There’s little I enjoy more when holidaying in France than visiting a market. Often more frequently even than once a week every tiny town and village has one, and yet despite their ubiquity the quality and variety of produce on display rivals that of the frankly epic Borough Market in London. As pleasurable as these Gallic bazaars are to peruse, the experience is somewhat tainted by the depressing feeling that in the UK we just don’t even come close.
I live in Brighton and some years ago our only market space, the rather depressing ‘Open Market’ (with it’s shabby collection of lack-lustre characters and their unappealing produce), was levelled and rebuilt with the promise that it would emerge as a French-style, Borough-like culinary Eden. We all got excited, but the reality was sadly very different. After the unveiling those same lame stalls returned – the uninspiring fruit and veg seller with their plastic bowls of baggy peppers that look like yesterday’s birthday party balloons, the world-weary butcher who when I asked for onglet steak, or flatiron, just shrugged his shoulders and said he ‘didn’t get it’, the stall that sells bacon and eggs, cheery people at least, but who’s products, I don’t know why, seem just slightly… ‘dodgy’. Maybe I’m doing it a disservice. There’s a very nice falafel stall and a reasonable cafe, but I don’t think it’s what any of us expected and certainly not even close to what we’d hoped for.
Stroll around any French village market on a Saturday and you’ll likely happen upon a stall the sight and smell of which will make your saliva glands start to work double-hard: A trailer atop which stands a wall of bright orange electric elements and majestically revolving in front of them, row upon row of chickens, perhaps a few ham joints, but mostly chickens, golden and glistening and dripping onto a tray of neatly peeled new potatoes, lying below like yellow pebbles bathing in the hot fat. It’s quite something.
I think tinned vegetables are nice. Nothing like their fresh friends, but as long as you don’t think of them as the same thing they have their own charm and distinctive flavours. They remind me of camping, and that’s a good thing. Tinned new potatoes are particularly good for many things, not least speed and efficiency as well as a limited budget. We’ve been having them recently in curries, and they’re great sliced, lightly oiled and grilled with poached eggs. But a few days ago my son pointed out how similar they were in taste and texture to the ones that lie there looking up at the aforementioned spinning fowl. So tonight we tried an experiment and it really worked.
We’ve got a rotisserie in our oven. You probably have too. Check. I think they’re pretty standard in lots of models but people just don’t know, or forget because it’s a bit of a faff. But it’s a faff that’s worth …the faff. If you haven’t then I’ve got an alternative method which I think would work just as well. So here’s my method for French village market style roast chicken and potatoes which I implore you to have a go at.
French-Market Rotisserie Chicken
1 medium-sized chicken
2 tins new potatoes, drained
1 pot chicken stock concentrate (the Knorr ones are what I use)
salt and pepper
*when we holiday’d in Spain some years ago I bought a little tub of ‘paella powder’. It’s got a bit of flavour in it but I think it’s mostly colouring, even so it really does make a paella look good. It also made the tinned potatoes look extremely authentically French-yellow. You could use a little turmeric instead, though not too much as the flavour mightn’t seem right.
Dry the chicken out for an hour of so (if you have an hour or so. We didn’t), before rubbing it all over with a little olive oil and dusting it with salt, pepper and a bit of paprika. Them mount it on the spit.
In a bowl whisk together the stock ‘pot’ with a little oil and a dash of water and then add the potatoes, about a teaspoon of paprika, a dash of the paella powder (or a pinch of turmeric) and a generous grind of black pepper. Give it a stir and pour the contents into an oven tray which will fit under the revolving chicken.
Put the grill on, get the chicken spit revolving and place the tray of potatoes underneath so the chicken juices drip onto the potatoes and wait for about an hour.
That’s it. We had it with a sliced up baguette, some dijon mustard, some mayonnaise out of a tube (both items from previous French holiday supermarket stocking-up shopping trips) and some rough red wine, while listening to Les Négresses Vertes on Spotify.
We then went upstairs and filled the bath with multicoloured plastic ducks before trying to get them out with hooks on sticks. Not really.
If you don’t have a rotisserie in your oven
Spatchcock the chicken (look here) and season it just the same, place it directly on the bars of the oven shelf and grill it over the tray of potatoes turning it three or four times during the cooking process.