There are some flavors that are so deeply rooted in your soul that you'll never forget them. For me, I cannot forget what chicken tasted like at my grandmother's house where the bird was recently brought in from the chicken house. I still remember that essential chicken goodness now forty years later because it left a visceral imprint on my taste memory. I would recapture that memory but for a brief instant twenty-five years later in a small restaurant in the Beaujolais when eating Coq au Beaujolais made with a Bresse chicken from a nearby town. And since then, I have been searching for that elusive grail.
Every new pastured chicken producer in my area has promised chicken with flavor and I have cooked their birds only to find them underwhelming. Good birds, yes, but flavor approaching my taste memory, no. The birds were the wrong kind, bred for quick market weight and not for flavor. But recently, I got a chicken from another farm in the area. And something about the chicken spoke to me. I can't tell you why, but I just knew by holding the bird in my hands that it was going to be a great chicken. It sounds funny, but so be it.
I have often said to people when they ask me how I decide to fix something that I let the product tell me what to do with it. Holding this chicken, an idea popped into my head about what to do with it, almost as if the chicken were dictating what I should do to it. There is no way that I could have done anything else with this bird other than what came into my mind; this bird was destined to be cooked in this particular way and no other. Call me strange; I don't really care.
Last evening, I put the chicken in a weak brine, mainly to remove any traces of blood. This morning, I clarified a pound of butter and after patting the chicken dry, I bathed it, spooning boiling clarified butter over it for the better part of a half an hour, getting a perfectly tight, golden brown, caramelized skin.
Once golden all over, I put it into a covered pan with a bottle of fruity Pinot Blanc and let it cook ever so slowly for about two hours. We held the chicken warm while we strained the braising liquid, reduced it, and finished it with cream, shallots, thyme, and fresh morels. We pulled the chicken off the bones and served each guest some light meat and some dark along with the tiniest local asparagus cooked separately, morels, and the sauce. Photo above, shown with haricots verts and not asparagus.
The result? Sublime. Chicken, you were worthy of this labor intensive preparation and I salute you. Now where are your kin?