Monday, April 13, 2009

Fricassée de poulet (Chicken Fricassee)

I actually made this old skool French comfort food about a week and a half ago, but only got around to blogging it today. A fricassee is just when you take some meat (usually poultry) and poach or braise it in some stock and then make a sauce/gravy from the cooking liquid. It's not something many American cooks make anymore... since few of us cover anything in gravy except on holidays (which is probably why most of us, myself included, suck so bad at making it)... but making sauces is something that feels like "real" cooking to me, so I was intriuged by the recipe even if it seems straight out of the 70's. I was originally inspired to experiment with this dish after being slightly disappointed with the "soupiness" of the braising liquid in Kay's Braised Chicken. The recipe is straight out of Cook's Illustrated($$$).

Here are the ingredients:
  • 1 whole chicken , 3 to 4 pounds, cut into 2 wings, 2 legs, 2 thighs, and breasts, with breasts then quartered
  • Table salt and ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium canned chicken broth
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine
  • 10 ounces white mushrooms, washed and left whole if small, halved if medium, quartered if large
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
Nothing exotic there, obviously... so that's a plus, and pretty good evidence that we're looking at recipe that hasn't been popular for a few decades... a dish from the era before Whole Foods dominance and widespread interest in heirloom vegetables. Just chicken and button mushrooms, baby! I wonder if anybody has tried to modernize this dish? Seems to me you could do some interesting things with the basic formula from an ingredient and spicing perspective.
  1. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon each olive oil and butter in both a Dutch oven and medium skillet over medium-high heat. When foam subsides, add chicken pieces skin side down and cook until well browned, 4 to 5 minutes on each side. Spoon off all but 2 tablespoons fat from Dutch oven. Add chicken from skillet, arranging pieces in a single layer as much as possible. Add stock, partially cover, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until chicken is fully cooked, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove Dutch oven from heat, transfer chicken to bowl; cover with foil and set aside.

    So this is the poach/braise step... but first you saute the chicken pieces and get them nice and brown, which has the wonderful side effect of getting you all sorts of lovely brown bits in both the skillet where you will cook your mushrooms and the pot you simmer your chicken. Other recipes I've seen have suggested this step take much longer... like an hour... and I'm not really sure what the significance of that difference is. Presumably you'd cook off more of the broth, so that would impact the sauce at the end, but I'd presume the meat would be incredibly tender. Something to think about.


  2. While chicken is simmering, drain off all but 1 tablespoon fat from the now-empty skillet. Add onion, mushrooms, and 1/4 teaspoon salt; sauté over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until mushroom liquid evaporates and vegetables begin to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Add wine; cook until almost all liquid evaporates, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to small bowl and set aside.

    Nothing special here, but I'm always a fan of deglazing. I think it's partially because you can't do it in a nonstick pan so it makes me feel slightly justified in owning ridiculously expensive pans... but mainly the thought of scraping up all that flavor on the bootom of the pan and wrapping it up in wine is simply mouthwatering.

  3. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons butter in now-empty skillet over medium heat until foaming. Add flour and whisk until golden in color, about 1 minute. Add half and half, whisking vigorously until smooth. Immediately whisk this mixture into hot chicken cooking liquid in Dutch oven. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently, until thickened to the consistency of heavy cream, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in mushroom mixture, thyme, lemon juice, and nutmeg; season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer chicken to pot and simmer until heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons parsley. Transfer chicken pieces to serving or individual plates, spoon sauce over and sprinkle with remaining parsley.

    Always great fun making a roux(well almost always), and a golden one isn't particularly perilous while still managing to be satisfying to produce.

It was quite delicious, and fun to make... but I can certainly concede that many modern diners would turn their noses up at it. The sauce/gravy was fantastic... really full of chicken flavor... and the meat was deliciously tender. You definitely need some sort of starch to soak up all that wonderful gravy though... so serve it over rice or with big hunks of bread (I did bread, but I suspect rice would have been a superior option).