Sunday, May 19, 2019

Poulet, Poularde, Poule, Pousin – Chicken. Chicken in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

Roast chicken
French chickens taste like something.
When a Frenchman or woman suggests that you order chicken or other poultry in France they are doing so for a good reason.  France’s chickens, especially its Label Rouge, red label, chickens have a taste, “forget about it,” they taste like something.   
Visit the poultry counter in a large French supermarket and you will be surprised at the choice.  A large French supermarket may have ten or more choices of whole chickens in the freezer section while the fresh section will include four or more with those varying week by week. In a restaurant, there may only be two chicken dishes on the menu, but you may be missing out if you don’t really understand what’s being offered.  
Take this post with you and choose a chicken dish you'll never be able to try at home  

Roast chicken
The members of the chicken family not included in this post. 
Coqs, Chapons, and Coquelets are all from the male side of the chicken family and are left for another post.  (BTW don’t look for wings on a Poulain, it’s a foal, a young horse).
The descriptive terms used for a Poulet on French menus:

Poulet A young chicken, male or female, that is going to be on the menu as roast chicken.  Roast chicken is a bistro staple but chicken in one manner or another is going to be on nearly every French restaurant’s menu with more recipes, sauces, herbs, and spices than you probably imagined.

Poulet Fermier   Farm raised chickens.  This does not mean chickens that spend the day running around in the open air.  Unfortunately, their living conditions are not much better than most battery hens. The requirements for a poulet fermier, a farm-raised chicken is much like the UK or USA requirements for "free range".  French law says that chickens may be called farm-raised as long as they have had access to the open air for about 40 out of 80 days and that there cannot be more than 10.5 chickens per square meter. (What happens to the half a chicken that doesn’t fit into the square meter is an unanswered question). These young birds reach the table after six weeks.
Poulet Bio or Poulet Biologique – Organically raised chickens.  The requirements for organic, farm raised, chickens are very strict. Apart from organic vegetable products. Any addition including vitamins must be at least 95% organic and the birds are raised without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones etc., These chickens still have cramped living quarters though they access the outdoor from smaller buildings with perches and natural light, and they reach the market after 12 weeks. In the markets, these birds will have AB on their labels. The government-controlled AB stands for Agriculture Biologique, organic farming and is the most trusted organic marking. 
Poulet Bio

Poulet de Bresse AOP – France’s famous, succulent,  white feathered and blue legged Bresse AOP chickens called the Gauloise a Pattes Bleues These are France’s tastiest, most famous, and most expensive chickens, with their own AOP  label.   These birds are all raised in the old province of Bresse, the area that today is included in part of the departments of Jura and Saône-et-Loire in the new super region of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté as well as in the department of Ain in the Auvergne -Rhone-Alps. These birds are a special breed which are 16 weeks old when they go to market and antibiotic and growth hormone free. The Poulet de Bresse it's an expensive treat but you will taste the difference.

Poulet Label Rouge – Red label chickens. France’s diners know all about the tasteless factory raised chickens and so some 25% of the population have chosen to refuse those tasteless birds. The 25% who buy Label Rouge free-range poultry know they are paying 50% more than the price of the other poultry in the same supermarket. These birds come from some 30 groups of farmers, from different parts of France, who raise different breeds of Label Rouge poultry. As soon as the birds are old enough they spend the whole day outside their poultry house in forests and/or pastures as free-range birds, except for a two-week period when they are allowed to be caged and fattened before going to market.  Like organically raised birds red label chickens are free of antibiotics and growth hormones. In the fields or forests, the farmers must have at least 5,000 square meters (6,000 sq yds) of freely accessible land for every 500 birds they raise. The highest rating, but one, for French chickens are those that bear the Label Rouge and the AB marking. These birds do not hold their title by the grace of their name, they, like the Label Rouge Poulet de Bresse must pass annual organoleptic tests for taste and texture.
Free-range chickens.
Poulet Liberté or Poulet Élevé en Liberté -   Freedom chickens, These are true free-range chickens.  We may all want to believe that farm-raised chickens spend their time clucking around the farmyard though that is not the chosen lifestyle of even freedom chickens, however tasty they may be. The public rarely knows what farm-raised means in any country and it is only Poulet Liberté,  Label Rouge, red label chickens and the Poulet de Bresse AOP that are free range for most of their lives. Two weeks before being sent to the market they are placed in chicken coups to allow them to fatten up.

