Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Chicken Fricassee

The kids and I returned home on Monday evening from a quick and wonderful trip. I'll not say precisely where I went because I did get the chance to visit with, and interview, two homemakers that I admire. Those interviews will appear here at some point, and once I bring them into the picture, I think it's important that I make them feel safe by protecting their privacy as much as possible. Thanks for letting me into your homes, girls.

Our little trip coincided with the ending of Brooks' football season. Literally, we waited until he had turned in his equipment, and then left town. The season was good in the way it kept him active and involved with his peers, but it was havok for our family meals. Michael would delay leaving work until it was time to pick Brooks up after practice, which also delayed our dinner time for an hour. Because Michael wasn't home, I was overseeing the girls' homework and activities on my own. I hadn't realized how much I relied on my good husband for that.

What with one thing and another, my meal preparation has dwindled to sandwiches and semi-homemade kinds of things. My goal for feeding my family became Lack of Starvation instead of beautiful, tasty, lovingly prepared food. Having seen the end of football season, and the homes and tables of some inspiring homemakers, I rushed off the interstate and into my kitchen.

Last night we had fricassee de poulet a l'ancienne, or, more familiarly, Chicken Fricassee. From Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Prepared in this way:

1 chicken, cut up for frying
1 sliced onion
2 diced carrots
2 stalks of celery, diced
4 T butter
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. white pepper
3 T flour
3 c. chicken stock
1 c. white wine or 3/4 c. vermouth
bouquet of parsley sprigs, bay leaf, thyme, tied up in clean cheesecloth

Cook the carrots, celery and onion in the butter in a medium hot skillet for about five minutes, or until they are almost tender but not browned. After, push the vegetables aside and add the chicken. Turn them every couple of minutes. They will get firmer, but not browned. Cover the pan, lower the heat and continue to cook for 10 minutes more, turning now and then.

Meanwhile, in another pan, simmer together the chicken stock and vermouth and herb bouquet. I have started to really love the taste of meat cooked in wine and this is the broth that will do it for you. Taste this stock for seasoning and add some salt if you think it's necessary.

After the ten minutes of covered cooking, use the salt, pepper and flour to coat the chicken. Cover and continue cooking for another 4 minutes, with another turn in the middle.

Pour the simmering stock mixture over the chicken and vegetables. Bring it all to a simmer. Cover and maintain for 25-30 minutes or so. You know, until the chicken is done. Stab a big piece and look for clear juices if you're not sure. Remove the chicken to a waiting dish.

Onion and Mushroom Garniture

Julia wanted me to use 16-20 tiny white onions, which I didn't have, so I just used another medium yellow one, as I had for the vegetables in the chicken. Also, 1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, stewed in butter, lemon juice and water. Add the leftover stewing juices to the chicken in the next step.

From the chicken mixture, skim the fat, then raise the heat and boil rapidly, stirring often. The sauce will reduce and thicken. You will want about 2 1/2 c. for the sauce. (At this point, I spooned some of this into the risotto I was cooking as a go-with. I also reserved some for my chicken stock for a later meal.)

The sauce

2 egg yolks
1/2 c. whipping cream

Blend egg yolks and cream in a mixing bowl with a wire whip. Continue beating and add the hot sauce by tablespoonfuls until about a cupful has gone in, then you can add the rest and beat thoroughly.

Pour the sauce back into the casserole. Set over a medium high heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a boil. Boil for one minute.

Correct seasoning, adding drops of lemon juice, salt, pepper, even a pinch of nutmeg if you like.

Arrange the chicken and mushroom/onion garniture and pour the sauce over all. Serve immediately.

French cooking is a little time consuming and fiddly. Though American food can be tasty, it is usually prepared quicker and more efficiently, thus missing the deeper flavors provided by all these endless steps. Let me know if you try it.


  1. Looks so, so, good! And you're exactly right, there are seasons when all we're doing is keeping the family from starving! Not very glamorous!

  2. I never really knew what a fricassee was! Looks delish. I'm sure your house smelled so good after that. And what is vermouth? I think I might actually have some in the back of my fridge from martinis - would that be right?

  3. Gorgeous pictures! I've seen recipes for chicken fricassee in vintage cookbooks but never tried it. Now I'm going to have to.

    Ever read Caddie Woodlawn to your kids? It's a pioneer story that Clara loved. One of Caddie's naughty brothers changes his school recitation from "if at first you don't succeed..." to "if at first you fricassee, fry, fry a hen."

  4. Well, I wish I was sophisticated enough to answer your question properly, Margo. But the vermouth I have is "a select dry Vermouth prepared exclusively for cooking." I really don't know about making martinis.

    Rebecca - Soph's reading group read Caddie Woodlawn in school a couple of years ago. Very funny!


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