Westermann says he knows when a chicken is fully cooked just by looking at the bird. “I don’t need to touch it,” he says in his thick French accent. “I speak with the chicken.” He’s kidding -- though the whimsical 70-year-old as bird whisperer does not seem so far from the truth.
Like at Le Turtle and The NoMad, the servers at Le Coq Rico first present the whole chicken to the table. For first timers, the prize bird at Le Coq Rico is the Brune Landaise, but if you prefer something a bit gamier, go for the Plymouth Barred Rock, a heritage breed developed in the 19th century. The servers return with it carved up, alongside a small salad. Very methodically, they’ll set down a warm plate, ask for preference of piece, and put down one piece of chicken with a clove of roasted garlic. Next, they’ll tip a pot of jus over the single piece of chicken. The first bite is perfectly moist, hot, and flavorful. The skin is crispy on the outside with layer of caramelized fat on the underside. It’s juicy, clean, and the most classic of these four fowl renditions.
“Americans travel the whole world,” Westermann says. “They don’t need to go to another country. They have here in New York enough nice chickens.”
Aside from the newfound quality options of birds NYC chefs now have access to, perhaps the most alluring aspect of the whole chicken is the wide assortment of textures and flavors you get from a single dish. The crispiness of the breast skin, the smoothness of the breast meat, the richness of the dark meat, the gumminess from the feet, the fatty yet crunchy skin over the thighs.
Indeed, these chefs and their love affair with chicken are helping to usher in a new era of eating out -- no longer is the same old slab of red meat the prize item on the menu -- it’s the bird.
“It’s an adventure eating it,” says Proechel. “Why it’s resurging? I think people want to get away from molecular gastronomy. It’s getting back to rusticity of food... But there is that catch-22: do you really want to just be known for chicken?”
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