Back in the States, I could not wait for Thursday mornings. After dropping Dear Daughter at school, I would backtrack about a mile, enter a long parking lot at the municipal park, park the car and bounce out the door with my bags. The weekly farmers' market brought a sense of anticipation and even though, I would shortly be on my way to the office, I normally felt like I was playing hooky...if even for a few minutes.
I would quickly walk through the small market, looking at the stands, seeing who had arrived that morning and what was in season. While I was only there for fifteen minutes each week, I had my favorites for each type of produce. If my favorite arugula guy was there, then I would buy two bundles of arugula that week. One guy lined up all of his heirloom tomatoes on a table so you could look at each one individually. The couple that sold peppers had so many varieties that it was hard to just stick to the standard bell or red. Then there was the guy who sold the really sweet cherry tomatoes...he was always giving samples and they tasted like pure sugar. After fifteen minutes of heaven, I would load my precious parcels into the trunk and head to office. I would grab a tomato or two to have with lunch and plop a bundle of arugula on my friend's desk as I started the work day.
The market fixation only gets worse when we visit France. The weekly markets in the small villages of Brittany are really the social event of the week. These markets can be much more expansive...and equally intriguing. Which is the best cheese guy? There is always a Vietnamese food truck which has a long line...selling all sorts of delicacies and I have to get a crab nem to nibble on while we traverse through the many choices. While the markets in the States centered on produce, these center on just about everything. Want to serve fish tonight? See one of the fishmongers. Do not want to cook? Put in a reservation for one of the rotisserie chickens and don't forget the potatoes! Need underwear, socks, a new dress? Someone will be selling those as well. Expect to stand in line and just do not worry about how long it takes. Expect that the person in front of you is going to ask a million questions. Expect it and accept it. It is all part of the experience.
But we are not in France. We are in Germany and thankfully, close to our town is a very large twice-weekly market. I love going to the potato guy who sells at least ten different varieties of potatoes. I have my favorite apple lady, my favorite egg guy, my favorite cheesemonger. Most of the plants from my garden came from the weekly market. While there are several butchers, I have a special one. He sells the most incredible dry-aged beef and a fabulous rack of lamb. He mentioned to me once in German that he also had these fantastic chickens...farm-raised...from the Alsace in France. It took me a year but on a recent visit, I decided that we needed to try one of these chickens.
I nearly choked when I received the bill. 20 Euros! 20 Euros for a chicken! Dear Lord, it better be good. There was a large red label on the front of the bird, "Label Rouge - Alsace". Ok...what was the red label all about? After a quick Internet search, I learned that the Label Rouge was a program in France for ensuring the highest quality of poultry. Sales for Label Rouge chickens account for nearly 30% of all poultry sales. Farmers have to employ free range farming methods but the methods are far more stringent than even the organic methods employed by many in the States. Farmers had to use slow-growth birds vs. the faster growing birds used in industrial farming. "Ok, this should be/better be one great chicken." I began to feel better about my purchase.
I searched for an appropriate roast chicken recipe and found one by Thomas Keller. The chicken was fantastic -- the best I have ever made. I told the family that it was because of the superior chicken. They were skeptical and indicated that they wanted a chicken cook-off, Label Rouge vs. Standard Supermarket. Unfortunately (for them), our oven is too small. Guess, they will just have to take my word for it. It was a better chicken. But how could I reconcile paying so much money for a chicken???
We arrived in Brittany, France after an eight hour drive and our first stop was the local grocery store. Dear Husband had already suggested that we make a Roast Chicken. It was easy to prepare and we could use the leftovers throughout the week. I had never purchased a whole chicken in France before and we were astounded by the choices. First off....what is the difference between Poulet Noire and Poulet Blanc (White) or Jaune (Yellow). Well, Poulet Noire refers to a breed with black or blue feet. Poulet Blanc or Jaune does not refer to the breed but to the difference in diet. These chickens are corn fed which gives their skin a yellow color and evidently, a stronger flavor. Then there is the Poulet Fermier, which just means that it is a farm rasied chicken. Then, there were brands of chickens, similar to what we would find in the States such as Perdue, etc. Good grief...I just want a chicken. But then we saw it...the Label Rouge chicken. "Wait a minute...what is that doing here in the local grocery store? We are not even in a market. I can buy this wonderful chicken in a grocery store!!!" I was thrilled...until Dear Husband pointed out the price. This wonderful Label Rouge chicken was 7 Euros! I had been snookered at the farmers' market.
Did we buy the Label Rouge supermarket chicken? Of course not! The family bought the cheapest supermarket chicken at 3 Euros. I cannot remember if it was a Poulet Noire or a Poulet Blanc. I roasted it using the same recipe. Over dinner, we discussed the flavor, the texture, etc. Bottom line...of course, was that the family thought it tasted the same as the more expensive bird. I, on the other hand, still think that the Label Rouge was a superior bird...it was more flavorful, more juicy and gave off far less fat. I could go on and on...and I would have to in order to defend my position.
But I do the majority of the shopping so maybe they will never know if I continue to purchase Label Rouge chickens. One thing I do know...I will not spend 20 Euros!
Thomas Keller Roast Chicken
1 3-4 ln chicken
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 450F. Rinse the chicken and dry well. You want it to be very dry. This way, the less the chicken will steam and the drier the heat will be...the better it will cook.
Truss the bird. Ok, I do not know how to do this. Fortunately, in France, even the cheapest supermarket birds come already trussed. I have heard that it is not hard to do so just google it!
Salt the bird...really, really SALT the bird. Use about 1 tablespoon. You want it to form a uniform coating on the bird so that you get a crisp, salty skin.
Place on your roasting pan and put it in the oven. Do not mess with it at all until it is ready...about 50-60 minutes depending on the size of your bird.
Now - another option is to thinly slice potatoes and onions and place on the bottom of a cast-iron skillet. Place the chicken on the top and roast as stated above. The fat from the chicken will add flavor to the potatoes and you would swear that you had just had one of those fantastic rotisserie chickens from the local French market.
Serve with your favorite Chardonnay...Salut!