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Saturday, March 10, 2018

Volatile – Poultry. The Word Volaille, Poultry, on French Menus Only Includes Chickens and Turkeys. Volaille in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Down on the farm.
Volaille in French means poultry, and in a French supermarket, poultry includes chicken, duck, goose, turkey, Guinea fowl, pheasant, pigeon, and quail.  Within that group, the chickens come in an extensive variety of shapes, sizes, and ages; however, a menu listing the word volaille tells the diner that he or she is only being offered chicken and in a few cases turkey, without having to consider all the options. For the chef who writes the menu, he or she is freed from giving details than imply a chicken’s exact age, sex, and how and where it was farmed.
Volaille on French menus:
Bréchets de Volaille Pomme de Terre Sautées et sa Petite Salade – Chicken wishbones, with a small amount of chicken breast attached, these will probably be deep-fried; here they are accompanied by lightly fried potatoes and a small salad.  Wishbones are the thin forked bone between the neck and the breast of a chicken (and other birds).  These bones with a small amount of breast meat attached are a French comfort food, like chicken wings.   These thin bones with a little meat remind many Frenchmen and French women of frogs' legs, and so the dish’s nickname is les grenouilles du pauvre, the frogs’ legs of the poor.

Roast chicken.
Dodine de Poulet, Farce Fine de Volaille - Chicken breast stuffed with chicken liver. A Farce Fine is a poultry stuffing that apart from other additions that a chef may choose always includes chicken liver.
Emincé de Volaille, Sauce Forestière - Thinly sliced or cubed pieces of chicken breast served with a creamy, wild mushroom sauce. The wild mushrooms may be replaced with cultivated button mushrooms so ask. Reconstituted, dried, wild, French porcini mushrooms, cèpes, may also be used and they are better than many fresh and wild but tasteless mushrooms.

Cèpe de Bordeaux - boletus edulis
The French porcini mushroom.
Escalope de Volaille Gratiné à la Savoyarde, Pommes de Terre – Thin slices of chicken or breast prepared like an Escalope Savoyarde, the famed veal escalope dish from the departments of the Savoy. Here chicken breasts will have been cooked in butter, layered with slices of cured ham, surrounded with and then browned with one of Savoie’s cheeses, usually Gruyere Française, Emmental de Savoie or Comte.
Pâté Chaud de Volaille En Croute, Sauce Vigneronne – A hot chicken pate served inside a bread or pastry covering accompanied by a vintner’s sauce. A chicken pate unless otherwise noted will often include pork liver as well as chicken liver.  The sauce is made with red wine, shallots, balsamic vinegar, and the herbs of Provence. The same sauce is called a Sauce Marchand du Vin, a wine merchant’s sauce.

Chicken and Egg Pate en Croute with wild onion marmalade.
Salade de Blanc de Volaille Fumé, Vinaigrette aux Airelles A mixed green salad of smoked turkey breast served with vinaigrette dressing and flavored with cranberries.  Chicken and turkey breast may appear on menus as blanc, supreme, poitrine, filet, and escalope and the abundance of names may confuse visitors, but their use continues as tradition is tradition. Chickens are rarely smoked, and that leads me to assume that turkey is the smoked poultry breast offered in this menu listing.  The cranberries, in season, will be the fresh European cranberry and cranberries, popular with turkey, are another hint that the smoked poultry breast is turkey breast.   The Europeans have been playing catch up with the cultivation of cranberries in the last twenty years. East-European countries are now the largest European cranberry producers with Belarus producing over 8,000 tons per year. Nevertheless, all of Europe’s production does not reach 10% of the amazing Canadian and US annual production which is more than 500,000 tons! Nearly all of the canned and frozen cranberries and cranberry juice in French supermarkets are North American imports.
In thirty different regions of France, there are Volailles Fermières Label Rouge – France’s Label Rouge Poultry. The poultry sold with the red label really do spend most of their lives in the open, and they cost 50% more than the regular chickens, ducks, turkeys and Guinea fowl on sale, but they taste like something. Despite their high prices, 25% of the public is willing to pay the extra.  No other country has such a high percentage of the population willing to pay higher prices for tasty poultry. And, no other country has such a well respected and continually inspected method of control. The various regions have chickens and other poultry that are well-known by their local names. N.B.  Label Rouge poultry may appear on menu listings by just their local name without the suffix Label Rouge which the locals will know. When you see a named chicken or turkey on a menu without a label, ask more about it.

The Label Rouge poultry of Gers.
   Gers is a department in the south-west of France in the new super-region of Occitanie.
Photograph courtesy of Le Boucher Cévenol
Only one class of poultry, the Volaille de Bresse, which includes chickens and turkeys, meet France’s very special requirements for AOC poultry. These are bred in the old French province of Bresse which is included in parts of the new super-regions of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and Bourgogne-Franche-Comté. Their blue legged chickens are at least four months old compared with five weeks for the average supermarket chicken, their poulardes, their fattened chickens, are at least five months old while their capons are over eight months old; as they grow, they add flavor.  From the age of five weeks these tasty birds will all spend most of their lives outdoors with a minimum of 10 square meters per bird (compare that with the 8 or ten birds squashed into a single square meter for so-called free range birds).  Apart from what they pick up on the ground 70% of the bird's diets must be locally grown corn, maize, along with wheat and milk. The black feathered Bresse turkey reaches the market after at least seven months, and they are the most sought after turkey for French Christmas dinners. They must be ordered nearly a year in advance. When on the menu don’t let Bresse poultry pass; practically none are exported. Order a label rouge or AOC chicken when in France and taste the difference. (By the way, farm-raised has no legal meaning, in Europe, the UK, and the USA, all chickens are raised in farms. Farm raised may mean raised in cages).

La Poulet de Bresse.
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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu.
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