the bird tastes much better) that when we see a proper chicken, it can seem a little strange.

But French chicken is awesome. No doubt they have some dubious farming practices as well but on the whole, quality of food is so important that even if they cared little for animal welfare, they wouldn’t stoop so low as to eat something that tasted bad. And intensively reared chicken tastes bad.

We decided to invest in a proper chicken to take home and roast. Our budget didn’t quite stretch to the famed Poulet de Bresse (although this is definitely on my list of things to eat before I die) but we bought a wonderful looking chicken from a butcher on Rue Mouffetard and took it back to the apartment.

Since cooking a chicken Thomas Keller’s way (keep it very, very simple) we’ve vowed never to try any other method. No lemons up bums, no garlic in the hold, no herbs, no butter, no oil – just salt and pepper and a hot oven. If you have great chicken you need do nothing with it, just let nature take hold and allow the ingredients to sing.

So that’s exactly what we did. Served with nothing more than bread and butter and a glass of chilled Sauvignon, it was as close to food heaven as I think it is possible to get without actually eating the gods’ own Ambrosia.

And don’t forget, you can now follow my culinary adventures on Twitter:


Chocolate Shavings said...

Proper chicken tastes amazingly good, and I'm always astonished at how tasteless most store bought chicken are. Organic chicken has a different color, smell and texture - there's not other way to do it!

You chicken looks great - I've never tried it without lemon and/or garlic, but I'm now tempted to do so!

Just Cook It said...

Thanks CS, I totally agree. There is a world of difference between the two

HiLo said...

Keller's method for chicken is the only way I go for me too. I'm sure w/ a great quality chicken like yours it was even better!