How to Cook Bresse Chicken, really delicious American Bresse poultry instead of run-of-the-mill store bought chicken. Here are some essential cooking tips for preparing and cooking with American Bresse
Everyone knows how to cook store-bought "chicken." Our standard expectations are met and even exceeded when restaurants serve up their specialties, say, rotisserie chicken or parmigiana.
A Confounding Texture?
These days, American Bresse heritage chicken is becoming a huge hit amongst many homesteaders and backyard flock owners. High end chefs already love them!
But for the rest of us, the promise of incredible flavor seems to be connected to a confounding texture. Some heritage chickens provide but little similarity in texture to the soft, almost mushy Cornish Cross chicken that we're all familiar with. It can be off-putting to those whose hobbies don't include gourmet cooking.
Is that you? It sure is me. This page is for us, the absolute novices, though I hope it will shorten the how to cook Bresse chicken learning curve for all of us.
The good news is that nearly everyone can quickly master a few easy tricks to cooking with American Bresse, and finally experience the"queen of chickens and the chicken of kings" around the dinner table.
Plus, we'll link you to some amazing tried and true recipes, nearly all of them provided by the chefs themselves.
Click a link to go directly to the topic of interest to you.
The Smart Butcher Refused to Sell a Bresse
There is a huge experiential divide between cooking and eating grocery store chicken (the hybrid known as Cornish Cross), and any other heritage or homestead chicken. That divide widens even further when poulet de Bresse enters the equation.
In the article, “Another Kind of Bird”1, author Joe Ray tells the story of his friend Nicole, a Canadian who moved with her fiancé to Paris, France.
In order to impress her fiancé with her great cooking prowess, she walked the cobblestone walk ways to the poultry shop, intending purchase the renowned volaille de Bresse2 directly from the meat shop. The butcher, who had them right there behind the glass, flatly refused to sell one to her.
“Non!” he exclaimed. “You’re not ready.”
Months later, Monsieur Butcher finally sold Nicole a coveted Bresse poultry, after "probing the depths of her culinary knowledge over several months of her visits to the market."
She eventually returned to Canada and recounted the experience to Joe. At the end she remarked, “It took me a while to realize he didn’t want me to have a bad experience... He needed to make sure that the foreigner...had the chops. If [I] was going to cook a 40-euro bird, he wanted a happy customer."
How to Cook Bresse Chicken: The Learning Curve
A degree in Culinary Arts for American Bresse breeders or consumers is not required, thankfully.
Just know in advance that cooking American Bresse chicken may require a learning curve, which is why the wise butcher hesitated to sell the most delicious chicken in the world to a newbie. It will almost certainly require different cooking techniques depending on the age of the poultry when processed.
But that's not a bad thing. Before you know it, your coq au vin entrée will exceed your expectations for succulence and flavor.
All commercial chicken you buy at the grocery store and dine on in every restaurant, are known as Cornish Cross hybrid chickens.(Pictured - click the photo to enlarge.)
Cornish Cross hybrids (CX) have a double copy of growth genes, and are of necessity harvested very young. They're on their way to the market almost before they've outgrown the cradle, so to speak, and already they might weigh 7 pounds. They are ubiquitous, and, possibly not surprisingly, of inferior quality to heritage-bred or homestead chicken.
We wrote the page, Cornish Cross Chickens to better understand the differences between Cornish Cross and American Bresse. Click the link to learn more!
How to Cook Bresse Chicken: According to Age
Truth is, the American Bresse breed is not built like Cornish Cross and is not at all ready for harvest at six weeks of age. In fact, it would be a disservice to the genetic potential of American Bresse poultry to harvest that early.
The world have learned to understand and adapt to Cornish Cross best cooking practices, and now it is time to re-learn and re-adapt to cooking methods ideal for bred-to-standard heritage breeds, including American Bresse Chickens.
In the grocery store, "chicken" comes in three categories. 1) "Cornish Game Hens" are Cornish Cross that are 3-4 weeks old. 2) "Fryers" are CX that are processed at 6-7 week of age. And 3) One can purchase older and bigger roaster and stewer birds.
When it comes to American Bresse, age distinctions become much more significant as regards HOW to cook Bresse chicken, especially for those who grow them and can butcher them at any age.
Here are some general cooking guidelines to consider:
At 6-8 weeks: At this age, the deep flavor of the American Bresse Chicken has not developed. Even in Cornish Cross fryers, their flavor has not developed to any great extent, which is why the CX has soft meat and very mild flavor. If you're thinking about raising and processing American Bresse this young, you may as well go purchase a Cornish Cross fryer at the grocery store, or raise your own Cornish X from chicks.
