“Don’t tell my husband”, Madame Petit said, with a hesitant smile, “Don’t tell him about your recipe”. I thought I knew what she meant, my recipe sounded so tempting that her husband would request it immediately and perhaps his wife had other plans for the evening. But that was not it. It was the opposite, my recipe had too many herbs, too much garlic. He wouldn’t hear of it. After all a man who has dedicated his life to raising the best chicken in the region (my words not theirs) does not see the need for enhancement or improvement. What you get is what you get. A fantastic tasting bird that only needs a pinch of salt, a dash of pepper. Meat that rivals the best steak, the finest piece of pork.
We had visited Michel and Martine Petit’s farm to buy a quality chicken for my crème fraîche and herb roast chicken recipe, one that is destined for my upcoming book and needs to be practiced to perfection first, with the best available produce. The Vertessec poultry farm is stretched along the route de Bordeaux in Avensac, hundreds of birds roaming free in beautiful pastures. We visit Bordeaux quite regularly and each time I look with admiration at the farm, try to get a peek at the lovely farmhouse tucked in amongst the trees. I always make a mental note to stop there next time but somehow we’ve missed the opening hours every time (we tend to linger too long in Bordeaux) or I’ve not had the time (picking up kids from school, worrying about home alone dogs – that sort of thing). I’ve tasted their birds at friends houses, been amazed and now that we were making a book it was the perfect excuse for a visit.
I had built up expectations, the farm would be lovely, the people friendly, the chicken heavenly. It was all that and better. Beautiful old-fashioned store that sells pumpkins, eggs, all sorts of chicken sausages and patés. Even local wine and jams. And the birds, so fresh, so big and majestic.
Now back to the conversation. “It’s not that my husband doesn’t like herbs or such but our Faverole chicken, simply doesn’t need it”, she continued. That’s when Michel, the husband, a proud looking, fit man in shiny boots arrived. He listened to us discuss recipes, without any judgement, and then offered to show us the farm. Gaïa loved the little baby chicks and it was a pleasure to see all the birds running around freely – just like it should be and such a nice contrast to all the horrifying reports we’ve had in recent years of poultry production around the world.
The funniest moments were with Gertrud, our German Pointer, a bird dog she was simply shivering with anticipation and gave me a look regularly that seemed to say “Is it some sort of joke to bring me here, it’s like bringing a kid to Disneyland and then tell them they can’t go on any rides”. Let’s just say that I didn’t let her off the leash.
Michel spoke at length about his passion for poultry, the different types of birds he breeds, the “normal” ones that can be cooked anyway you like and the Faverole (Poularde cousine Faverole croisée) that is so tasty that it would be a sin to spoil the heavenly meat, all it needs is a hot bath in milk and a rub of salt. I told him that I always felt that the best products need the least preparation and he nodded approvingly – his eyes beamed and although not a boastful man his expression seemed to say “Just wait until you taste my Faverole chicken”.
Apart from all the beauty, all the mouth-watering food, and the sheer pleasure and privilege of being able to buy the best products in such attractive surroundings the real pleasure of the day was to meet people as passionate as Michel and Martine Petit. Everything is done with love. Their son, now heavily involved in the family business has just opened a little store in Paris with Vertessec farm products. “It’s so small you wouldn’t find it even if you were looking for it”, Michel said, but he couldn’t hide his pride in their chicken being sold in Paris. It touches another theme dear to my heart – that of transmission. To pass knowledge down from one generation to another, to pass on and preserve. It’s people like the Petit family that are the reason why French produce is so good – it’s not just a question of selling chicken, it’s the ambition to raise the meilleur chicken, to work twice as hard to make something a little bit better. Like Michel put it. “It’s easy to make good chicken, but to make a great one – aha that’s another story”. “Sometimes I make 90% more effort for 10% more quality – but that is what it takes.” Of course my husband took this as a cue to start talking about dogs and that’s when I wandered off – to take a closer look at the chapons that were running around under a beautiful plum tree that alas never has any plums. I spent a good deal of time in the store, bought two big birds, a sack of wonderful potatoes and Gaïa tried to sneek out with a butternut squash that was lying on top of a stack of pumpkins. I did not authorize that purchase, we have so many at home, but it did inspire me to make butternut pancakes, just to have something to do while the chicken was in the oven. The kids shelled the beautiful red haricots ‘cocos’ beans, which I sautéed in a bit of olive oil, garlic, spring onions and sarriette (I believe it is called summer savory herb in english?). Beans are all over the market these days, and these pink ones are irresistible. Earlier that morning, I made a dessert inspired by a friend’s recommendation. It’s called teurgoule, a classic recipe from Normandie, slow-cooked in the oven for a perfectly creamy and comforting cinnamon flavored rice pudding. It is best to use fresh unpasteurized fresh farm milk to get the extra creamy results, but you can also use fresh full-fat milk. It’s such a delightful dessert, the whole kitchen is perfumed with cinnamon for hours and the smell lingers on all day. What a great way to welcome the fall season.
