Stir Crazy: Classic fricassee should not be forgotten

May 20, 2013 

In a quick discussion the other day with a friend, we talked about food no one makes at home anymore, like ham salad. Some classics will always remain, though -- think chicken and dumplings, Then she asked me why chicken fricassee (FRICK-a-see) had fallen by the culinary wayside and I wasn't even sure I remembered what it meant. Or, if I'd ever made it! So, I went in search of a definition and a recipe.

I'm surprised it's still not a popular dish because it's pretty easy to make in one pan.

What distinguishes fricassee primarily is that it is prepared slightly differently from the usual technique for braising meats, said Culinaryarts.about.com. The meat isn't browned before the braising liquid is added. Instead, when making a fricassee, the meat is cooked in a bit of oil or fat but at a lower temperature, so that the meat stays white. Many cooking references describe fricassee simply as a French stew, usually with a white sauce.

Fricassee is an old term, dating back to at least the 15th century. It is a French word, but the exact etymology is uncertain. It is theorized to be a compound of the French frire (to fry) and casser or quasser (to break in pieces).

This quick version of what was once a farmhouse favorite from Cookstr.com is anything but stodgy. Tarragon is one of the first herbs to pop up in the spring garden, and it's put to good use here as a fragrant and flavorful accent.

Chicken-Mushroom Fricassee with Tarragon

1 pound boneless and skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter

1 pound cremini (baby portobello) or white button mushrooms

1/3 cup finely chopped shallots (about 2 shallots)

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon, or 1 teaspoon dried

2 cups milk, heated

Hot cooked egg noodles, for serving

1. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Season chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper. Add chicken to skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

2. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons butter in skillet. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until their juices evaporate, about 10 minutes. Add shallots and cook until they soften, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with flour and tarragon and mix well. Stir in milk and bring to simmer.

3. Return chicken to skillet. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until chicken shows no sign of pink when pierced with a knife, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon over noodles and serve. Yield : 4 to 6 servings.

Variations

Substitute 1 cup chicken broth for an equal amount of milk.

Add 3 tablespoons dry sherry to the skillet with the milk.

Substitute chopped fresh parsley for the tarragon. (Do not use dried parsley.)

Add 1/2 cup chopped roasted red peppers and/or 1 cup thawed frozen peas to the fricassee during the last 5 minutes of cooking.

Stir in 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Here's how to reach me: Phone, 239-2664; e-mail, sboyle@bnd.com; or write, Suzanne Boyle, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427.

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