8-10 weeks: At this age, American Bresse poultry can be mostly treated as you would a CX. The flavor will be building, fat deposition may or may not be present in small amounts, and the meat may be minimally more al dente, but your dining experience is likely to be a very good one overall.
10-12 weeks: At this age, the uniquely Bresse traits are starting to assert themselves. The flavor starts building by roughly week nine, so you are likely to enjoy a richness of poultry flavor. At the older range (12 weeks), the farmer may have started the finishing process. The poultry is still young enough to fry up on the stove or grill. At this age I enjoy flouring them with a family-favorite recipe, and frying in butter or ghee. I tend to target 11-12 weeks for fryers rather than a younger age.
12-14 weeks: At this age, the distinctive rich flavor with the unique "it" factor is solidly building. At Ambresse Acres, they will be already 10-days to 2-weeks finished. Cooking method begins to make a difference in tenderness and succulence. Some people fry successfully, others prefer roasting.
14-16 weeks: At this age, the poultry is beginning to enter the age of the roaster. If not prepared carefully or cooked long enough, the muscle fibers may seem more chewy and textured. But when prepared well, the 14-week to 20-week age is an ideal age to get the most enjoyment from your American Bresse poultry. (Nine-month-old capons are the pinnacle of Bresse dining, I'm told, but that is a story for another day.)
16-18 weeks: At this age and older, there is no mistaking that "it" factor flavor - amazing! When roasted low and slow, in my experience, you'll be spoiled for any other quality of chicken.
18-20 weeks: At this age, the birds are large - up to 5 or more pounds after processing. They may have been finished, and may be well marbled with fat between the muscle groups. Bird size needs to be factored into the cooking time. Low-and-slow roasting will be essential. Your meal will be delicious and succulent! See several 'low 'n slow' methods below.
20+ weeks: Considerations at this age are no different than the 18-20 week age bracket. The last cockerel I processed and roasted was about 22 weeks old. The flavor was out of this world, and more moist than any chicken I remember eating. I had followed the recipe for Slow Roasted Bresse Chicken in White Wine Mushroom Cream Sauce, which utilizes a very low and slow cooking approach, and ohmygoodness, I highly recommend that recipe!
Full Adult / Old: There comes an age at which your cooking options are reduced to one: the stew pot. That's okay - American Bresse make wonderful stews and soups, because the rich flavors are still present, even if the meat requires a LOT of cooking before softening enough to eat. It is easy to throw an old bird into a crock pot, follow your favorite stew recipe, and then go off to work. In the evening, the bird will be done and delicious.
Cooking Tip: Low and Slow
A main recommendation for how to cook Bresse chicken is to cook it "low and slow." This is because American Bresse are not processed at age 6-8 weeks as are Cornish Cross chickens; the few weeks of additional age does make a difference in the texture of the meat.
The eating experience can range from 'al dente' to "a lot of work to chew." According to the hub when I failed to do justice to the bird in the pot, "It's not enjoyable eating, that's for sure." Okay then! That is how it can be when the age of the bird is not respected.
Basic "Low and Slow" Cooking Options
Roasting time for a 4-pound bird: Roast for 4 hours at 300 degrees, started in a cold oven. Remove cover for the last half-hour to brown the skin. Baste as needed.
Another roasting option for a 4-pounder: Roast for 2 hours at 235 degrees, then 2 more hours at 265 degrees. At the end, if needed, turn the broiler on high for 5 minutes to brown the skin.
For frying, here's a trick: Fry the pieces on both sides in a hot cast iron skillet until skin is crispy, then roast in a 325 degree oven until the internal temp reaches 160 degrees.
To stew: Place in a crock pot on low for 8 hours. Alternatively, you can simmer the bird in a dutch oven on the stove-top for several hours depending on the weight of the bird.
Use recipes that will contribute to the moisture of the recipe. The French like to use cream, and wine sauces, often including mushrooms. The flavorful liquids continue to cook, soften, and enhance the succulence of submerged chicken pieces until removed from the heat.
Recipes Featuring American Bresse Chicken
Stand by; the beginning of the Ambresse Recipe section is coming soon!
Now that you know how to cook Bresse chicken, you'll want to enjoy delectable cuisine from some of the fine chefs in France, and from breeders of American Bresse here in the United States who have years of experience raising, finishing, and cooking their poultry. You won't be disappointed!
How to Cook Bresse Chicken: When Your Chicken Turns Out Disappointingly
Campbell Soup Company is onto something. They buy old retired egg-ranch chickens by the millions and on the cheap. Those old clucks cannot be fried up like a store bought chicken. After processing, the meat is cooked forever, chopped into very tiny cubes and then turned into chicken noodle soup - broth, noodles, meat, and scraps of carrots. It's delicious, too!
