Sunday, July 27, 2008

French Comfort Food: Chicken Fricassee

Zola: Sorry about my little outburst. But it's true. We really do need you to submit your stories so we can keep this project going through the end of the year. Mary Beth came through for us--in spades.

Mary Beth: I’m an American mutt. Ethnically, I’m German, French-Canadian, Irish, Norwegian, American Indian (two tribes) and Scottish. In that order. Needless to say, the food I grew up with was as mixed a bag as my heritage.

My mother is half French and brought the Norwegian heritage to the dance, so meals were either marvelous French peasant fare or American Norwegian: Stuff Covered in Cream of Mushroom Soup. There was one dish in particular that remains my favorite comfort food: Chicken Fricassee.

I’m the oldest of five, so I was helping Mom in the kitchen from a fairly young age. I learned to cook Chicken Fricassee when I was in my early teens. It wasn’t until years later, when I fashioned myself as a bit of a gourmet cook, when I fully realized what I was doing when I cooked this dish.

You see, one of the steps in the creation was to take the nice crusty bits from the bottom of the pan, add water, and create a roux. I had no idea that’s what I was doing. It’s just how I was taught. So one evening, as I was making Chicken Fricassee for dinner at my folks’ house, I paused, startled, as I realized what I was doing.

I asked my Mom, “Where did you get this recipe?”
“From my Mother,” she replied.
“And where did SHE get it?” I asked.
“From her mother,” Mom said.

Holy Cow. My great-grandmother, Marisa Desoutel Dubruiel, was about as French as it gets. Born in Canada, she immigrated to the Minneapolis area in the early part of the 20th century. Her family had immigrated to Canada from France in the mid-1700’s. This was a recipe that had been handed down from my French ancestors, to comfort me on those hard days when you need a hug. (My husband knows I’ve had a hard day when he comes home to Chicken Fricassee.)

Chicken Fricassee
• Chicken, cut up .
• Flour
• Butter
• Onion (or two or three) thickly sliced
• Bay leaves
• Chicken broth
• Milk/half & half/cream

The original recipe calls for bone-in chicken, which yields the best sauce. On days when I don’t have much time, I use boneless chicken breasts as they cook faster. This works best with a heavy cast iron pan - my Le Creuset French oven works beautifully.

Melt butter in the pan. Flour the chicken and sauté until lightly browned; remove to a plate. Add broth and a dash of flour to the crusty bits at the bottom of the pan and deglaze, forming a roux. Add a bit more broth to create a sauce, then layer onions and chicken into the pan. Add a few bay leaves and some milk (or half & half, or heavy cream if you’re feeling particularly decadent.) Cover and simmer until the chicken is tender and the sauce is thickened, about 45-60 minutes. Serve with mashed potatoes and a crusty bread to soak up all the sauce.


Anonymous said...

Fricassee should be served over rice. Add tyme and garlic for a better flavor.

Zola said...

Interesting! I was just trolling through older posts and noticed there was a comment I missed (hardly thought that possible!)

The next time I am absolutely famished (which I'm convinced one needs to be to eat such a dish), I will indeed try this variation. Thanks for the tip!

Anonymous said...

I just lost my Mom in November and got the idea of putting together all of her recipes in a cookbook that we can share as a family - but she seldom used recipes! One of the dishes we all loved was "Chicken in Gravy" a dish my French grandmother had taught her to make. It was chicken in a rich gravy with onions - but I never really paid attention to exactly how she made it. So I went searching for a similar recipe with no luck, until I found your blog. This is it!

Thank you so much for this - it means a lot. And, by the way, in our house it was always served with mashed potatoes!

dvilnside said...

Growing up french in an entirely Irish neighborhood meant we never had corned beef but always had Chicken Fricassee the ultimate comfort food....I like to make homemade biskets to go with it to sop up the gravy. Ah the joys of a roux.

Loren said...

My grandmother, Nana, was French and Spanish from New Orleans. For her this was just chicken in gravy. Now she did use Thyme in her's along with a bit of Tarragon. Now I have eaten this over plain rice, rice cooked with bay leaf, mashed potatoes, wide egg noodles and on an Armenian pilaf. They were all great!

I use the Nana's basic recipe and throw in some carrots and celery and top it with biscuits to produce my chicken and dumplins. I was in my thirties before I realized that the rest of the world called this Chicken Fricassee. Oh, by the way, works great for rabbit also. Elmer Fudd was on the right track!

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Catherine said...

It's great you learned to cook in your childhood :)
Thanks for sharing your Chicken Fricassée recipe.

French online

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