The Ladies' Tea Guild

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Historic Cooking: To make a brown Fricasey from 1777.

Hannah Glasse's Brown Fricasey.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
The Redone Challenge: If They’d Had It… (November 2 - November 15, 2014)
Have you ever looked through a cookbook from another era and been surprised at the modern dishes you find? Have you ever been surprised at just how much they differ from their modern counterparts? Recreate a dish which is still around today, even if it may look a little - or a lot - different!

The Recipe: Although we don't generally see fricasees on menus today, in reading the recipes for them, I saw that they are essentially the same (at least, as some traditional recipes have it) as a very common menu item today: Chicken a la Marsala!  Having made Chicken Marsala at least once before, I was surprised to find that it is a fairly simple dish to make; when using this recipe, use flour or very fine breadcrumbs instead of the grated bread, substitute Marsala wine for the red wine, and use fresh mushrooms intead of the pickled mushrooms, and you have an almost identical dish!

To make a brown fricasey. You must take your rabbits or chickens and skin then, then cut them into small pieces, and rub them over with yolks of eggs.  Have ready some grated bread, a little beaten mace, and a little grated nutmeg mixt together, and then roll them in it; put a little butter into your stew-pan, and when it is melted put in your meat.  Fry it of a fine brown, and take care they don't stick to the bottom of the pan, then pour the butter from them, and pour in half a pint of gravy, a glass of red wine, a few mushrooms, or two spoonfuls of the pickle, a little salt (if wanted) and a piece of butter rolled in flour.  When it is of a fine thickness dish it up, and send it to table. -- from The Art of Cookery Made Plain & Easy, Hannah Glasse, 1774.

The Date/Year and Region: Eastern Coast of U.S., 1774. 

ingredients for Hannah Glasse's
Brown Fricasey.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
How Did You Make It:
3 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 egg yolks, beaten
2 cups of plain bread crumbs
2 teaspoons dried mushroom ketchup solids, or 1 cup chopped fresh mushrooms plus 2 teaspoons mushroom ketchup
1 tsp. each ground nutmeg and mace
¼ cup red wine
1 teaspoon instant boullion paste
1 cup water

dipping the chicken pieces in egg yolk and spiced
breadcrumbs.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
I followed the recipe as closely as I could.  I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead of whole chickens or rabbits, and I cut each thigh into 3 strips.  I grated some bread crumbs and mixed them with pre-ground nutmeg and mace from the store, and beat the egg yolks.  I melted the butter in my pan, dipped the meat pieces into the egg, coating them on all sides, and then put them into the spiced breadcrumbs, coating them all over, before putting them into the melted, sizzling butter in the pan.  I let them brown on one side before turning them over, and let them get very brown on the other side before adding the wine.  I tried to pre-dissolve the boullion paste in hot water before adding it to the pan, but the water wasn't hot enough, so I ended up just adding the paste and water to the chicken in the pan, with the wine, and stirring the blob of paste for a few seconds until it broke down.  Instead of using a few spoonfuls of mushroom ketchup or fresh mushrooms, I used a few spoonfuls of the mushroom and spice solids left over from making mushroom ketchup.  Once the ingredients came back up to a boil, I turned the heat way down and let it simmer for 15 minutes to finish cooking the chicken and thicken the sauce.

crumb-coated chicken frying in butter.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
Time to Complete: 30 minutes of cooking, 30 minutes of prep (mostly grating the bread).

Total Cost: it would have been under $20 for 2 large servings if I'd had to buy it all new. 

How Successful Was It?: It was very tasty, although too salty for my taste; that was due to the mushroom solids that I used, however.  When I made my mushroom ketchup, the recipe I used didn't specify the amount of salt to use, and I ended up with a product that was as salty as soy sauce: much too salty for my taste!  The spiced mushroom solids were also very salty, and they added a nice complement of spices to this dish, but in using 2 heaping teaspoons, the amount of salt in the dish was too much.  The nutmeg in the breadcrumbs was a tasty addition; I thought that they wouldn't be discernable in the finished dish, but they were.  The chicken was very tender, and the breadcrumbs weren't soggy, although they were sort of falling off of the meat, into the sauce, by the end.  This would be delicious served on top of pasta or rice.
braising the fried chicken with the
wine, broth, and mushrooms.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.

I had some leftovers the following day, which I re-warmed with some fresh mushrooms (sliced) and more butter, and served over fettuccini.  That was delicious!

How Accurate Is It?:
I tried to be as accurate as possible, without being able to cook the dish over a fire.  I did make one notable substitution, though, and that was the instant broth paste instead of homemade chicken broth, which I didn't have. I also didn't thicken the sauce at the end with the butter rolled in flour, because I didn't have the flour nearby when it was time to do that step; the dish was very tasty without a thickened sauce, although I don't know if it still qualifies as a "fricasey" without being thickened at the end! It is something that a cook might easily have done in the 18th century, though, so I think the accuracy can be stated at 90%.  It is a very easy dish to make, and I will definitely be making it again, once I defrost the rest of the chicken in the freezer ...  Without the thickening at the end, this dish is even closer to Chicken Marsala as most restaurants (and home cooks) make it in the 21st century.  Definitely a dish to bring back to the present.  If I had a restaurant, the menu would feature historic dishes like Brown Fricasey!

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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)