Fricassée de poulet à l’ancienne

Last night I made the Fricassée de poulet à l’ancienne, or “old-fashioned Chicken Fricassee with Wine-flavored Cream Sauce, Onions and Mushrooms” (page 258).

I was pleased to discover that I “invented” (my term for “winging it”) something similar to this recipe many years ago.  I used to brown chicken breasts in fat, sprinkle them with some seasoned flour, then cover them with broth and simmer til they were done.  Of course, fricassee is not quite that simple.  But that’s the gist of it.

This particular recipe was actually three recipes in one.  Besides the main chicken dish, you also had to make an Onion and mushroom garniture, which meant you had to make the “white-braised onions” on p 481 AND the “fresh mushrooms stewed in butter, lemon juice & water” on p 511.   I was going to skip that step at first, but then I saw where you had to take the cooking liquids from those two recipes and add them to “the sauce” for the fricassee.  So it seemed kind of necessary.  Fortunately, I had pearl onions in the freezer and shrooms in the fridge, so it all worked out.

I did this recipe exactly as the Book said to.  My only fudge-y moment was using half-and-half instead of cream, which I hopefully made up for with a bit of extra butter.  Good lord, this French cooking uses a lot of butter.  I thought I had a crazy amount of butter left over after all the holiday baking, but it’s down to almost nothing after just two dishes.  I’m going to have to make a butter-less dessert at this point, or else we will have to go out and buy more butter.

So now I shall regale you with camera-phone impressive shots of my really mediocre impressive French cooking.  I even used my French cook-pot.  And French wine.  Well, American wine with a French name.  Whatever.  It was dry enough.

First, we had to procure the cut-up fryer.  I learned, after reading a lot of other blog posts extensive research, that it is important to use chicken of the correct age for the cooking technique you want to use.  Fryers are called that because they are suitable for frying.  Broiling will make them bland and stewing will make them stringy.  Or maybe it’s the other way around.  Anyway, just make sure you match up the type of bird with your preparation method, okay?  Oh, and don’t go by weight.  A fryer, according to the Book, should be between 2-3 pounds.  I read somewhere else that fryers were between 3-4 pounds.  Mine was 5.25.  It’s all about the age of the bird, not the weight.  (In case you’re curious, a fryer is a bird that’s 3-5 months old.)

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Anyway, so we have a lovely cut-up fryer (I have mad chicken dissection skillz, tyvm) and also some mirepoix or trinity or whatever people are calling the onion-celery-carrot aromatic mix these days.  Now, I have always finely diced my veggies when used for this purpose, but the Book says I’m supposed to slice them thinly.
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So I did that.

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Look, it’s blurry-poix.

I took a lot of blurry pictures for this post. Sorry about that. This is a surprisingly “active” recipe, meaning I was constantly moving around the kitchen and adding ingredients and stirring and consulting the cook-book and whatnot. And that meant at least one hand was dirty/stirring/pinching in spices/holding a lid most of the time. So I did a lot of one-handed cell-phone photography. Some day, when I’m famous, I will hire someone to photoshopgraph me while I am cooking so the pictures are in focus.  Or maybe I will hire someone to do the cooking so I can do real photography with my real camera.  We’ll see.  I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch it was time to start, as all good recipes do, by melting some butter in a heavy pot.  I added the veggies, as directed, and cooked them for about 5 minutes until soft but not brown.

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Then I added the chicken.  It’s supposed to be cooked for 3-4 minutes on a moderate heat, turning every minute, until it’s stiffened slightly (but without browning it).  Then I had to turn the heat all the way down, put on the lid, and cook for 10 minutes more, turning the meat only once.

Next, you add the flour- about 3T, plus some salt and white pepper.  Ooops, I don’t have white pepper.  I used black pepper.  At least it was freshly ground.

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And that is the only photo you will see of the adding-the-flour stage, because I had to turn the chicken a lot to cover all of it with the flour and not let it burn, and also I didn’t have any other burners on which to set the hot lid because they were all full of other cooking pots.  See?

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Oh, wait, let me stage that better. Here’s the wine.

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Now it looks like a French cooking project. Anyway, as I was saying, there was no spare burner on which to set the lid, and also at this precise moment my kids decided they wanted to go sled riding, so that is why there is hot chocolate on my front left burner.  And that was where I would have set the orange lid to take a picture.  So, no pictures.

The hot cocoa is also my camping cookpot, because all of my other pots are In Use.

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Anyway, here we can see the mushrooms cooking in water, lemon juice and salt:

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And here, tightly covered but in a convenient glass-lidded pot, are the onions, in white wine, butter and herbs:

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I do have one other sauce pan, but it was in the sink. I believe it still had the morning’s oatmeal in it.

So once all the flurry of hot cocoa and boiling mushrooms came to an end, I added the liquid to the chicken: 3 cups boiling chicken stock/broth plus 1 cup of dry white wine. There are substitutions offered, but as I did not take them I don’t feel like typing them out right now. Oh, and you’re also supposed to put in a bouquet garni of parsley, bay leaf and thyme. I did not feel like getting out my cheesecloth so I just threw the herbs in the pot loose.

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And then we simmer, slowly, covered, for about 30 minutes. The Book gives really questionable “doneness” indicators, like “when the drumsticks are tender if pinched”. I opted for the more modern, less salmonella, meat-thermometer technique.  When the chicken was at a satisfying temperature, I removed the chicken to a “casserole dish” and let it sit with the “Onion and mushroom garniture” while the sauce cooked.

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The sauce was the part I wasn’t really sure about.  In the end, it tasted good, so I won’t complain, but I should probably go back to Paris and order chicken fricassee from several places to get a feel for what the sauce is supposed to taste like.  Because I’m not sure mine was right.  More research is definitely in order here.

So I added the liquid from the mushrooms and onions to The Sauce.  It then simmers for a couple of minutes, during which you skim off any fat.  Then you bring it to a boil and keep stirring it while it reduces to about 2 or 2 1/2 cups.  I could probably have reduced mine a little more, but it was dinner time and the natives were restless (and hungry).

Next, take 2 egg yolks and 1/2 cup whipping cream and whip them together in a metal bowl.  Then add some of the hot sauce to the egg yolks to temper them.  Keep beating, add more sauce, beat more, add more sauce (you can see where there is absolutely no free fingers for photography here, right?) until all the sauce is beaten in with the eggs and cream.  Then you put it back in the pan and, stirring constantly, boil for about a minute.

Next you “correct the seasoning”.  I wasn’t sure what this meant, because the sauce was boiling and I didn’t know what “correct” was, anyway.  But I dipped a spoon in and tasted it, and decided to throw in some salt since I tend to totally undersalt my cooking.  I added a couple drops of lemon juice and some scrapes of nutmeg (as the Book suggests).  And then I dumped poured the sauce over the chicken and garniture.  Et voilà!  Chicken fricassée!

The verdict: I should have re-heated the chicken. It was slightly cool, even with the hot sauce over top. It was also just a tiny bit overdone. I should have pulled the meat out of the pot earlier. The mushrooms and onions were fabulous. Family tolerated it; they would probably eat it again if I waited long enough for them to forget this first attempt.

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