Chicken fricot. Fricot is the traditional staple of historic Acadia, a frugal comfort food relished by the tough, self-reliant people of Atlantic Canada. It is versatile: You can make it with virtually any meat or fish. It is simple, and reflects both the taste for salted flavorings and the limited ingredients available during winter in the region. It was so ubiquitous that ‘au fricot!’ became the call to dinner for Acadian families whatever the dish. Fricot is primal food. According to A Taste of Acadie, which began as a research project funded by the Canada Council and the University of Moncton, chicken is “by far the most popular fricot in Acadia.” We are in no position to disagree, so lead our parade of fricots with the bird.
-2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
-8 chicken thighs
-a big chopped onion
-1 Tablespoon flour
-12 cups chicken stock
-1 heaped Tablespoon herbes salées (see the Notes)
-4 cups peeled diced potatoes
-salt and pepper
- Melt the butter in a heavy pot over medium high heat and fry the chicken until golden. Remove it from the pot.
- Reduce the heat to medium and stir the onion into the pot with a light shower of salt.
- Cook the onion until it softens, add the flour and stir it into the onion for a minute. Do not let it brown.
- Add the stock and herbes salees, bring the liquid to a boil, then add the chicken and simmer until almost tender, usually 10-15 minutes.
- Add the potatoes and keep cooking the fricot until they are done to your liking, for something like 20 minutes.
- Check for salt (you may not need it) and pepper (be generous), then serve the fricot, preferably with pates (see the Notes)
- A frugal Acadian would have used water rather than stock, and of course would have cut up a whole chicken. We like the added flavor of the stock and the more forgiving texture of the thighs
- A Taste of Acadie was co-written by Marielle Cormier-Boudreau and Melvin Gallant. It was first published, in French, in 1978 as La Cuisine traditionnelle en Acadie. The English translation, printed in Fredericton, New Brunswick, did not appear until 1991. The britishfoodinamerica recipes for fricot are derived from this practical, engaging and even moving book with an excellent introduction to the foodways of colonial Acadie.
- A Taste of Acadie includes recipes for ten different fricots, including a cod chaude similar to chowder, and four variations on the basic method. One of the few that does not use the traditional herbes salées is, ironically, their chicken fricot, which is flavored with summer savory instead. We substituted the salt herbs to experience the bedrock flavor of Acadie.
- Our recipe for herbes salées appears elsewhere in the practical.
- Pates, or dumplings, were an almost universal addition to any fricot, and Acadians made them with grated potato as well as flour. These dumplings lack the shortening characteristic of their British counterparts, a reflection of their frugal creators. They are simple to make and cook quickly in the fricot.
- To make Basic dumplings, in Acadia variously called pates, poutiness, poutiness blanches or grand-peres, whisk ! Tablespoon of baking powder and ½ teaspoon of salt into a cup of flour, then dribble ½ cup cold water into the mixture for an elastic consistency. Drop servingspoonfuls of the pates into the fricot, cover the pot and simmer them in the fricot for 7 minutes.
- To make Potato dumplings, or poutines rapées, grate as much peeled raw potato as you need and squeeze it dry. Note how much liquid that the gratings yielded, season them with salt and pepper, then pour about the same amount of boiling water into the potato as you extracted. Mix the water with the potato and drop servingspoonfuls of the dough into the fricot, cover the pot and simmer until done; they will take longer than their floury counterparts.
- Grated potatoes feature in two Acadian mainstays, rappie pie and another kind of potato dumpling stuffed with salt pork. Arnaud Michaud considers rappie pie a survival food like ploys, but he and we consider it good enough for any table at all, especially in the colder months. Recipes for rappie pie and stuffed potato dumplings also appear in the practical.
- Back to fricot, the method for ingredients other than chicken is much the same or, in the case of beef, virtually identical.. To make a beef fricot, simply cut 2 pounds of fatty beef (chuck is good) into hefty chunks and brown them. Follow the instructions for chicken fricot but with twice the amount of onion and cook it until golden. It will take longer to cook the beef until tender at Step 4.
- To make duck fricot, you need not brown the bird or wilt the onion. Cut it into serving pieces, add all the other ingredients except for the potatoes and simmer the fricot for about an hour and a half to two hours, then add the potatoes and simmer until they are ready, usually in about 20 minutes.
- Clam fricot is considerably less interesting than Rhode Island (clear) chowder, so we have dispensed with it. Trout fricot, most closely associated with eastern New Brunswick according to A Taste of Acadie is, however, easy and interesting; most definitely worth adding to your repertoire:
Trout fricot. The original recipe from A Taste of Acadie somewhat incongruously calls for ‘10 small trout, cleaned’ and does not disclose how many diners it will feed, but judged by the amount of potato in the recipe, our best guess is four servings. The sequence of cooking potato and protein is, logically enough, reversed from other fricots.
-¼ cup diced salt pork
-a big sliced onion
-2 quarts of water
-about 3 cups of peeled and diced potato
-2 Tablespoons herbes salées
-4 whole gutted rainbow trout
-pepper--and perhaps salt, if needed
- Fry the salt pork over medium low heat in a big heavy pot until golden.
- Add the onion slices to the pot, increase the heat to medium and cook until they soften.
- Add everything but the trout and simmer the broth until the potatoes are very nearly done.
- Poach the trout for as little as 5 and no more than 10 minutes, then serve it with the potatoes and a little of the broth.
- Poaching fish other than salmon is not in fashion, but trout fricot is not unlike a northern version of the seventeenth century Anglo-Dutch water souchie and nineteenth century Louisiana court-boullion (always pronounced ‘cobion’) adapted, as they are, to local conditions. And of course four fillets with their skin to hold them together make an excellent Salmon fricot following precisely the same instructions.
- According to A Taste of Acadie, which we have no reason to doubt, eel, herring, mackerel and smelt fricts also remain popular in northeastern New Brunswick, or at least did as recently as 1991.
- Finally, as the Editor has noted elsewhere, there is the brilliantly named if less than thrilling to taste Weasel fricot. If ever there was a survival food , this is it, simply a fricot without any meat or fish. The name itself has a number of origin myths; our favorite is the one offered by
Catch me if you can.
A Taste of Acadie, based on the notion that the crafty weasel ‘went right on by’ and escaped the pot. It also is called nincompoop fricot (bezette, or nincompoop, sounds a lot like belette, or weasel in Acadian French), presumably noy only for the wordplay but also because the cook was sufficiently stupid to forget the meat. Other more prosaic names for the same thing include butter, potato and salted herb fricot. By whatever name, it was usually accompanied by thickly sliced bread spread with butter and molasses to provide some heft; somewhat better than it sounds.