Butternut pancakes with crispy sage beurre noisette
(for 8 to 10 pancakes)
200 g/ 1 1/3 cup butternut, peeled and cooked
180 g/ 1 ½ cup plain flour
80 ml/ 1/3 cup crème fraîche
30 g/ 1/3 cup parmesan (optional)
1 tsp baking powder
A pinch of salt
Butter, for frying
For the crispy sage beurre noisette (butter):
A small bunch of sage leaves
80 g/ 1/3 cup unsalted butter
In a bowl, mix the egg, cooked butternut purée, and crème fraîche. Add the grated parmesan (optional), salt, flour and baking powder until you get a smooth batter. Lightly butter a frying pan over a medium heat, and cook pancakes – flip them over when the surface starts to become bubbly. Pancakes should be golden brown.
For the crispy sage beurre noisette (butter):
Heat butter in a small saucepan, add a pinch of salt and sage leaves on a medium heat. Cook for a few minutes until the butter turns golden brown and the sage leaves are crispy. Set aside.
Serve pancakes with a drizzle of beurre noisette and sage leaves on top. It is also delicious served with a poached egg.
Haricots ‘cocos’ rouges
900 g/ 2 pounds fresh red ‘coco’ beans, shelled
5 branches sariette herb/ summer savory
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
2 spring onions, finely sliced
Olive oil, for frying
Salt & pepper
Cook shelled beans in a large pot of boiling water for 20 to 25 minutes, or until tender and cooked. Drain and leave to cool for 5 minutes. Heat 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil in a frying pan, add the spring onions and garlic and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the beans and sarriette/ summer savory herbs and continue to cook on a medium heat for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
‘Milky’ Roast chicken
For this recipe, M. Petit advised me to first poach the chicken in a mixture of milk and water, then cook in the oven on a lower heat (150°C/ 300°F, increasing to 180°C/ 350°F for the last 15 minutes. The ‘Poularde cousine Faverole croisée’ variety is renowned for its incredible taste and quality, so he recommends to only season with salt and pepper to keep the authentic taste of the chicken.
950 ml/4 cups milk
2 liters/ 8 cups water
1 good-quality chicken (In this recipe it is a ‘poularde cousine Faverole croisée variety’ from Vertessec farm in Médoc) – 1.3 kg/ 3 pounds approx
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 150°C/ 300°F
In a large pot, bring the milk and water to a boil and poach the chicken for 10 to 15 minutes on a medium heat.
Place the chicken on a roasting pan, pour a ladle or two of the poaching liquid over the chicken and season inside and out with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook in a preheated oven for 1 hour. Add 2 to 3 ladles of the poaching liquid during the cooking process. Increase the heat to 180°C/ 350°F and cook for 15 more minutes or until golden.
(serves 6 to 8)
Preheat oven to 150°C/ 300°F.
2 liters/ 8 cups fresh milk (preferably raw milk or at least fresh full-fat)
150 g rice (I used Arborio rice)
180 g granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
In a large pot (preferably an earthenware terrine pot), mix the rice, sugar and ground cinnamon together. Pour milk on top and cook in a preheated oven for 4 to 5 hours. The rice pudding should be thick and creamy, with a dark brown caramelized ‘croûte’ (crust) on top. Serve warm.