The Ladies' Tea Guild

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

History for dinner: To Fricassee a Chicken.

Instead of a picture of Chicken
Fricassee, here is a picture of
one of the ingredients, lemon.
Image: www.public-domain-
I read a lot of old cookbooks and occasionally a historic recipe sounds great just as it is, and once in a while, there will be one that sounds easy enough that I actually make it (I avoid beating egg whites until they're stiff, for example).  Here is one that is easier in this historic form than it is in it's modern form: Chicken Fricassee.  What is that? It's basically chicken stewed or braised with herbs and vegetables in liquid (water, wine, or broth) and butter, so that it makes its own gravy, which is thickened with dairy and egg at the end.  You can serve it with rice or noodles, or by itself.

To Fricassee a Chicken.--Wash and cut the chicken into joints; scald and take off the skin, put the pieces in a stewpan, with an onion cut small, a bunch of parsley, a little thyme and lemon-peel, salt and pepper--add a pint of water, a bit of butter as large as an egg.  Stew it an hour; a little before serving, add the yolks of two eggs beaten up, with a tea-cup of sweet cream, stirring it in gradually; take care that this gravy does not boil.
-- from Early American Cookery: "The Good Housekeeper" by Sarah Josepha Hale (1841).

I ended up making some alterations to the recipe because I didn't have all the ingredients, and it came out pretty much as it should have.  I used 4 skinless, boneless chicken thighs instead of a whole chicken, and substituted a sprig of fresh sage for the parsley and thyme, which I didn't have, and milk instead of cream.  Other than that, I basically made a half recipe, using just under half an onion, chopped, 4 strips of lemon peel (from a Meyer lemon from the tree in the yard) and the juice, a sprig of sage, salt, pepper, a cup of water, about 2 tablespoons of butter, one egg and about 1/4 cup milk.  Squeezed the lemon juice on the chicken, sprinkled them with salt and pepper, and let them sit while I chopped the onion. Put the onion in the pot, the lemon peel on top, then the chicken, and the sage.  Poured the water over (didn't quite cover everything) and added the butter.  Covered the pot, put it over medium-high heat and brought the whole thing to a gentle boil, then turned heat down to medium and simmered for 25 minutes.

I turned the chicken over and stirred the sauce once or twice to make sure it didn't stick.  When the chicken wasn't pink inside any more, I beat up one whole egg with the milk, and stirred it in a bit at a time.  It smelled delicious and tasted good, and would have looked good, too, if I hadn't kept heat under it while I added the egg at the end, because it boiled and I ended up with scrambled egg in my gravy.  I should have just taken the whole thing off the heat and then added the egg and milk, but I was afraid the egg wouldn't cook enough and the gravy would taste like raw egg.  So there's no picture for now, but this was so easy I will definitely make it again.  Modern recipes have you brown the chicken in butter first, and cook it in wine and broth instead of water, so maybe I'll try it that way next.  Yummy comfort food! 

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Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)