Saturday, November 3, 2012

Adventures with a Bresse chicken and 100 grams of truffles

Earlier this week in Tokyo, living a TRAVELIFE, a couple of people had asked me to extend my stay another day and to cook dinner for them. They even had the main course already in mind: roasted Bresse chicken.

These are old friends I can't say no to, as I've known them forever. So I changed my schedule around and also went about the rather tedious business of finding a way to order an honest-to-goodness Bresse chicken in Tokyo.


Bresse chicken is the king of chickens, and it comes branded (there's a steel ring on one of the feet) and with unmistakable characteristics, including a red crown, white feathers and blue feet. Full of juicy and out-of-this-world goodness, they come from the Rhone-Alpes region of France.

Even in France, a Bresse chicken is not that easy to get unless you go to a specialty food place like a high-end grocer or the food section of Le Bon Marche, perhaps.


And, of course, Bresse chicken is almost impossible to get outside of France unless you know a food distributor that specializes in such hard-to-get food items -- and there are such distributors in major cities like London, New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore.

In Tokyo, being the (current) foodie capital of the world, the best of the world's produce is somehow available here if you know where to look.

Even in the toniest food supermarkets catering to the expatriate crowds, you won't normally find Bresse chicken. But there's one online food specialist with a website in Japanese that sells literally anything you want in the (food) world.

And this was where I ordered my Bresse chicken and 100 grams of truffles to go with it, to be delivered in two days at an appointed time.

It's not a cheap retailer, especially as the food items they carry are special; but what a convenience it is to be able to order anything from around the world when you want it.


So my Bresse chicken arrived chilled, so it was ready for preps as it had never been frozen since leaving the farm in France. It had been flown into Tokyo by air in a special container from France, along with other special produce destined for Japan's top French restaurants.


Meanwhile my truffles arrived in a special plastic bag -- four pieces to make 100 grams. I can tell you they cost more than the chicken, and the chicken itself was so not cheap.

Cooking-wise, I would have preferred another way to do Bresse chicken with truffles, similar to how I'd had it before in top French restaurants in Tokyo and Paris, such as at Pierre Gagnaire in Paris.

When I last ate there and had a Bresse chicken, Pierre Gagnaire had made a ballotine of it, crammed with truffles, and in a truffle sauce.

But my friends were adamant that they wanted an over-the-top roast chicken. Yes, that was certainly what this was -- a roast chicken from Bresse stuffed with precious truffles.

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Initialy I'd thought of a complicated way of making roast chicken, similar to how Heston Blumenthal of the Fat Duck does it. This involves a 24-hour prep time and it's quite messy, as you've got to marinate it in brine, and then dunk the chicken in boiling water, then in ice water; and then dry it overnight on a rack.

But I suddenly got very busy and only had an afternoon for cooking. So I did it my usual way, which is a shorter way but no less difficult.

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I can't say it's an original way, but it's my usual way of roasting chicken when I actually have time to do this.

I'll never do this sort of thing for people I care less about, as it's really a labor of love, especially in Tokyo where I need to do it all myself.

I basically spent about 2.5 hours placing truffles and butter inside the chicken, between the skin and the meat. This is so tedious as you need to do it very carefully to ensure you cover all the skin and not break any of it apart.

I usually make space between the skin and the meat with a small fruit knife, and then push in the salted Echire butter and the slices of truffles by hand with a small spoon.

Then I stuff the cavity with herbs, rice and lots of garlic. I really like serving roast chicken with rice.

I'll leave you to imagine how all this tasted. A labor of love indeed, and just another day in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.


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