Joyce Foods' Poulet Rouge Fermier du Piedmont 

Like most food-obsessed folks, my friends and I often find ourselves having the death row meal conversation. You know, that intensely serious debate where you absolutely must choose what your final meal would be. My answer inevitably has one component: a perfectly crispy roasted chicken. Yes, a humble roast chicken, the culinary holy grail for almost any home cook or professional chef. There's nothing better than sinking your teeth into that salty, crackly skin followed by the juicy meat beneath. Any chicken-roasting endeavor begins, of course, with a quality bird. I've tried a lot, but Joyce Foods' Poulet Rouge Fermier du Piedmont remains one of my favorites.

You might be weirded out by their scrawny appearance, but there's a lot of flavor packed into these tiny chickens, each averaging only about 3 pounds to 3-and-a-half pounds. The skin is thinner and more translucent, which means you get a crisper crust than with beefed-up commercial birds. The meat is slightly firmer since the chickens aren't sedentary and have plenty of room to roam outside. The flavor? The chicken actually tastes like chicken - not some watered down version of what chicken should taste like - with a hint of game. And the secret to Joyce's success comes from France.

After extensively researching the chicken market, representatives from Joyce traveled to France to look into heritage breeds of chicken. It was there they discovered Label Rouge, a grassroots movement started in the '60s by farmers in the Landes region who wanted to move away from industrial poultry and, instead, produce more traditionally raised farm chickens. The Rouge method is strict in France, where these chickens are prized by discerning palates. Joyce Foods brought parent stock back from France, and has followed the guidelines to the letter ever since. The chickens are slowly grown (an important step in guaranteeing a quality end product) on a small farm in Piedmont, N.C., where they receive lots of love and care from the staff. They aren't injected with antibiotics, hormones or growth stimulants, and eat an all-grain diet without any animal byproducts. As they do in France, Joyce puts taste high up on its list of standards - and you don't even have to be on death row to enjoy it.

Joyce Foods Poulet Rouge Fermier is available at select Whole Foods and other retailers and prices vary accordingly. Visit www.joycefoods.com for more information and to find a store near you. Look for Poussin Rouge Fermier du Piedmont in addition to the chickens, rabbits, Pekin ducks, and other specialty meats that Joyce produces.

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