Learning to cook a delicious American Bresse chicken might at first include a few hiccups. It happens. Which is why it helps to have a way to deal with those disappointing American Bresse meals that did not turn out as tender as you had hoped.
Typical reasons for disappointment are:
Elderly birds. Old roosters cannot be fried. They are athletic as all get out, and chip-yer-teeth tough unless cooked for a LONG time, for example, in a crock pot. Same goes for most old hens.
Similarly, cockerels older than 16 weeks quickly become chewy. At the very least they may be somewhat tough or stringy, even if finished with finishing feed.
The wrong method of cooking used. As an example, I have floured and fried 14-week cockerels and they tasted wonderful, but some parts were more dry or chewy than other parts.
Failing to 'rest' processed carcasses. Rigor mortis sets in shortly after death. The muscle fibers become tight and stringy if rigor is still present at cooking, no matter the age of the poultry at processing. This is why carcasses need to 'rest' in the refrigerator for 2 - 4 days, until the stiffness of rigor mortis leaves and the muscle fibers are relaxed.
I've poorly cooked some American Bresse birds. The problem wasn't with the breed or the bird. The problem was me. I had not yet figured out the tricks for cooking the older cockerels.
Until I mastered the art, I decided to do what Old Man Campbell did. When the chicken turned out tough or disappointing, I removed all the brown and white meat from the bones and sautéed the chopped chicken in schmaltz with onions, garlic, and spices. The finished blend went into the refrigerator or freezer for use in any of a multitude of recipes.
This recipe CALLS for tough chicken! So, the next time your Bresse poultry turns out tough and disappointing, you can feel good about yourself for successfully providing the main ingredient for a delicious recipe...
How's that for positive self-talk?! Your Bresse meals will be gourmet soon enough but until then, it's all good!
Start by preparing the cooked bird that turned out so disappointingly. Birds that disappoint are usually tough and difficult to chew because the cook failed to take age into consideration. So, throw that disappointing bird into a crock pot along with any broth and a couple cups of water (as needed), and cook for several more hours until much more tender.
Next: Remove the meat from the bones, and chop it into small cubes. Use the meat in the disappointed chicken recipe below.
OR: Use it separately. Add it to a soup or other recipe, nibble on it as a snack, or freeze for use another day. Chopped chicken is very useful and versatile, which is not so disappointing after all. As a bonus, the broth left over in the crockpot can be made into gravy or added to a chicken stew.
3 - 4 cups cooked, finely chopped chicken. (This amount is most of two stewer birds). Chopped pieces should be 1/4 to 1/2 inches long, and very nearly crumbly.
Saute the onions and garlic in the schmaltz until carmelized.
Season the chopped chicken with the salt, pepper, paprika, and cayenne pepper (or spices of your choice).
When the onion mixture is cooked and very soft, add the chicken, stir together well, and heat through. Serve hot.
Serve as is over potatoes, rice, or quinoa
Make chicken gravy with the leftover broth in the crock pot and serve with the disappointed chicken
Or gourmet it up using your own favorite fancy recipe(s)
Dress up the basic recipe with these variations: This Disappointed Chicken stands alone or becomes a foundation for any number of other chicken dishes. Substitute or adjust the spices with one of the following ideas, or any of your own:
Add a zing with a splash of lemon, white wine vinegar, or horseradish.
Mix with your favorite brand of Barbecue Sauce.
Season to taste with Thanksgiving spices: thyme, sage, rosemary.
Use Chili spices: chili powder, cumin.
Create a South-of-the-border flair with fresh homemade salsa: Tomatoes, tomatillos, cilantro, finely chopped onion, jalapeno to taste, and cumin (optional).
Chicken Salad: Mix with mayonnaise or salad dressing of your choice, fresh finely chopped onion, celery, and sweet or dill pickles.
Add it to a creamy white wine mushroom sauce and serve over rice.
I'm sure your family has a dozen other family favorite flavors that you can use to spice up your own disappointing Bresse chicken. Enjoy!
I hope this page has helped explain how to cook Bresse chicken.
This website focuses on the American Bresse Chicken, along with other chicken-related topics. Due to the protections given by France to the Bresse breed, it is important to consistently differentiate when necessary between the Bresse chicken breed of France and North American chickens of direct French Bresse descent. For this reason, we call them American Bresse chickens, repetitively, throughout the website. You might notice that this can start to feel clunky at times. So, in order to write more fluidly, we also use a couple contracted terms to reference American Bresse chickens: “Am Bresse,” or ABC (American Bresse Chickens). Our keystrokes spell out ABC or Am Bresse, but our heads see American Bresse. We hope you will see the same.