As a child growing up in the North of England we had about two hundred chickens plus ducks and geese clucking around their own yards, laying eggs in their own nesting boxes or sometimes wherever they happened to be at the moment. Despite their freedom 80% of their time outside was not spent walking around, pecking and clucking, rather they spent most of the time sitting around in self-created chicken harems of maybe 30 or 40 birds waiting for the most handsome cockerel  who sat on the top of the chicken house in the yard to pay them some attention. Each chicken house had its own cockerel and harem and woe betide the chicken that tried to change harems.  Our chickens were raised as egg layers and so it was the young cockerels who were the candidates for roast chicken.
A Label Rouge, Freedom Chicken.
The best of the very best,
From the department of Landes in Nouvelle Aquitaine.

Poulet on French Menus

1/2 Poulet Rôti (Cuisse et Blanc) – Half a roast chicken, (leg and breast).

Escalope de Poulet Pannée -   A breaded chicken breast.
Cuisses de poulet à la crème
Chicken legs with a cream sauce
Croquettes de Poulet (Pépites de Poulet) – Chicken nuggets. For those who try and visit  McDonald's in France, McNugettes in French are Poulet McCroquettes.(There are over 1,400 French branches of McDonald's to choose from).
Poulet à la Peau Croustillante – Roast chicken with a crispy skin.
Poulet Basquaise or  Poulet à la Basquaise - Chicken in the Basque manner.  Basque chicken began, rather obviously, as a culinary specialty in the Pays Basque, the French Basque country that is on the Atlantic coast of southern France in the department of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques with the city of Bayonne as its capital. The dish is made by simmering chicken in a piperade sauce made with lightly fried onions, tomatoes, sweet peppers, the red peppers of Espelette and olive oil.  Piperade sauce is part of many other Basque dishes.  Sometimes, like in Poulet Basquaise, the sauce is served with the dish in which it is cooked, while in others it is served on the side. Then, as you travel around France you will find piperades on other menus with changes in the recipe that are made to suit local tastes.   
Supreme de poulet

Poulet en Crapaudine, Grillé avec ses Pommes de Terre -  A whole young chicken butterflied and grilled and served with potatoes.

Poulet Landais Label Rouge – These golden feathered free-range chickens come from the department of Landes in Nouvelle Aquitaine. Among the Label Rouge, red label chickens these are the aristocrats.  Like all red label chickens and there are 30 different breeds in different French regions they are mostly corn-fed and free-range for 80% of their lives.  They are only placed in holding pens for two weeks before going to the market when they are fattened up and at least 12 weeks old.  However, the  Poulet Landais are let free in the forests and their farmers have a unique chicken house called a Marensine that they move every few days as their birds move to find fresh land with the bugs, worms and more that add tasty natural protein to their diet. Following the birds' travels these mobile chicken houses keeping the birds safe at night.  All the Label Rouge chicken breeds have unique stories; the French gourmands will have identified their favorites and know where they are available.
Roast chicken
 Poulet  Marengo – Chicken Marengo, a chicken dish with a place in French history. The dish is named after the Battle of Marengo, Italy, where a young General Napoléon Bonaparte led the French army and defeated the Austrians who occupied that part of Italy.  Napoleon’s cook Dunan had to make a celebratory dinner for his general and staff after the victory and all that could be found were chickens, freshwater crayfish, tomatoes, onions, and white wine; the result was a success and the dish remains on French menus today.  Napoleon wouldn’t have had a problem with wines as the whites from the area today include Asti and Cortese di Gavi and the reds Barbaresco and Barolo. Whether the story about the origins of this dish are correct or not Napoleon would certainly have been surprised to see shrimp Marengo and veal Marengo after his battle.
Poulet Marengo

Poulet Rôti à la Broche  - Spit-roasted chicken.
Spit-roasted chicken.
Poulet Reine

Poulet Reine – An older, larger chicken, usually over 1.5 kilos (3.3 lbs).

Poularde or Poularde Gras

Poularde or Poularde Gras – A fattened chicken, either spayed or raised on a very rich diet. When ready for market a poularde will weigh about two kilos and will be over twelve weeks old.

Poulardes will usually be on the menu roasted and shouldn’t be described as a young chicken as they are always significantly older than any other chickens on a menu.  Their diet and age give them the much-appreciated taste,  Red label poulardes are always spayed but other very tasty poulardes, fat, but not spayed and without a Label Rouge will be on recommended menu listings and in the markets.

Visiting a farm or looking at chicken without their clothes on in a supermarket a  Poularde will always its will be a little fatter than a regular chicken. These birds are full of flavor, though they are not as tender as younger chickens.  Nevertheless, when you want the tastiest chicken in France and a choice rarely if ever seen on a menu at home choose a poularde.

