I’m not sure any country takes chicken more seriously than France, where there are dozens of heritage breeds and where over 30 percent of the chickens consumed have been pasture-raised thanks to the Label Rouge program. This all ensures that whether your poulet rôti has been purchased straight off the spit at the market or at a Michelin-rated restaurant, the quality will likely be good. However, not all poulets rôtis in Paris are created equal.
Each Sunday morning at the Marché Bastille, follow your nose and the hordes of people to The Chicken Lady, a vendor known for her chicken crapaudine, or spatchcocked birds. The chickens have been marinated for several days in a variety of ingredients from citrus and ginger to honey and sesame, and then roasted until the skin is extra crispy. With a sticky, almost candy-like skin, these chickens are dangerously good (I dare you not to eat one in a single sitting). For added decadence get a side of the potatoes that soak up the roasting juices at the bottom of the rotisserie.
Poulet de Bresse is the crème de la crème of chickens in France. The breed has its own AOC; they must come from white chickens from the Bresse province north of Lyon, and must be kept free range for a minimum of four months. The best place in Paris to have the rich bird is at Le Coq Rico, a restaurant specializing in seasonal volaille in Montmartre. At the restaurant, a whole poulet Bresse costs 98 euros, but it’s well worth the splurge. It serves two-four people and the meat is cooked to perfection. Served with a green salad and crispy frites, it might simply be the perfect meal.
There are many great butchers and delis peddling poulet rôti on rue de Bretagne, but the best one, which also happens to be the best deal, is the poulet fermier (free- range chicken) at Maison Ramella, a gourmet charcuterie purveyor and deli.A whole chicken costs just 9.50 euros and while the birds are small, they are jam-packed with juicy meat. The owners don’t seem to do anything too fancy—the birds are marinated in herbs and salt and cooked on the rotisserie for two hours – but it’s one of the most addictive chickens I’ve tasted in Paris, with sticky, salty skin and fall-off-the-bone tender meat.
The quality of the produce and products found at the Marché Bio Raspail in the 6th arrondissement, the largest certified organic market in France, is undoubtedly high, and the same goes for the poulet rôti at Romain & Ses Poulettes, a purveyor of organic meats like lamb, pork ribs, and pintade (guinea fowl). Each Sunday morning, the vendor’s two rotisseries are stocked full of organic blue-footed chickens stuffed with fresh thyme. The birds can be purchased by the whole, half, or quarter and include a plethora of juicy white meat and a deliciously caramelized skin.
If you’d rather dine on poulet rôti seated at a restaurant in an elegant setting, look no further than the recently spruced up Le Relais Plaza brasserie at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, where the spit-roasted yellow chicken from “Les Landes” (named for the yellowish color of the skin that comes from the grass they graze on) is served with buttered green cabbage and the bird’s pan drippings. It’s a rustic and completely satisfying meal.
Marché Bastille – Boulevard Richard Lenoir, 75011. Open Thursday 7am – 2:30pm, Sunday 7am-3pm.
Le Coq Rico – 98 Rue Lepic, 75018. Tel: +33 (0)1 42 59 82 89
Maison Ramella – 38 rue de Bretagne, 75003. Tel: +33 (0)1 42 72 27 43
Marché Bio Raspail – Boulevard Raspail, 75006. Open 9am-3pm Sunday.
Le Relais Plaza – 21 Avenue Montagne, 75008. Tel: +33 (0)1 53 67 64 00