10 March 2009

Chicken soup + the chicken

So what do you do when you have a cold that is lasting well into its second week? You stay indoors, keep warm, sleep a lot, drink lots of liquids, take your morning tea with honey and lemon — and you make and eat chicken soup. I finally got around to making the soup yesterday. It's probably the most elaborate chicken soup method you can imagine.

Un poulet jaune, or yellow chicken, before trussing

One of the things I bought in America and carried back to France, believe it or not, is a trussing needle. Now why would I have to buy a trussing needle in a small town in North Carolina when I am living in the country of la haute cuisine, with supposedly the best food in the world and the most refined cooking methods?

Push the drumsticks up so that the bird's knees are tucked
up under its wings, and then sew it together.

Walt and I had looked all around at local stores and shops, including in Blois and its suburbs, for a trussing needle. Do you know about those? It is a big needle with an eye large enough for twine and you use it to tie up fowl — chickens, capons, ducks, guinea fowl, and geese — so that they will hold together as you roast or poach them.

Here is the trussing needle. It's 8 inches (20 cm) long.

Julia Child is to blame here. Walt bought some DVDs of her 1960s and 1970s The French Chef shows when he went to the U.S. a few years ago. In one episode, a lesson in preparing and roasting chickens, J.C. shows how to truss a bird using a big needle. That's what inspired us.

The stuffing: cooked millet and onions, pork sausage meat,
garlic, herbs, and rehydrated boletus mushrooms

We couldn't find a trussing needle here in Saint-Aignan. We found some we could order off the Internet, but the shipping charges made them very expensive. So we were stymied. What if we ordered a needle, paid a high price, and it turned out to be not what we expected? My conclusion is that people in France depend on their butchers to stuff and truss birds that they buy for roasting.

The chicken, stuffed and trussed, ready for poaching

In North Carolina, I looked far and wide — that means at Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and Bed Bath & Beyond — for a trussing needle. The Martha Stewart line of kitchen gadgets at K-Mart let me down. No luck at BB&B either. Then my mother mentioned Ginny Gordon's Cookware, Gifts & Gadgets shop in our town's old downtown section. The shop is full of imported kitchen accessories, and that's where I found the needle I wanted.

The chicken after poaching for 90 minutes
at a very low simmer

It is a made-in-Germany model. The brand is Rösterei. It's hard to believe that you would find such an item in a small shop in Morehead City, North Carolina. But there it was.

To truss the bird, first you stab through the thighs, right behind the knee, and then through the wings and the flap of skin that covers the neck cavity. You tie that off tightly.

Then you stuff the bird. I made a sausage and millet stuffing with onions, herbs, and spices. The final step is to get a new piece of string, thread the needle again, and then stab through the ends of the drumsticks and through the part that goes over the fence last. When you pull that string tight, the chicken's abdominal cavity, full of stuffing or aromatics, closes up almost hermetically.

... and after roasting in a hot oven for 20 to 30 minutes

Madame Child shows all the trussing steps in photos in her book The Way to Cook.

With the chicken thus prepared, I was ready to poach it in a pot of water in which I had already cooked some garlic, onion, carrot, and bay leaves, making a kind of vegetable broth or court-bouillon. I let the broth cool down and started the chicken poaching in lukewarm liquid. I wanted it to heat up slowly in the broth so that the stuffing in the middle would have time to cook completely before the legs and wings were overcooked and falling apart.

The roasted chicken transferred to a serving platter
and surrounded by some cornbread dressing

After about 90 minutes in the barely simmering poaching liquid, put the bird in a roasting pan. Baste it with some fat. Rendered chicken fat, melted butter, or vegetable or olive oil will work fine. Then put it in a hot oven and cook it until it is golden brown and appetizing.

The result: a delicious, moist, tender roasted chicken and a big pot of chicken broth out of which you can make soup. Since I ate some of that soup yesterday evening, I'm starting to feel a lot stronger. It works.


  1. Well, now, I admit that I have never heard of poaching a whole bird before roasting it! Do you always do it that way, or was it mostly so that you could get the soup from it?

    Sorry to hear you're still suffering from that cold. It has been a horrible semester with some terrible strain of long-lasting cold/bronchitis going around. I have 2 or 3 kids out of every class everyday lately (unusual), and I was hit hard enough to take 2 days off (it's rare for me to take a sick day). I got Elliot and my mom sick, and it's been over a week for my mom-- it's acting like the flu for her, but she did have a flu shot. So... hang in there!


  2. Hi Judy, I have poached ducks, turkeys, capons, guinea fowl, and chickens over the past few years. Cooking them in liquid before roasting them in the oven for browning makes them moist and tender. It's great, plus you get the broth as a by-product. The broth is good for soup or you can use it as a cooking liquid for rice or vegetables.

    Glad you got over your cold. Mine is hanging on but I do feel better today. You know how you can tell you've turned a corner? That's the way I feel. But I need to slow myself down and not overdo it today and tomorrow. Just laze around...

  3. Ken. Looks delicious. Have you come across Husson (www.husson-kitchenware.com) near Les Halles in Tours? Great kitchen/cooks shop.

  4. all i felt like eating for 2 weeks plus was chicken soup with noodles....feel better, take more naps....i didn't even feel like drinking wine (a real indicator of sickness)

  5. Jim, thanks, I don't know Husson. I'll take a look.

    Melinda, no wine! I'd have to be really sick. But it has happened to me. Not this time, thankfully.

  6. So that's how to properly truss a bird! I've been doing it without a needle for years, but it never gets that compact. I'll have to search out a needle.
    My chickens always come out great, even w/o a needle. A major factor is the quality of the chicken. In France, true farm chickens (poulet fermier) have seemed to be easier to get than here in the US. "Free range" chickens are widely available, but that's such a misleading term. Fortunately, here in Maine there are a number of farms that raise real farm chickens.

  7. I'll bet you could locate a similar needle at an upholstery shop.

  8. Hi Chris, finding an upholstery shop withing 50 miles of Saint-Aignan might not be too easy. Anyway, now we have what we need.

    Bob, good that you can get poulets fermier. So can we here. I think I like Julia Child's trussing method. This was a first attempt and it went well. Ken

  9. Wow, Ken, thanks... I need to try this. A friend just supplied me with a sack of morels from her property, so I'm thinking some of them belong in stuffing. But what I really want to know is... how did you get that big ol' needle from NC to France without ado?! Hope you feel better soon...

  10. "The result: a delicious, moist, tender roasted chicken and a big pot of chicken broth out of which you can make soup"

    one word : WOAH !!!!!!!!!!!!
    Take care of your cold and get better ( don't you have any eau de vie lying around - a couple of shots may help to put you to sleep and have a good rest).
    I must say this is one good example of parsimony :-) for cooking a chicken

  11. A défaut d'eau de vie, je me gargarise avec de la Listerine. C'est moins bon, mais espérons que ce sera efficace. Bonsoir...

  12. Ellen, I just packed the needle in my checked baggage and nobody had any compunctions about letting it through.


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