Let’s have a round of applause, an arm of support, for the mass produced North American chicken. I’m not exactly sure of the specie’s scientific name so we’ll call them Dolly Partons because they have huge breasts and wobble around on skinny little legs, frequently falling over, especially in cross winds.
Dolly has been in disfavour lately with food writers and up scale restaurants because of her pedigree. Restaurants where everything on the table comes farm designated, right down to the parsley, where the chicken never comes with a Tasty Dipping Sauce,” but instead, with a personal dossier detailing its upbringing. Then, if that’s not enough information for you, there’s the Facebook page for items too “Jian Ghomeshi” for the average chicken shopper.
Dolly? Well we don’t know much about her, other than that she comes from that large metal building in the wrong part of town. It’s the one that all the screams come from at night. But hey; at $6.66 a kg, who asks questions?
Dolly took an even worse pummeling the other day in a Globe and Mail article about the Canadian version of Poulet de Bresse “which is widely considered the finest chicken in the world.” I guess you could say it’s the champagne of chicken because only chicken that come from a specific area and raised in a certain fashion can be called Poulet de Bresse.
According to the Globe, “These special chickens are raised outdoors for several weeks, so their flesh is infused with the flavour of the local bugs, leaves, seeds.” Not to mention the cigarette butts of chain-smoking French farmers. Part of the ritual includes fattening the bird up on a diet of grain and buttermilk, an unpleasant beverage usually reserved for Guantanamo Bay detainment camp inmates.
The article goes on to state how a Delta couple are raising similar birds in similar conditions and how they invited the journalist to taste their “Poulet de Bresse de Delta.” To do so they assembled a chef and a winemaker both who had worked in France. Interestingly, the chicken was poached with its feet on. In North America this is called a foot fetish. In France, normal.
The following paragraph describes the tasting. The smart aleck comments in brackets? Well, who knows how they got there.
“It cost the Delta couple $800 to import a flock of gauloise chickens… and the broth alone was worth every penny. The chef poured it into little teacups and we sat there sipping, marveling at the chicken aroma and uttering more than one broth-induced profanity. When the chicken was served, there was silence. For a few moments we swallowed morsels of chicken whose ethereal depth was as much a full-body feeling as it was a flavour. (In the sixties we referred to this as a full body stone, but we never got it from chickens.) We chewed, sipped broth, and then did it all again, as though to see if what just happened was a dream. Eventually, the chef spoke. “That is a real chicken,” he said. Then he said it again (just in case a drumstick had lodged in someone’s ear.) “That is a chicken.”
If I ever start sounding like that, tie me down, stick a funnel in my mouth, and start pouring in the buttermilk. The article’s point? That the mock French chicken, at well over $20 a kg, is far superior to supermarket chicken; which the journalist described as bland and cardboard. “Ouch,” said Dolly.
Well, I’d say it wasn’t a fair fight. The fix was in. The chef and the winemaker were both self confessed French chicken lovers. The journalist is on record calling regular store bought chicken cardboard. Lurking in the wings are the couple who raised, and donated the chicken after pampering it, sending it to the right schools, slaving over the diet, getting the bug to cigarette butt ratio just so, always leaving it with a baby sitter. These are not neutral judges.
I mean if you were going to run an election in the Ukraine, would you get the Russians to supervise it? Or for investment advice, ask Tommy Yu? (Small Oriental guy on stern of fantailed yacht, surrounded by bikini clad babes, “You like this boat? You want these chickens? Come to my seminar.)
Then there’s the French Theorem, the Oh-la-la effect, which states: If it is French and expensive, it is therefore good. The theorem can plainly be seen at up-scale French wine tastings where few tasters are willing to criticize Chateau Tres Expensive and risk the scorn of Rodney with the stiff English accent and the paisley ascot. “You find the Lafite thin?” Arched eyebrow; quivering jowl. “Really?”
That’s why in Costco the other day, I had to pick up a low rent BBQ’ed chicken to put things in perspective. Keep in mind, being good Yuppies, normally we only eat free range chickens from the farm down the road, that range being very limited, chickens having a small fuel tank.
So we got home and dove into the Costco chicken. I was nibbling on a wing, waiting for my full body stone to kick in, when my wife looked up from her drumstick and read my mind, no easy task with my handwriting. “pretty good chicken heh?”
Exactly. In fact it’s time to reach for every gastronomic cliché on the kitchen shelf. Succulent, juicy, scrumptious, delicious, and okay, ethereal, but only if you write for the Globe.
So Dolly, credit must be given where credit is due. Though you may not eat cigarette butts and cluck with a French accent, you’re one tasty little number. That’s why I put our research staff in search of your scientific name. Henceforth you shall be known as Le Grande Poulet de Costco.
And with your Le Grande Poulet de Costco, might I recommend a Spanish red, a bottle of Monasterio de las Vinas. I know, I know, it sounds like a caped crusader, a good name for your Halloween costume, but $15 wines don’t get any better.
Delbert Horrocks is a co-proprietor at Mahle House Restaurant. Read more at Slightlycorkedandmore.wordpress.com