It’s a good thing that chickens don’t have access to social media, because if our $1.99 fast food birds had any hint of the pampered lives lead by their French counterparts, we could be facing a serious chicken revolution. As if we didn’t have enough political nonsense in the world to worry about.
Probably the furthest thing from our frat boy chickens à la Any Game Chicken Wings, are the unique breed of chickens in France. Enter the poulet de Bresse. Protected by A.O.C. status, these birds are only found in Bresse. That’s eastern France for us normal folk. Sometimes referred as the Rolls-Royce of chickens, these ‘le roi de poulet’ are literally on top of the pecking order. Heritage breeds with 500 plus years of lineage, they prance around in their distinctly royal blue feet. Days are spent forging for insects and noshing on special blends of feed. Some have been known to read poetry or enjoy art during their life of leisure. In the twilight days, they enjoy getting fattened up in calm tranquil quarters as they bid adieu to the world. The modest sounding poulet rotî (roast chicken) at most high-end restaurants in France is guaranteed to be the best dish on the menu. And if its Michelin starred, you can pretty much bet it is indeed a poulet de Bresse.
The good news is, we lowly Americans now have access to some special birds right here in grimy ‘ol New York City!
On a recent otherwise ho hum Monday night, somehow we were able to secure a last minute reservation at the newly opened Le coq rico, the new restaurant in Flatiron area from three Michelin-starred French chef Antoine Westermann. He is fiercely passionate about poultry. Le coq rico New York is actually the second outpost of one of his Paris restaurants bearing the same name. ‘Bistro of Beautiful Birds’ is the tagline to Le coq rico Paris.
Chef Westermann spent two years searching for farms in the tri-state area which met his poultry standards. We do not need to point out that this is no easy task. Seeking birds with a lifespan of 95-100 days depending on the breed, this is more than double the American industry ‘organic’ standard for chickens. Longer life means more flavorful bones, better meat distribution, naturally fuller and developed bird. Chef also mentioned something about “Amish farmers”, which makes sense as one would imagine an iphone free culture is probably a slower pace of life for all species.
We ordered the hungry hippo basics: roast chicken for four, simple salad, sides of vegetables, macaroni and cheese French style, and slow-cooked rice in chicken stock. There should be a medal for the art of simplicity done well. Or a lesson to the rest of the poultry world. This is where it’s done right! The chicken was moist and succulent, with perfectly crispy skin. If this is the closest we can get to the poulet de Bresse in New York, we are ecstatic. Important note: you will be short changing yourself if you share dessert. They are incredible. Vanilla raspberry vacherin with baked meringue will keep you day dreaming long past the schlep home.
Le coq rico is sleek enough for special occasions yet casual enough for a weeknight. Much admiration goes to Chef Westermann who could wear his three Michelin-stars on his sleeve and serve up some futuristic wallet sucking fluff, but instead chooses to bestow the stars on the everyday humble chicken and let them shine.