NORTHERN CALIFORNIA POULET BLEU/AMERICAN BRESSE CROSS
|Introducing "Northern California, Poulet Bleu". Northern California Poulet Bleu have a distinctive red crown, white feathers and BLUE LEGS, the
same as their predecessors the French Bresse, making it an ideal national mascot right here in the USA as well as in France. When butchered, the
chickens have a clear reddish-pink tone to the flesh and pronounced yellowish fat. Bones are surprisingly light for sturdy, free-range birds.
My Poulet Bleu hens are direct descendants of birds developed by Canadian poultry breeder Pete Theissen and exotic meat purveyor Ariane Daguin
of D'Artagnanbelong in the 1980's. In 2004 they were imported into California by Bob Shipley* of Modesto. In the name of genetic diversity, I
bought American Bresse chicks from Greenfire Farms (they say they imported true Bresse from England). I kept 2 cockerels and I am using them
over the Poulet Bleu girls.
Our Poulet Bleu are a variant of the French poulet de Bresse, which the great Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin called the "queen of chickens, the
chicken of kings". It is not just a transplanted Bresse chicken, however. The French so jealously guard their birds that their eggs cannot legally be
taken from their home region..
These birds possess distinct genetics that allow the birds to metabolize feed in a certain way, distribute certain types of muscle across their
frames in a certain pattern and at certain rates, and produce meat with a unique and distinct flavor - not tough or gamey, but distinctly chicken-y.
They have unusually light bones and thin skin. These many physical differences flow from the singular genetics handed down from the original French
Bresse poultry stock.
I have found this breed to be extremely hardy and healthy, and surprisingly good layers.
Scroll down to read an article published in 'Edible Sacramento' magazine about these wonderful birds.
Contact me for information regarding availability and pricing of eggs
HISTORY OF BRESSE:
EDIBLE SACRAMENTO, CELEBRATING THE ABUNDANCE OF THE SACRAMENTO VALLEY, SEASON BY SEASON
by Ecinet on October 2, 2008 in Fall 2008
KIND OF BLUE: MODESTO’S CHAMPION CHICKEN BY HANK SHAW
My freezer has been largely devoid of chickens ever since I began hunting and fishing for nearly all my meat several years back. I barely missed them--but "barely"
isn't completely. I guess I was waiting for that special chicken to come into my life. I finally found one: the blue-footed chicken of Stanislaus County.
The blue-foot is an aristocrat among chickens. Smaller than a typical Rhode Island or Leghorn, the bird has finer features, a crimson comb, immaculate white feathers, and,
of course, feet the color of the sky at noon.
The California poulet bleu, as they're called, are a variant of the French poulet de Bresse, which the great Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin called the "queen of chickens,
the chicken of kings." It is not just a transplanted Bresse chicken, however. The French so jealously guard their birds that their eggs cannot legally be taken from their
home region; attempts to smuggle them out have proved futile.
Gastronomes pay princely sums to dine on a poulet de Bresse, which is typically roasted whole, then brought to the table and carved on the spot. The signature blue
feet are always left on--no blue feet, no genuine poulet de Bresse. But alas, the bird has never been available in the United States.
Years ago, Bob Shipley of Modesto didn't much care about this sad fact; Shipley's a squab producer, known as Squab Bob to other poultrymen. But Shipley also
raised pheasants for the gourmet market and became concerned when, back in the late 1980s, growers in Alabama flooded the pheasant market with cheap birds.
He remembers discussing this dilemma with Canadian poultry breeder Pete Theissen and exotic meat purveyor Ariane Daguin of D'Artagnan, when Daguin brought
up the poulet de Bresse. Why not raise them?
As Shipley recalls the story, Theissen was excited and began work on obtaining some birds.
"He tried to get them, but you just can't," Shipley said. "They are very well protected."
Stopped by customs, Theissen figured out from afar what made a French blue-footed chicken so special and bred for those characteristics. It took fifteen years.
Theissen thought about retiring in 2004, so Shipley drove up from Modesto to collect a flock of six hundred birds. The timing proved crucial: just weeks after
Shipley brought Theissen's blue-foots to California, avian flu hit British Columbia and the Canadian government slaughtered Theissen's flock.
"After all that work, all that was left were in my backyard," Shipley said.
