Published Feb 25, 2008

This Meal of the Month is quickly becoming a method-of-cooking of the month; but what’s more appealing than a general approach that works well? And, in the winter, what could be better than a delicious stew? The fricassee is a traditional French dish, the more haute cuisine version featuring chicken in a white sauce, but the farmhouse version can include vegetables and a roux-based dark or light sauce. I’m a fan of the dark sauce, with delicious flavor, although I’ll admit I like to steal the fine dining use of vermouth to flavor the sauce.

Step one is to cut the chicken (I like boneless, skinless breasts for this application) into those vaguely-sized chunks that cookbooks call “serving pieces” — say, three pieces to a breast. Dust these with a bit of flour. You’ve got some cooking ahead, so pour a nice white wine while you’re there.

First, the chicken. For this dish, your weapon of choice is the Dutch Oven. Mine, inherited from my parents, is almost 10 years older than me; if your parents have one that’s sitting around unused, borrow it as well. A Le Creuset piece will long outlast you.1

Heat oil — not olive, but your oil of choice with a higher smoke point — or, for a splurge, butter in your dutch oven. The more you brown your chicken, the darker and fuller-flavored your sauce will be. I like to get the chicken pretty dark!2 (If necessary, pour more wine to fortify you for the chopping.)

Back to the chopping: well, you can pick whatever vegetables you like. While this is French food, there’s no need for a mirepoix here. In the winter, I like to start with mushrooms, and go from there. The French equivalent of the ubiquitous Anglo-Saxon potato is the onion, so why not throw in some there?

If you want to go full farmhouse and enjoy a brown sauce, tomatoes go great — chop your own, or use canned crushed.

Add the vegetables to the dutch oven, and a, um, bunch3 of dry vermouth. Need more sauce? Chicken broth is your friend here. Stir together and deglaze anything that’s sticking to the bottom of the dutch oven; stir again from time to time to prevent burning. The roux you’ve made from the flour dusted on the chicken will thicken the sauce, so cook until the you’ve got a nice, thick gravy around the chicken and veggies.

It’s a delicious rainy4 winter dish; and, with a lighter sauce, perhaps a medium-dry white wine in the sauce, and summer vegetables, a fricassee can be good for a warm evening as well.5 Whatever the time of year, your house will smell great after you’re done cooking!

1 This presents a fascinating marketing challenge!

2 Browned is good; black and carbonized is bad.

3 That’s an exact measurement!

4 Or cold!

5 Try throwing in some fresh thyme as you finish cooking!

1 Comment

I respect Le Creuset, but am a devotee of Calphalon. I acquired a dutch oven from their infused-anodized line last year, to make tagine… It is definitely useful for making large quantities of food.