Starting in October with the Canadians, a general rush to find turkey will start to happen, only followed by the Americans in November. If you are worried about how to get your Thanksgiving turkey, there are some tips below. In France, as in Spain, it just takes a little planning.
December brings Christmas celebrations, which, unlike Christmas day in the USA, the big day in France is Christmas eve. Families get together and have a massive, mult-course, hours long meal that often extends into midnight. There are usually oysters, foie gras on spiced bread, lots of champagne and wine, and then the main meat.
My husbands family usually makes a chapon, which is a castrated rooster. Turkey can also be found or the Christmas goose, stuffed with foie gras and minced meat, truffles and mushrooms. Dessert is almost always a Buche de Nöel, a cake in the shape of a tree log usually decorated with marshmallow mushrooms and other sweet treats!
Coming from the US where we only have chicken or turkey as options in the supermarket, it took some time to learn about the multiple poultry items available in France. This list is not exhaustive, you could go to include pheasants or palombe (and more!)…but, it’s a good start.
Chapon – My husbands family usually makes a chapon for Christmas, which is a castrated and fattened rooster. This is a style of meat which has been famous for centuries, prized for its tender meat. The history of why the chapon came to be in ancient Rome is fascinating and can be found here. Cooking a chapon is much like cooking a chicken, just be sure to baste and not overcook as the meat is a bit tougher than a chicken. There will be plenty of fat, so be sure to separate as much as possible before making a gravy.
Turkey – Would not have been found on the traditional Christmas table, as the bird originated in North America and made it’s way overseas thanks to the Spanish. The bird was first called a ‘chicken of India’ (as conquistadors thought they landed in India), however the name ‘Turkey’ is thought to have been given the first time the English actually tasted it, which was when they were on ships in Cadiz, returning from Turkey in the 16th century. France is actually the largest producer of turkey in Europe and one of the largest consumers in the world! The larger birds can be difficult to cook as they can easily dry out, but I find, besides brining, starting cooking them upside down and then the second half right side up (while basting), you’ll have a nicely cooked bird! If you are only a couple for a holiday meal, the turkey leg can be deboned and stuffed, rolled and roasted, making a great main dish.
Pintade – Or, Guinea Fowl in English, these birds originated in Africa and were brought back by Portugese, hence the name in Portugese ‘pintado’ which means ‘painted’. While they are farmed in Europe, France in particular, they are still a more wild bird and can be difficult to raise and do best on small farms with lots of room to move. Low in fat, they are generally roasted but their breast also work well to make roulade.
Poulards – Are hens that have been spayed to increase their ability to fatten, much like the capon. The poulards de Bresse are probably the most famous, with their large crown of feathers still in tact when purchased. These birds will be raised for around 120 days before slaughter, their standard roasting chicken friends only living for around 42 days. I’m sorry to say I don’t have my own person image, but take a look here
Goose – The Christmas Goose, maybe more familiar to me only thanks to Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol. I never had eaten one until I came to France, but I’ll never forget that truffle/pate filled goose we shared with friends one New Years Eve in the countryside. You may think geese are everywhere due to foie gras production, however, in Gironde (where I live) it is generally duck used in the production of foie gras, as they’re easier to raise (never met a nice goose myself) and make fat livers more quickly.
HOW TO FIND THEM :
You can visit your butcher to make an order for the size and type of bird you would like (ideally giving them a couple of weeks notice). Locally, in SE Gironde you can also contact Julien and Cecile of Papa Poule www.chezpapapoule.com and he can get your order for fresh poultry in with a good weeks notice. A lot of people will wait for Lidl or other grocery chains to bring in turkey the last week of November, prices are much less than those of a local butcher but they are also generally not of the same quality.
Grignols, in Gironde, has a fete for the chapon each year. This year it is December 19, 2021. You can find a list of local producers here
If you are in Nouvelle Aquitaine, here are some of the farms where you can get your bird locally Farms / Fermes – Aquitaine Travel Guide
Finally, if you want to bring your children to see many of these birds, don’t miss a trip to a farm. Some of the local farmers are happy to welcome you, but you can also find a list of kid-friendly farms here
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