Still no phone here. Friends of ours from California were supposed to arrive yesterday, but we have no way to contact them. They have their own house, about 10 miles south of us out in the country. Their plan was to spend Christmas Eve in Paris, and then drive down to Saint-Aignan on Christmas Day. I knew which hotel they had booked. So I sent an e-mail to the hotel and asked the staff to transmit the message that our phone was on the fritz. I have no way of knowing if our friends got that message. They might just be wondering why we don't answer the phone. Maybe we'll hear from them today.
Meanwhile, that poularde we cooked yesterday was the best chicken I've had in a long time. I wish I knew what we call such a bird in American English. I know a French chapon is called a capon and is a castrated young rooster that is all fattened up. We would have cooked a capon, except they are big birds (8 to 10 lbs.) and it would have been too much for the two of us.
The young hen we roasted — a poularde is a hen that is fattened and then killed before it ever starts laying eggs — weighed about two kilos, or just under 4½ lbs. We have plenty of leftovers. The Joy of Cooking says that "Large chickens — generally those weighing 5 to 7 pounds, though some producers include chickens weighing as little as 4 pounds in this category — are marketed today as roasting chickens or roasters."
In the French-English dictionary, the entry for Fr. poularde says it is a "cookery" term and that the word used in English is also poularde.
Other hens that are sold fall into two categories. Some are raised for the eggs they produce and those eggs are sold. Others are raised as breeders; the eggs they lay are hatched. These layers are called stewing hens in the U.S.; in France, they are sold as poules and the only way to treat them is to boil or stew them. They make great broth or stock, and if you boil the meat long enough you can eat that too. Think chicken noodle soup.
A couple of years ago I bought two poules at the supermarket by mistake. The price was good, and I didn't pay attention to the label. It looked like chicken to me. I cooked it as I would have cooked a bird marketed as a poulet and was I disappointed! The meat was tough as shoe leather. I looked up poule in my cookbooks and realized the mistake I had made.
In France you can buy sevreal different varieties of poulets too. The standard supermarket chicken, called a poulet industriel, is also called a poulet blanc. A farm raised chicken is a poulet fermier and can be either white or yellow, depending on whether it has been raised on a diet of corn or not. In France, most of the farm-raised chickens carry a Label Rouge, which is the industry's guarantee that the birds are raised and fed according to high standards.
Free-range chickens are called poulet de grain and farm-raised chickens that are kept indoors are called poulets reine. I think these can have the Label Rouge too. So-called "industrial chickens" cannot.
At the outdoor markets, where they have those big racks of rotisseries with many chickens and other fowl and meat roasting out in the open air, you can get either a poulet blanc or a poulet fermier, as you prefer. The former are less expensive, of course.
The special birds sold for the end-of-the-year holidays are turkeys (dindes), capons (chapons), poulardes, and geese (oies). I don't think I had ever in my life bought a poularde before this year. But I knew what they were, because I had seen pages and pages of recipes for them in the Larousse Gastronomique food encyclopedia.
Actually, the Larousse lists 98 recipes (unless I miscounted) under the category Poulardes et poulets, and then another 100 or more under the category "Farm-raised chickens." You pays your money and you takes your choice.
Just to be sure, I asked the butcher at the supermarket about the poularde before I bought it. He said it would be a very good chicken to roast in the oven. This morning I checked a couple of my books, including one called Les Bases de la Bonne Cuisine (Monique Lansard) and another called Je Sais Cuisiner (Ginette Mathiot), and they say that poulardes should always be poached. Oh well.
We roasted ours on a spit. Our oven has a rotisserie built in. We chopped up a small onion and put it inside the chicken with a bay leaf and some salt and pepper. We trussed it up tightly and then Walt gave the bird a butter massage à la Julia Child. Then we put it on the skewer and started it cooking at about 250ºC (480ºF).
I put an oval-shaped baking dish with about half an inch of water in it under the bird in the oven. That way, the drippings from the roasting process would fall into water and not burn on the oven pan as it cooked. And the humidity that pan of water would add to the interior of the oven would help keep the bird moist as it roasted. Besides, with the drippings you can make a very good gravy.
The poularde cooked for an hour or more. At the end, we checked the temperature with an instant-read thermometer and it was up to 190ºF at the thigh and over 180 in the breast. That would normally be overcooked, but the bird turned out to be perfect and not at all dried out. Maybe it was the butter massage. Or maybe it was just a fine piece of poultry. It was probably a little of both.