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Chicken fricasee

Chicken fricasee

Fricasee may appear under a number of spellings in 18th century cookery books, but however you spell it, as foodie tech Alton Brown would say, “It’s good eats”. 

White fricasee  is, in fact, perhaps my favorite period dish, well one of them anyway.  This morning I’ll share a few of the easier receipts.

A Fricasy of Chicken.  After you have drawn and wash’d your chickens, half boil them; then take them up and cut them in pieces, and put them in a frying pan, and fry them in butter, then take them out of the pan and clean it, and put in some strong broth, some white wine, some grated nutmeg, a little pepper and salt, a bunch of sweet herbs, and an eschalot or two; let these with two or three anchovies stew on a slow fire and boil up; then beat it up with butter and eggs till it is thick, and put your Chickens in, and toss them well together; lay sippets in the dish, and serve it up with sliced lemon and fried parsley.  – E. Smith, The Compleat Housewife.  1739.

Sippets are toasts browned in a little butter.  Most receipts will instruct cooking the chicken pieces in butter, but do not have the chicken “half boiled” before cutting it up.

In The Whole Duty of a Woman (1737), the preceding receipt is found, and a second one which also contains oysters, mushrooms, and anchovies, bacon, mace, and sweet herbs with claret.  For this receipt there was no boiling of the chicken before cutting it in pieces to fry in the butter.

A third version did instruct boiling or roasting the chicken before skinning it and frying in the butter, and it was seasoned with a generous amount of lemon juice with anchovies, mace, pepper, broth, and thickened with cream and eggs.  The cook was instructed to serve it over mushrooms and oysters.

 To Make a Fricasee.  Fley three chickens or rabbits, cut them into little bits, put them into a quart of water, then take them up, and put them in a frying pan to a Pint of white wine, as much strong broth or water, a little pepper, cloves, or mace and a few sprigs of sweet herbs, one anchovy, two shallots, two slices of Lemons.  Stir it till tender, then put in a pint of oysters, some mushrooms, fifty balls of forc’dmeat, boiled in water a little, then some burnt [browned] butter, and serve it with sippets, lemons slic’d and barberries. – Harrison, Sarah.  The Housekeeper’s Pocket Book.  1739.

Forcemeat balls are made of finely minced meat, bread crumbs, and seasoned with chopped herbs, and bound together with cream or eggs.

Esther Copley’s cooking style mimics my own, or I should say mine mimics hers, in that she does not get bound up in exact amounts in order to prepare a dish.  Her instructions left a great deal to the taste and preferences of the cook.

Instead of giving various recipes she said, “we shall just observe that cold chicken may be agreeably rewarmed in a small quantity of gravy seasoned with pepper, salt, nutmeg or mace, flavored with eschalot, sweet-herbs, or lemon peel; thickened with cream, butter and flour with the addition of oysters and mushrooms, in all these particulars varying according to taste and circumstance”.  – The House-Keeper’s Guide.  1838.

White fricasee remained popular through the 19th century.  The following receipt is from Cookery as it Should Be, 1856.  It is little different from those a century earlier except that the instructions are a little clearer in describing the method of preparation.

Draw and clean one pair of fowls, lay them in water for half an hour, then dry them, and lay them in a stew pan with milk and water, and a little salt, and let them simmer until cooked.  Put into a saucepan half a pint of cream, a quarter of a pound of butter, and a little grated nutmeg, stir this and set it on the fire to simmer, and stir in a wine glass of white wine, then lay in the cooked chicken, and let it remain in this, covered up, until dished.  Chop up parsley and strew it over the chicken.

The reader has noticed by now that the chicken in these recipes was cooked, but the method was not to brown it.  In recipes where the chicken or other meat was browned the resulting dish is a Brown Fricasee.  The following receipt is given for contrast.  Both versions are tasty, and changing the preparation methods can change the dish enough to cause it to be met with almost as a new dish entirely.

Brown Fricasee.  Prepare the chickens for cooking, lay them in a stew-pan just covered with water, sprinkle in a little salt, and let them slowly simmer for twenty minutes; then take the pieces out and dry them with a cloth.  Put a lump of butter into a pan, dredge the chicken well with flour, and lay it into the hot pan to brown; break up the yolk of an egg, a little grated nutmeg, cayenne and salt, take some of the broth in which the chickens were boiled, put it in the stew-pan, and stir in the egg and seasoning, with a little flour for thickening, and when well mixed, lay in the browned chicken until ready for dishing, and garnish with parsley.  – Mrs. Goodfellow’s Cookery as it Should Be.

Blissful Meals, yall, from the Historic Foodie

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