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Prawncrackers

Label Rouge Chicken

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For many years I’ve been pretty blasé about chicken. Both cooking and eating it. You know, I could take it or leave it. If it was on a restaurant menu I would normally skip over it in favour of something, well, tastier. Sometimes in the past I would buy chicken thighs for curries or for jerking. Every so often I would buy a whole one to poach Chinese style or to roast Western style. Don’t get me wrong I don’t hate chicken, in fact Jerk Chicken is one of my favourite dishes but the reason I love that dish has nothing to do with the chicken! Same with Chinese poached chicken (bak jam gai), been enjoying this all my life but it’s the ginger scallion oil that makes this dish for me. It’s just that in my mind chicken has just been a bland conductor for other flavours. I’ve always preferred the leg meat to the breast too. Is there a more insipid meat than chicken breast? I can honestly say that I have never bought chicken breast meat on it’s own (or ordered it eating out). It’s nothing to do with the quality of the chickens either as I always try to buy the best free-range slow grown chickens at the supermarkets or farm shops. There’s definitely a difference between those and the cheap battery ones, an improvement in both texture and flavour but only to make it slightly less bland. I’m definitely not a chicken snob either as I would happily eat the southern-fried broiler hens from my local chippy every day for a week if they weren’t so obviously unhealthy!! People always eulogise about simple roast chicken being the holy grail of roast dinners. What kind of chickens are they eating? Roast chicken is nice but it’s never compared to roast beef, pork, lamb/mutton or duck in my house. Was I alone here?

Right I’ve got that off my chest it’s now time for my chicken revelation! As the title of the topic suggests I’ve fallen for these lovely French birds!

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One of the wholesalers here at the central wholesale market in Birmingham has been stocking them. I first tried them at my mothers place a few months ago now. She usually poaches a chicken for the weekly family meal and usually I’m happy to scoff it down as long as the condiments are present. However the first time she cooked one of these it was like tasting chicken for the first time. The meat was so firm & toothsome and the taste was so savoury. It reminds me of guinea fowl but sweeter and more succulent. Undoubtedly the best chicken I’ve ever eaten (with or without the condiments). We’ve had several since and they are consistently delicious, especially roasted. I finally get it! My mother also agrees and says that they like the ones you get in Hong Kong (praise indeed I think). Is this what older British folk talk about when they say chicken doesn’t taste like it used to?

As I understand it “Label Rouge” is standard of food production in France. But what is it that makes these chickens so good? From the look of them they’re obviously corn-fed with longer legs and breasts but are much thinner than any of the chickens you can get here – free-range/organic/or not. A torpedo rather than a bowling ball shape. The meat is also much darker. Looking at some of the French websites (I only have a modicum of the language learnt at school – google translate is handy though), it seems all their breeds look like this. Is it the same for you guys in N.America? Is this an English speaking conspiracy of flavourless chickens! Are the French holding out on us here, I’m pretty sure they’re not going to ship over the best they got, if I can get my hands only on this type of Label Rouge chicken here in Brum then are we actually missing out on some really good stuff!? I’ve seen Bresse chicken in Harrods but the mark-up was ridiculous. Anyone know of some other sources? There is only one delivery per week of these Label Rouge chickens at the wholesale market and they understandably they sell very quickly indeed. Now I’ve gotten the taste of them I need a more reliable dealer (it is just like drugs). I have that one pictured in the fridge ready for Sunday and I can’t wait to cook and eat it, i’ve been eating a lot of Hainanese chicken rice so thinking about some suitably French recipes for this one, any ideas out there?

I think a lot has already been said in this webpages about mass produced chickens and I don’t want to regurgitate all those arguments again here. Instead I just wanted to celebrate these French birds. In fact I don’t find myself writing such a lengthy post so that in itself is testament to how enthused I am about them. No wonder the cockerel is their national mascot, they are magnificent!

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The Label Rouge label applies to many products, not just chicken. I try to buy them as often as possible, as it is a guarantee that you are getting a better quality product. Each item has very strict rules about what can be labeled 'label rouge'. Chickens are free range and come from small farms. They have to have access to the outdoors for most of the day. They are also limited to certain breeds.

I feel very fortunate that France has this, as it makes knowing where your food is coming from much easier.

A Google search turned up this paper from UC Davis which details the criteria in English.

Label Rouge: Pasture Based Poultry in France


www.parisnotebook.wordpress.com

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They are a completely different breed of chicken. They are meant to forage and they are quite active. We have grown flocks of them and you can work with their flavor.

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I've bought these for many years, Prawncrackers. It's a matter of breed, not just elevage, and sadly even French battery birds are better than domestic organic ones, with the noble exception of the Label Anglais.

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I've bought these for many years, Prawncrackers. It's a matter of breed, not just elevage, and sadly even French battery birds are better than domestic organic ones, with the noble exception of the Label Anglais.

That's fantastic muichoi, i've just tried to order a Label Anglais bird from Fredericks website as sadly the closest stockist to me is in Derbyshire. But it seems the minimum order is 4 birds!! Even with my new found taste for chicken can i justify buying 4? Maybe my wife and i could eat two in a week, give one to my mother and the last one i could sell to on of my buddies... :smile:

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I got a Joyce Foods Label Rouge chicken yesterday at Eli's Market in Manhattan. Joyce ships only frozen birds, but this one was thawed, though it probably was frozen at some point.

I roasted it simply, with butter and a little garlic, salt and pepper. It was excellent, but not amazing, and IMHO not good enough to justify paying $27 for a 3-1/4 pound bird. The never-frozen chilled chickens at Dean & Deluca are just as good and a third the price.

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There are a number of small farms in North Carolina raising these chickens using label rouge standards. Momofuku Noodle Bar here in New York City does a fried poulet rouge from Ashley Farms that is amazing. I assume they get the birds unfrozen, so I bet a resourceful consumer could tap into the same supply line.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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