Tour de France 21 Stories: Fowl Play


Stage 15: Bourg-en-Bresse–Culoz

Some of the things at which the French excel, in addition to the World’s Greatest Bike Race: sparkling wine, fancy handbags, the world’s largest museum, fast trains and posh birds.

The poshest of the posh come from Bourg-en-Bresse: “It just comes down to something the French have always been able to do,” Sean Fowler explains, adding that those from Bresse are, “plumper, with more meat. They’re quite tasty as well.”

The appropriately named Fowler is the Colorado-born, Catalonia-based chef for Cannondale-Drapac, and the perfect person to talk turkey about Poulet de Bresse, the only chicken to boast AOC status.

At the Congress of Vienna in 1815 Talleyrand called Brie de Meaux the “King of Cheeses”. A decade later, in an early commitment to cliché  recycling, Brillat-Savarin’s The Physiology of Taste declared that Bresse chicken was, “the queen of chickens and the chicken of kings”. To this day, Michelin luminaries such as Paul Bocuse, Georges Blanc and Heston Blumenthal all swear by their Bresse chicken.

To belong to the club, Bresse chickens must adhere to strict rules: they must be properly tricolour, with blue feet, white plumage and red crests; they must be raised within a set radius around Bourg-en-Bresse; they must each have at least ten square metres of bucolic pasture and in their final weeks they are cosseted on a diet of corn, milk and buckwheat.

You’ll recognise them in the butcher’s by their tricolour badges and ankle tags which allow you to trace which farm they came from.

Are they any better than regular chickens though?

“That’s a good question.” Fowler pauses for a moment. “I live right by a farmer and she raises pretty good chickens… But with Bresse chickens you know the standard will be high.  That’s what’s good about them, it’s a guarantee of quality.”

Will Pierre Rolland be eating tricolour chicken before this monster mountain stage?

“Absolutely. We always have Bresse chicken when the Tour goes to Bresse.”

Here is one of Fowler’s favourite chicken recipes. It calls for morels, which are coming to the end of their season, but if you scratch around you should still be able to find some. If you’re really stumped, Fowler suggests you could substitute them with porcini, chanterelles or the freshest seasonal mushrooms.

“Divide your chicken into quarters or even eighths and sear it off in a pan with olive oil, not too hot, till it’s golden brown and delicious. Remove it and add root vegetables in small dice to the pan, such as carrot, celeriac, sweet potato, turnips and rutabaga, all mixed together. Brown off real good, then add a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste and deglaze with 100ml white wine [n.b. deglazing means getting all the tasty brown bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan to detach and incorporate themselves into your sauce.] Add some chicken broth to cover, then return the chicken to the pan, sitting it on top of the root vegetables and the broth so it can steam. Put the morel mushrooms on top of the chicken and throw in a big long sprig of rosemary. Cover and simmer, nice and slow, for about 20 minutes. Let it stand for 5 minutes. Always add salt and pepper to taste at the end since salt can dry the chicken out. Less is always better than too much.”

To accompany this dish, Fowler might give riders rice and some steamed or blanched green vegetables like broccoli or spinach or a green salad.

And there you have it: chicken fit for the kings of the road.

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