Poularde de Bresse En Vessie in Lyon

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Bresse chicken is special. I had heard so much about poularde de Bresse en vessie or Bresse chicken cooked inside of a pig's bladder that when the opportunity arose while in Lyon, I had to take advantage of it. Having an extra day in Lyon thanks to the national greve or strike against transportation, I was able to spend it seeing a bit more of Lyon than I previously had been able to. I also had a chance to visit a few more of its culinary highlights, in particular Les Halles e Lyon.

That afternoon my friend Lucy Vanel (she has a great blog) and I walked from her apartment on IMG_3421 - 2009-01-29 at 09-28-58
Presque' Ile to Les Halles to meet up with my friend, Will, for some nice fresh Brittany oysters. The oysters were wonderful, but while we were waiting, Lucy and I perused the market. while we were admiring the Bresse chickens and pigeons, Lucy pointed out a prepared but uncooked poularde de Bresse en vessie in the refrigerated case. This was something that I had heard much about, but never experienced. Though the price at 68 Euros was not inexpensive, it would be a lot cheaper than eating one at a restaurant. I asked Lucy if she knew how to cook it. Replying affirmatively, I offered to pay for it, if she cared to prepare it. When we met up with Will, the dinner quickly morphed into adding a few additional Lyonnais specialties such as pike quenelles, tripe and a few other things.

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At the poultry stand, the butcher quickly finished the preparation of the chicken and vegetable filled bladder. We also purchased some monkfish belly and a few other items before moving on. On the way back to the apartment we stopped at another traiteur, Au Petit Vatel, to pick up some pike quenelles.

The dinner quickly morphed from an intimate gathering to a small dinner party of 8 people. Lucy cooked some fresh Galician chorizo that I had brought from Madrid, Lyonnais style tripe, the quenelles, pork stuffed monkfish belly and then the chicken. Everything was delicious, especially the quenelles, and the company proved wonderful as well.

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The chicken, simmereed for three and a half hours along with carrots, celery and turnips , however, turned out to be a glorified chicken soup. It was tasty, but ultimately not more so than any other good chicken soup. I'm glad that I tried it, though ultimately I could not understand its elevated reputation.

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6 Responses to Poularde de Bresse En Vessie in Lyon

  1. AJ says:

    Perhaps your puzzlement at the dish is a question of context and experience? We now live in a world where pressure cookers and cooking sous vide are part of the common culinary vocabulary…and even more so, the benefits and effects of slow, low temperature, sealed environment cooking are better understood and more common in our eating experiences. But go back in time far enough, and perhaps this method would be spectacular enough to create the legend that still lingers today? How have you felt when trying Chinese dishes that are prepared in a similar manner (steeped chicken)? Might bring more insight as to why this particular dish failed to live up to its legend.
    And while I obviously can’t judge whether the method as a whole is out-of-date or if something was just missing from your particular experience of it…perhaps the dish endures out of nostalgia as well, and if you or I had grown up with it, perhaps it would hold more meaning?
    In any case, thanks for posting your experience! It’s definitely an uncommon dish from another time…so your impressions, while less than enthusiastic, are still fun and provide lots to think about!

  2. John Sconzo says:

    AJ, thank you for your very thoughtful comment. I believe that all of your observations are true to varying degrees. My expectation given the ingredients and the legend were of something transcendent. While the dish was good and I’m glad that we had it, it simply wasn’t transcendent in any way that I expected or hoped for other than as a good dish to share with interesting people. It reminded me of very good chicken soup, nothing more and nothing less, albeit employing a different mode of preparation than I had previously experienced. There can be any number of reasons for that, though I do not hold the cook responsible. She did exactly what she was supposed to do and did it well. I suspect that there was something missing from the preparation (salt?). I would love to try it again at another time, especially at a place particularly renowned for the preparation.

  3. Roberto N. says:

    Back when I staged at Bocuse, we used to prepare this in a way that might be disappointing: Truffle slices would go under the skin, then we’d poach the poularde for about 45-50 minutes in a bouillon. When ready, It would go into the bladder along with carrots and turnips and a small amount of the bouillon. It was then closed and put on the bouillon so it would inflate. Sent out to the dining room with a supreme sauce with morels, spinach and rice sides.

  4. Lucy says:

    John, I do think that the initial preparation was really not even close to the original legenday recipe. Carrots, leeks, potatoes, and cabbage, in the bladder with the stuffing.
    Comparing it to for example the instructions found in Fernand Point’s “Ma Gastronomie”:
    “Mash the bird’s liver with 150 grams of fresh truffles, 230 g. foie gras, a whole egg to liaise the stuffing, salt, pepper, and a drizzle of fine Champagne. Stuff and sew the bird closed. [after placing the stuffed bird into the bladder in a particular way], add sea salt, freshly ground pepper, a glass of Madera and a glass of Champagne. SERVE with: turned potatoes, carrots, turnips and the whites of leeks.
    Perhaps if we’d had it that way it would have been up to snuff!

  5. John Sconzo says:

    No doubt Lucy and Roberto, those are the elements that helped make the dish legendary. I suppose that I expected more from the Poularde de Bresse itself. Mind you, it sounds like I am complaining when I am not. The dish was very good and I enjoyed it as I thoroughly enjoyed everything about that evening. I was more taken with the quenelles with the crayfish sauce – now they lived up to the reputation!

  6. John Sconzo says:

    Last week at Starchefs, I finally got to taste another poularde en vessie, this time prepared by Chef Gavin Kaysen and his staff from Cafe Boulud. Now, I understand the dish’s fine reputation. The texture was soft, moist and buttery, while the flavor was deep and rich. One big difference between the two was the sauce that was made by Chef Kaysen – outstanding. In Lyon, we served it with it’s broth. While good, it didn’t have the transcendent quality we expected and which I got from Chef Kaysen’s.

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