The Poularde de Bresse AOC, like the Poulet de Bresse, have white feathers and blue legs. They are spayed a few days after birth and raised free of antibiotics and growth hormones. Like the Chapon (capon) de Bresse, they are the tastiest of all French chickens.

Poulardes on French Menus:

Poularde de Bresse a la Vapeur de Champagne (1 H de Cuisson) Pour 2 Pers – A whole Poularde de Bresse AOP steamed over Champagne (for over one hour) and served for two diners.

Suprême de Poularde Fermière Farci aux Abricots, Sauce au Foie Gras – Breast of a farm-raised poularde prepared with apricots and served with a sauce made with fattened duck’s liver.
Cuisse de Poularde Farcie
Stuffed fattened chicken leg.


Poule– An older hen; often a chicken that no longer lays eggs and is now finding a new career. When a cockerel is not available this may be the chicken in a Coq au Vin.
Poules on French Menus

Poule à la Broche -  A spit-roasted large chicken.

Poule Rôti -  A large roasted chicken.

Poule au Pot -  The dishmade famous by King Henry IV of France (1553-1610):

King Henry’s famous quote was:

"Je veux qu'il n'y ait si pauvre paysan en mon royaume qu'il n'ait tous les dimanches sa poule au pot.”

I wish, that in my realm, that there will be no peasant so poor that he cannot have a chicken in his pot every Sunday.”

Poule au Pot

The traditional recipe for poule au pot is a slowly boiled large chicken cooked with the vegetables that will be served with it, onions, carrots, leeks and turnips, and others added along the way. The stuffing is as much a part of this dish and its tradition as the bird itself and includes diced ham, chicken livers, chicken gizzards and chicken hearts mixed with breadcrumbs, garlic, and herbs. 
 Building on that original quotation many early twentieth-century politicians made similar promises in their electoral speeches.  The most famous act of plagiarism was Herbert Hoover in the 1928 USA Presidential elections where he promised: “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” Hoover and others who used similar phrases never acknowledged that they stole the theme from the French King Henry.

Béarn is today, within the department of the Pyrenees-Atlantiques in Nouvelle Aquitaine; an area that includes part of the French Basque country. The City of Pau has been the region’s capital since the 15th century, and today is their prefecture, their regional capital. Many of the locals also speak Occitan or Basque in their everyday lives, as well as French.

Henry IV (1553 – 1610), was King of Navarre where he was Henry III from 1572 – 1589. Navarre was a separate nation on both sides of the Pyrenees when he was offered the throne of France in 1589.  Then he became Henry IV of France and joined Navarre to France. Henry married Margaret of Valois, daughter of Henry II and Catherine de Medici and despite one of his nicknames being Good King Henry, he was involved in some nasty mass murders.   He was also the first member of the House of Bourbon to sit on the French throne, and then he was assassinated in 1610.

Poussin and Coquelet
Poussin in the Alsace and Coquelet in the rest of France

Coquelets and Poussins Very young chickens, often translated as spring chickens; they weigh between 400 - 700 grams ( 14 - 25 ounces). That weight includes feathers and all, and so a poussin (often served for one) may have 100 – 180 grams (4 -6 ounces) of meat. N.B. A poussin, in much of France, means a chick that just hatched and that will not be on the menu. 
 Coqueletes and Coqueletes on French menus:

Le Poussin Entier Rôti, Frites Et Salade – A whole roast  small spring chicken served with French fries and a salad. (From a menu-listing in the Alsace region of north-eastern France,

Roast poussin with honey, thyme and lemon glaze.
Coquelet Rôti en Crapaudine, Sauce aux Morilles – A roasted, butterflied spring chicken served with a morel mushroom sauce.
Moving on

Poule d'Inde -  A hen turkey; the male is a dinde.

Poule de Bois, Maitake – Hen of the woods or Maitake mushroom.  (see the appendix Herbs and Spices, Mushrooms, and Truffles: Champignons, Poule de Bois).
Hen of the Woods Mushroom.
Chickens in the languages of France’s neighbors:

(Catalan – gall), (Dutch -kip), (German - huhn), (Italian  - pollo), (Spanish  - gallo, pollo), (Latin  - gallus gallus domesticus).

My thanks to Michel Mass, who in good humor, has made sure that certain corrections have been included in the text. 

Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu

Copyright 2010, 2019.

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog write to Bryan Newman


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