Roast Loué yellow chicken, before and after
Loué is a town about 228 km from Paris, down in the Sarthe departement of the Loire valley. It's not quite within my goal of finding ingredients within a 200 km radius of Paris, but it's pretty darn close. And the town is justifiably proud of its poultry: chickens from Loué are raised free range (with a minimum of 4 square meters per bird during the day), are fed no antibiotics and are not slaughtered until at least 84 days old. This latter fact is particularly important when you are looking at chickens, because it indicates that the birds have not been stuffed with all kinds of hormones to make the mature artificially quickly. I once read a very good in-depth article in the Observer about the evils of theh battery chicken farming trade but I wasn't able to find it online. This article, however, gives the gist of it.
Even if you aren't opposed to battery farming on humane grounds, once you have tasted a free-range Loué chicken you'll be converted to good practices on the basis of taste. There are several varieties - blanc, noir, jaunes - as well as capons, geese and ducks coming out of the region. My favourite is the yellow one. Aptly named, not only is the plumage yellow but even the flesh is a deep yellow in its raw state. I don't know if it's just the association of ideas or a genuine fact, but once it's cooked the bird does seem buttery and rich. It roasts up beautifully, with crackling brown skin and deep woody flavour. The sharp acidity of a lemon brings the flavours out beautifully and keeps the flesh moist too. The soft herbs give it a fresh spring-like feel. With roasted potatoes and a tomato and goat's cheese salad, it made a very satisfying meal, not too rich but satisfyingly savoury on a cool spring evening.
Another thing I love about this roast chicken is that although it usually takes just over an hour for the bird to cook the actual preparation time is less than ten minutes. If you don't peel your potatoes (and unless they are really old and tired I generally don't) you can have it all underway in 15 minutes and spend the rest of the time playing with your family. You can put together the tomatoes and cheese while the bird is resting before you carve it, so even once the cooking is done the assembly is compact.
Roast Loué chicken with lemon and fresh herbs
1 medium sized poulet jaune de Loué
a few glugs of olive oil
2 Tbs soft sweet butter
1 tsp salt
6-8 sprigs of thyme, lemon thyme or a mix of the two
6-8 leaves of oregano
1/2 a lemon (mine was an old slightly dry one from the fridge - it's a good way to use up old tired ones)
Potatoes for roasting
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Put the olive oil in the bottom of a large roasting pan. Place the chicken in the pan. Squeeze the lemon half over the chicken and then put it inside the cavity of the chicken. Stuff most of the thyme and all of the oregano inside the chicken. Smear the butter on the outside of the chicken and scatter the potatoes around it. Sprinkle the rest of the thyme leaves over the bird and the potatoes and then sprinkle with the salt.
Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until a thermometer shows that the chicken is done and the juices run clear. Allow the chicken to rest for 10-15 minutes while you assemble the tomato and goat's cheese salad (drizzle a little high-quality olive oil over them). Pour the juices from the chicken into one of those nifty gravy boats that has a side which pours the juice without the grease. It is a meat-eater's nectar - salty and tangy and deeply chicken flavoured. If you have any left after you finish the chicken be sure to add it to the bones when you make up stock from them. Whatever you do, don't waste it: it is the essence of chicken with lemon and herbs.