That left Shipley as the lone breeder of blue-footed chickens outside France. Shipley now faced a pair of problems: First, he is a squab breeder, and pigeons
are not chickens. Second, what makes the French poulet de Bresse so special goes beyond breeding--their diet is the key to their special taste.
I have never eaten a real poulet du Bresse. But I have eaten all sorts of chickens--free-range, pastured, organic, barnyard "walking around" birds, and the like.
And recently I ate one of Shipley's blue-foots.
Poulet bleu are aristocrats for reasons deeper than feathers and feet: dense but not tough, fat but not fatty, mature but not wizened, and distinctly chicken-y, but
not overwhelmingly so. The "overwhelming" prize goes to a 5-year-old rooster I used for coq au vin two years ago; it remains the bird with the most emphatic chicken
flavor I've ever eaten. But that old rooster was tough as iron. Poulet bleu are well-balanced chickens, a lord among the nouveau-trendy Rosies or other mass-marketed,
So was my first blue-foot sampling the perfect roast chicken? It was a truly excellent bird, yet I found myself still wanting something extra--admittedly, I may not be the
best judge for a normal consumer. I am accustomed to eating pheasants, which are denser and more deeply flavored than all but the oldest chickens, so I expect my
birds to be toothsome and rich. A poulet bleu does not compare to a pheasant by those standards. But what it does offer that a pheasant lacks is tenderness, size,
and a skin that crisps up nicely without overcooking the breast; pheasant skin, like that of old roosters, gets too tough and rubbery to crisp properly. Blue-foots offer
an excellent compromise.
"There's more texture to it; there's more flavor to it," Shipley said, comparing a poulet bleu to a factory bird. "And it has a crispier skin and has a paler look to it."
Andrew Carlson is one reason why blue-foots taste so special. Carlson is a third-generation poultryman and has taken over the breeding and raising duties from
Shipley. He knows his chickens, having raised everything from battery birds to free-range and organic birds. Carlson beams when he watches them skritch around
and cluck at each other in a large barn outside of Patterson.
"They're wonderful chickens," he said. "We don't push them. These chickens operate on what they want, not what we want."
Poulet bleu take 12 to 14 weeks to grow to market size, which is only about 3 1/2 pounds for the males. A supermarket chicken can reach close to 5 pounds at
just 42 days, but those birds are "forced," that is, given high-nutrient diets with restricted access to exercise and space.
"They grow twice as long and are half the size," Carlson said of the blue-foots.
Most chickens, even most free-range birds, are water-chilled after slaughter. This can be a nasty process and is thought to be a leading source of salmonella
contamination in factory birds. It can also bump up the weight of a bird as the carcass absorbs water. Poulet bleu, like most high-end chickens, are air-chilled.
This avoids contamination and water bloating.
None but the French know exactly what the poulet de Bresse birds eat, and individual farmers have their own special feeds. That said, Carlson and Shipley have
sussed out a few facts: The chickens are fed milk solids, a variety of grains, alfalfa, and even mustard seeds. The birds also eat flies that buzz around the barn.
"We're trying to replicate [the French system] as close as we can," Carlson said.
Still, many connoisseurs who have eaten both chickens say they prefer the Bresse to the California bird. It could be a mental bias toward the original over the copy;
think California cabernet versus a Bordeaux. Or it could be that the French birds eat more insects than the California birds, and that they are allowed to grow an
additional month, making their meat a touch denser.
The poulet bleu I bought from Shipley was roasted simply at 450°F for 15 minutes, and then at 350°F for another 50 minutes. All I did to it was rub olive oil and
salt on the skin and stuff the cavity with sprigs of fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, and a wedge of lemon.
The skin emerged crispy and the breast perfect, although I could have given the bird another 10 minutes more to set the thighs better. Still, a simple roast chicken
is a wonderful thing, and this chicken elevated the dish to art. All it needed as an accompaniment were a few summer tomatoes dressed in olive oil, some potatoes
roasted underneath the bird--to soak up the drippings--and a glass of a fine white wine. French, of course.
A former line cook and commercial fisherman, Hank Shaw hunts or fishes for nearly all his meat and grows or forages nearly all his fruits and veggies. He is a staff
writer for Edible Sacramento and has written for Gastronomica, The Art of Eating, and Meatpaper. He runs the blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook (www.honest-food.net)
as well as the Fish and Seafood cooking site for About.com (http://fishcooking.about.com). He lives near Sacramento.