Statistically speaking, each and every American man, woman and child is responsible for the slaughter of 30 chickens every year. If that thought bothers you, perhaps today's topic is not for you. If, on the other hand, it merely produces drooling daydreams of dinners to come, then, my friends, I give you the fricassee.
Why you need to learn this
Fricassees produce meats that are fall-apart tender. With its luxurious finish of cream and optional egg yolk, the sauce has a beautiful ivory hue and a silken texture. This is great company food, but it's also easy enough for a simple family meal.
The steps you take
Fricassees are most commonly associated with Southern cooking and French cuisine. Today, we'll focus on the French, simply because it is more generally singular in its approach. While the French fricassee is most often considered to be chicken or other white meat simmered in a white sauce, the term in American cookery has been expanded to include just about any form of chicken stew.
The method below is based on that of the father of French classical cuisine, Auguste Escoffier, the original Mr. Know-It-All as far as cooking is concerned. Dedicated Child-o-philes will also recognize a nod to Julia in the mushroom and pearl onion garnish.
For this method, we'll use a 3- to 4-pound chicken cut into eight to 10 pieces (two drumsticks, two thighs, two wings and two breasts that may be cut in half if you like). If you're no stranger to the cute meats, you can also substitute a couple pounds of veal stew meat or even a whole, cut up rabbit.
1. Cut a medium onion into small dice. Melt 2 ounces butter in a large, straight-sided skillet over medium heat. When the foam has subsided (meaning the water has evaporated from the butter), add the onions and cook until they become limp and translucent and exude some moisture.
2. Season the chicken pieces with salt and white pepper and lay them in the pan. Cook them just long enough so that the meat stiffens a bit and loses its translucence but doesn't begin to brown. (Remember, this is a white dish.) If you like, add a clove or three of minced garlic and cook it for 30 to 40 seconds. Remove chicken to a plate.
3. Sprinkle everything left in the pan with 2 ounces (about 5 tablespoons) flour and stir to combine it with the fat. This creates a roux that will thicken the sauce. Cook this for a couple of minutes, stirring.
4. Add about half a cup white wine and a quart of chicken stock or packaged, low-sodium chicken broth. Whisk or stir the liquid to dissolve the roux. Return chicken to the pan. Increase the heat to bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat. Add a bay leaf, a couple pinches dried thyme and a few sprigs parsley. Simmer 30 to 45 minutes. Prick a thigh to the bone and if the juice runs clear, you're good to go.
5. Remove the chicken to a warm plate and pass the sauce through a fine sieve. Whisk two egg yolks with a quarter cup whipping cream in a medium-size bowl and whisk a little of the hot sauce slowly into the cream mixture. This will bring up the temperature of the cream mixture without scrambling the egg yolks. When you've whisked about a cup of sauce into the cream mixture, whisk that back into the sauce. Note: Omit the yolks if you want. They enrich and thicken the sauce, but they're not necessary.
6. Return the sauce and chicken to a clean saucepan. Reheat slowly until the sauce is hot but not boiling. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.
7. While you're reheating the chicken, you can add cooked mushrooms and pearl onions. For the mushrooms, simmer up to a pound of mushrooms in a covered pan in half an inch of water, a knob of butter and a squeeze of lemon juice. You can cook peeled pearl onions the same way, though they'll take more than half an hour as opposed to just a few minutes for the mushrooms. Both of them can be cooked a couple of days in advance.
8. Serve the chicken and sauce with buttered noodles or rice pilaf accompanied by a green vegetable or simple salad.