A classic French fricassee is a dish of poultry, game bird or other white meat such as rabbit or veal, that has been sauteed in butter. The word fricassee comes from the French word "frire", which means "to fry". Fricassee is more of a method than a recipe, so once you understand how a fricassee is made, you can get relatively creative. The pan is usually deglazed with a little white wine and the poultry/meat is then simmered in stock. Once the poultry or meat is cooked, the liquid is then thickened with cream or a mixture of cream and egg yolk. Fresh, in season vegetables, which have all been cooked to perfection, either singularly or collectively in their own juices, are added at the end of the cooking process (this is where a fricassee technically differs from an ordinary stew). The end result is a rich, thick, chunky, stew-like meal that is usually served over rice. While a true French fricassee is not hard to make, to do it properly you need a few hours of time and I am here to tell you this is time well spent. As with many French dishes, a few simple ingredients, each one properly cooked, magically transform themselves into one exquisite meal, and this recipe is no exception. In fact, I'll take it as far to say that every bite of this fricasee is a work of art. Whenever I make my chicken fricasee, I can't help but imagine a quaint French farmhouse kitchen with a huge wooden table full of fresh garden produce, an ice box containing a freshly drawn/cleaned/cut up chicken and a husband walking through the door carrying a pail of freshly-picked woodsy mushrooms!
If you are lucky enough to find or have access to fresh morel mushrooms (which are in season here in Pennsylvania during the months of April and May), my recipe is even more amazing, fabulous and decadent. In fact, it is precisely because of these mushrooms that I developed the recipe I'm going to share with you today. I just happen to be one of the luckiest foodies in Centre County, as:
One of my closest foodie friends of thirtysome years, Pat, is a "roon". Roon is defined as: a person possessed by extreme or insatiable desires for morel mushrooms (not be be confused with a 'schoomer, who is a person who picks mushrooms in general). Roons are very secretive about keeping the discovery of their "hood", or morel patch, from other roons and the public at large, so do not be insulted if they refuse to share their prime location with you. Since morels come back/grow in the same spot every year, coupled with their short growing season, I for one understand and appreciate this possessive behavior. All I know about Pat's hood is: every year, for a period of about 2 weeks during the month of May, Pat frequently knocks on my door with a gift of freshly picked morels!
A bit about morels: Morels and truffles are referred to as the aristocrats of the fungal world. Morels have a spongy, honeycombed, cone-shaped cap which ranges in size from about 2-5-inches and a color which ranges from a honey-tan to a chocolate-brown. The darker the color of the cap, the more intense the flavor. That being said, all morels have a smoky, nutty, earthy flavor which I can only describe as devine. Fresh morels in their prime should be firm, but still spongy and should never be consumed raw, as they contain a toxin which is eliminated only by cooking. Morels should never be washed, but should always be cleaned prior to cooking as their hollow center is a magnet for tiny ants, bugs and other pests to hide. I like to cut my morels in half lengthwise, then brush the inside with a damp cloth or even a small toothbrush. Occasionally I cut them into ringlets or "O's", then give the pan of them a gentle shake, which works fine as well. Morels are so flavorful, the simplest method of cooking just happens to be the best method: Saute them for 2-3 minutes in a few tablespoons of melted butter and season them with a bit of sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of nutmeg!
In French, the term "mise en place", means "everything in its place". It also refers to having all of your ingredients prepped and in order, prior to the start of actual cooking. No matter what I am cooking, I run and teach the methods of a French kitchen, which means the kitchen is as clean and organized at the start of cooking as it is at the finish of cooking. Here is your ingredients list, and I assure you, if you have everything prepped and "everything in its place" as directed, you will find this lesson in French fricasee a most enjoyable one:
For the chicken:
1 quart chicken stock, preferably homemade
6 large, meaty, bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves, about 5 pounds
ground nutmeg, sea salt and white pepper, for seasoning chicken
Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy, for sprinkling on chicken
6 tablespoons salted butter, plus 3 tablespoons olive oil, for sauteing chicken
1/2 cup sweet white wine, for deglazing pan
1 pound diced yellow or sweet onion
For the remaining vegetables:
36 fresh asparagus spears, medium-thickness, about 1 1/2-2 pounds, spears cut into 2 1/2" lengths and stalks cut into 1/2" pieces, woody ends discarded
1 pound frozen white pearl onions, unthawed (Feel free to substitute 1 pound of peeled, fresh pearl onions, but for convenience sake, you are not compromising flavor or texture by using frozen ones.)
1 pound peeled carrots, sliced into 1/4" coins
1 pound fresh, white button mushroom caps, wiped clean and sliced into sixths
1 pound fresh, morel mushrooms, sliced into ringlets ("O's") and gently shaken to clean
1/2 pound additional fresh, morel mushrooms, sliced lengthwise and wiped clean, for garnishing fricasee
12 tablespoons additional salted butter, for sauteing mushrooms (1 1/2 sticks)
additional ground nutmeg, sea salt and white pepper, for seasoning mushrooms
2 cups heavy or whipping cream
4 jumbo egg yolks
4 additional tablespoons Wondra quick-mixing flour for sauce and gravy
6 cups uncooked extra long-grain white rice (You can find my recipe for ~ How to: Cook Perfect White Rice on the Stovetop ~ in Categories 4 & 15.)
