Poulet Rôti aux Agrumes (Roast Chicken with Citrus)

July 14, 2009

The bicycle is just as good company as most husbands and, when it gets old and shabby, a woman can dispose of it and get a new one without shocking the entire community.
~Ann Strong, Minneapolis Tribune, 1895

In honor of Bastille Day, le Tour ramblings roll on…but the sole focus here is food. This race is not just about wheels, legs and lungs. Food and water are just as crucial to a rider’s grit, often making the difference between a podium spot and an abysmally dismal welcome to the offseason.

Throughout the Tour, riders constantly strive to store and restore glycogen, a readily oxidized sugar, inside muscle cells. Muscle glycogen levels before and during a stage are a very good predictor of the day’s performance. So, a pivotal nutritional challenge of the Tour is not only eating to achieve full muscle glycogen recovery off the bike, but to also assuage the demands of glycogen depletion while humping—an uphill task given the intricacies of race dynamics, individual nutritional demands and tolerances, coupled with the enormous fuel demands and fluid losses that occur during just one single stage.

Those who fail to consistently replenish risk bonking.

To offset fuel depletion, Tour riders consume a stunning average of between 6,000 to 8,000 calories daily—sometimes even 10,000 calories on unusually grueling stages. Their carbohydrate intake averages about 6 grams per pound of body weight (155 lb rider = 930 grams per day). Riders conventionally attempt to get 70 percent of their daily calories from carbohydrate, 15 percent from fat, and 15 percent from protein.

(Teams even employ their own chefs to optimize their riders’ nutritional needs.)

A typical day begins with a hearty breakfast which not only raises liver glycogen stores and blood glucose levels, it can also top off soon-to-be-depleted muscle glycogen stores. The morning’s fodder can consist of cereal, dairy, rice, almond or soy milk, fruit juice, croissants or toast with plenty of carbohydrate rich jams. Riders often add protein from eggs and egg whites, protein powder, and even toss in a heaping bowl of rice or pasta. They keep nibbling and drinking up to start time.

On the bike, riders eat a mixture of energy bars, gels, pastries, sandwiches, and fruit. The soigneurs (personal assistants) prepare cotton musette bags with the rider’s fancied victuals, including energy bars and gels, rice cakes and sandwiches. Throughout the stage, riders are drinking about 2-3 bottles per hour with about half of that being sports drink—critical sources of carbohydrates and electrolytes.

After each stage, the riders immediately down a recovery drink of mainly carbohydrate and some protein. They then usually graze steadily until dinnertime on energy bars, sweets, fruits, and fluids, with a focus on constant refueling and muscle glycogen re-synthesis.

In the evening, riders dine on a full bore meal consisting of chicken and/or fish, mounds of pasta or rice, sandwiches, yogurt, vegetables, salad greens, bread and sweets. Their fat intake results from dish preparation.

Bedtime snacks may include energy bars, chocolate and more hydration. Save for sleep, the grazing rarely ceases.

POULET ROTI AUX AGRUMES (ROAST CHICKEN WITH CITRUS)

1 5 lb. whole roasting chicken, necks and giblets set aside
1 orange, halved
3 T unsalted butter, room temperature
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 T dried thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 orange, quartered
1/2 lemon, quartered
1/2 lime, quartered

2 heads plump fresh garlic, halved crosswise, each studded with 2 cloves

1/4 C fresh lemon juice
1/4 C fresh orange juice
1/4 C fresh lime juice
3 T Dijon mustard
3 T organic honey
1 T olive oil
1 T unsalted butter, melted
3 cloves fresh, plump garlic, peeled and finely minced

Chicken stock
Cognac or brandy
Fresh orange juice
Fresh lemon juice
Fresh lime juice

Preheat oven to 425 F

Allow the chicken to sit at room temperature for at least 1/2 hour. Rub the chicken inside and out with the halved orange. Thoroughly rub the chicken inside and out with butter and liberally season inside the cavity and outside with salt, pepper and dried thyme. Place 1 sprig of rosemary, 2 sprigs thyme, and the orange, lemon and lime quarters inside the cavity of the chicken. Truss the bird, securing the wings and legs of the chicken to the body with trussing string.

Whisk together the orange juice, lemon juice, lime juice, mustard, honey, olive oil, melted butter, minced garlic. Use this mixture to brush over the chicken along with roasting juices used for basting.

In the bottom of the roasting pan, lay out the neck and studded garlic heads with cut side up. Put the rack with the chicken on its side onto the roasting pan, and place into the center of the oven; roast for 20 minutes, uncovered, basting throughout the entire roasting process. Turn the chicken to the other side for 20 minutes, still basting. Then, turn the chicken breast side up and roast for 20 more minutes. During this last 20 minutes, drop in the remaining giblets.

Reduce the heat to 375 and continue roasting with breast side up for 15 minutes more, still occasionally basting, until done. The bird should have a robust golden tone, and juices should run clear, yellow (not pink) when the thigh is pierced with a carving fork. Remove the herb sprigs and citrus from the cavity. Remove the cloves, and set the roasted garlics aside to serve.

Place an overturned soup bowl under one end of a platter or cutting board so it is tilted at an angle. Remove the roasting pan from the oven and turn the chicken so that the juices in the cavity are emptied onto the pan. Then, transfer the chicken to the angulated platter or board, with breast side down and tail in the air. This allows gravity to do its job as the juices flow down into the breast meat. Cut the trussing string free and discard.

Loosely tent the chicken with foil and let rest on the incline at least 20 minutes—it will actually keep cooking some, and the juices will disperse evenly throughout the meat.

Place the roasting pan over moderate heat in order to heat the juices. With a wood spatula, scrape those bits stuck to the surface of the pan. If the pan is a lacking some liquid, just add some chicken broth. Then, when the pan is sufficiently hot, add some fresh citrus juice, several tablespoons of brandy to deglaze and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer several minutes until it coats the spatula.

While the sauce is reducing, carve the chicken. Strain the sauce, preferably through a fine chinois sieve, which will produce a velvety end product.

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