This chapter introduction explains the different types of chickens you can buy in France. This is especially interesting to me, I guess, because I live here now. Some of the terms defined here are ones I've seen but have never completely understood before.
The term volailles (poultry) includes poules (hens), poulardes (pullets), chapons (capons), poulets (chickens), oies (geese), pigeons, and dindons (turkeys).
Poules are females that have begun to lay. Poulardes are young hens that are carefully fattened and that have not yet begun to lay.
Chapons are young male chickens that have been castrated, fattened with care and kept in little cages where light hardly ever penetrates.
Poulets de grain are free-range chickens. Chickens called poulets à la reine ("the queen's chickens") are confined in small cages starting when they are three or four months old and then fattened over a period lasting at least two months.
Young chickens have very large feet and knees compared to older chickens. The males possess a vestigial heel claw or spur (l'ergot). If the spur is not very prominent, the bird is young. If, however, it is well developed, the bird is old and therefore should not be chosen for roasting.
in 2003, our first year in Saint-Aignan.
A chicken should be as tender as possible, unless it's one you plan to use only for making broth. In that case, you can use an old hen. If possible, choose a chicken with thin white skin and nice meat. The chicken should be killed at least two days before you are planning to eat it. If you can't wait two days, then feed the chicken a teaspoonful of vinegar one minute before killing it, and store the carcass in a cool place.I'm not sure why canards (ducks) are not included in the classification along with chickens, geese, pigeons, and turkeys. Or pintades (guinea fowl) either. Also coqs (roosters in American English), as in coq au vin... I see coqs being sold in the markets (and have bought them), so they are available nowadays, as are all the other types of poultry mentioned here.
Pluck the chicken as soon as you've killed it and then gut it to avoid having the intestines impart a bad taste to the meat. Once it is gutted, pass the carcass over a flame to remove any hairs and little feathers that remain, and lay the feet over glowing coals to remove the outer skin, which is tough and dirty.
When we buy poultry in the open-air markets, the birds often still have the head and feet on them. The vendor — le volailler — cleans them for you so that they are ready to cook when you get them home. But if you want you can take the volaille home and do it yourself. I'm sure you can ask to keep the head and feet, but I've never done so.