~ Step 1. Prep and have ready all of the vegetables as listed, including the yellow or sweet onion listed with the ingredients for the chicken. For a closeup view of how to prep these veggies, just click on any of the small pictures shown above.
~ Step 2. Rinse the chicken breasts under cold running water and pat dry in paper towels. Place, skin side up, on a clean work surface and lightly season the top of each with a light sprinkling of ground nutmeg, sea salt and white pepper. Generously sprinkle flour over all. Set aside for about 30 minutes, to allow the flour to absorb moisture from the chicken. During this time:
~ Steps 3, 4 & 5. In a 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides, bring 3/4" of water to a boil with 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt. Add the asparagus spears and pieces. Adjust heat to simmer, 1 1/2-2 minutes, or until the asparagus is just slightly undercooked. Drain thoroughly and rinse/shock under cold running water to halt the cooking process and return the asparagus to below room temperature. Separate the spears from the pieces and set aside. In the same chef's pan, repeat this process two more times with the frozen pearl onions and the coined carrots. Simmer the onions for 1 1/2-2 minutes and the carrots for 2-3 minutes. Each should be slightly undercooked. Drain well, shock under cold running water and separately set each aside.
~ Step 6. In the same chef's pan melt 4 tablespoons of the butter over low heat. Add the white button mushroom pieces and season with a light sprinkling of ground nutmeg, sea salt and white pepper. Adjust heat to saute, about 2 1/2-3 minutes, or until just cooked through and very juicy. Transfer mushrooms and all of their juices to a small bowl and set aside.
~ Step 7. Repeat Step 6, melting the next 4 tablespoons of butter and adding the morel ringlets to the pan. Season as directed above and saute, until morels are just cooked through and very juicy, about 1 1/2-2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the morels to a plate and add any/all of their juices to the bowl containing the white mushrooms.
~ Step 8. Repeat Step 7, melting the last of the butter and adding the morels that have been cut in half lengthwise to the pan. Season as directed above and saute, until morels are just cooked through, about 1 1/2-2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the morel halves to a plate and add any/all of their juices to the bowl containing the white mushrooms. Now that all of the vegetables are properly cooked it is time to saute the chicken and cook the fricassee!
~ Step 9. in a 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides, melt the 6 tablespoons of butter into the 3 tablespoons of olive oil over low heat. Place all of the chicken breasts in the pan, floured side down. Lightly season the second side of each breast with ground nutmeg, sea salt and white pepper. Generously sprinkle flour over all.
Adjust heat to saute, until first side of breasts are golden brown, 12-15 minutes. Using a large spatula, flip breasts over and add the diced onions, using the spatula to direct the onions between the breasts and down into the hot bottom of the pan. Continue to saute, until the breasts are golden brown on the second side, 12-15 minutes.
Add the white wine. Using spatula, deglaze the pan by scraping all of the browned bits and pieces from the bottom of the pan.
Add the chicken stock, white mushrooms and all of their liquid to the pan. Adjust heat to a steady simmer, partially cover and continue to simmer for 30-45 minutes.* At the end of this time, the liquid will be the color of brown chicken stock and reduced by about one-half. Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
*While chicken is simmering, this is the ideal time to cook the rice.
Using a large slotted spoon, transfer chicken breasts from pan to a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole dish. Cover with aluminum foil and place in preheated oven, to keep warm, until serving time.
Things are going to move very quickly now:
~ Step 10. In a small bowl whisk together the cream and egg yolks. Add that mixture to the simmering liquid in the pan along with the additional flour. Continue whisking until the mixture is smooth and flour is thoroughly incorporated, about 1 minute.
~ Step 11. Add the asparagus pieces, pearl onions and carrot coins to the simmering mixture. Adjust heat to a gentle simmer and continue to cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, until vegetables are heated through and mixture is steaming.
~ Step 12. Gently fold the morel ringlets into this rich and decadent vegetable "stew". Gently stir, just until morels are heated through, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Do not overcook.
To serve: on 6 warm serving plates, place a chicken breast alongside 2 cups of rice. Ladle a generous portion of sauce over all. Arrange 6 asparagus spears on each and divide/portion the remaining morel halves on top of each serving. Serve immediately and pass additional sauce at tableside.
A French Chicken Fricassee w/Morel Mushrooms: Recipe yields 6 hearty servings.
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; paper towels; 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; colander; 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; 1-cup measuring container: 13" x 9" x 2" casserole dish; large spatula; large slotted spoon; whisk; soup ladle
Cook's Note: This recipe does take time to make but is not hard to make. What I am trying to say is: if you are looking to try your hand at preparing a truly exquisite meal and are willing to follow some easy, step-by-step directions, this recipe is THE hands-on cooking class for you!
Extra Cook's Note: Classically, this recipe would be made using one entire chicken which has been cut into 8 pieces. For presentation and portioning purposes, I personally prefer to use just the meaty breasts. Feel free to use the cut(s) of chicken that pleases you and yours the most. FYI: The 14" chef's pan specified above will hold 6 large breasts, 8 leg-thigh portions or 12-14 thighs. Follow the recipe as directed.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011