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discussion & revival
of British foodways.

NO.53
SUMMER2017

A minimalist ancestral chicken fricassee

This is how the dish appeared at table in rural Massachusetts midway through the twentieth century. It helps to have a friend to help you ready this simple preparation, but it is not difficult to sail this boat single-handed.


Brooding Hen with Eggs-a decent chicken
-a peeled carrot (optional)
-a rib of celery with leaves
-a peeled onion, split (optional)
-a bay leaf (optional)
-water
-salt and white pepper
-3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
-4 Tablespoons flour
-½ cup heavy cream (optional)
-2 Tablespoons lemon juice (optional)
-2 Tablespoons minced parsley (optional)


  1. Put the chicken, vegetables, bay and a little salt into a pot that holds them snugly, fill it with enough water barely to cover the bird, bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat so that the dish barely simmers, and cover it.
  2. Simmer the chicken until the meat is easy to pull away from the carcass, usually just under an hour.
  3. Remove the chicken from the pot, remove the skin from the chicken and pull all the meat from the carcass (or ask a friend to strip it while you make the sauce). Moisten it with a little of its stock, cover it and keep it warm in an extremely low oven (you do not want to dry it out).
  4. Meanwhile, throw away the vegetables and bay, then skim and strain the stock.
  5. Boil the stock down to 2 cups.
  6. Melt the butter over medium heat in a pot big enough to hold the stock reduction, whisk in the flour and then slowly stir 1 ½ cups of the warm stock into the roux.
  7. Add the cream and more of the stock if needed to thin the liquid to the consistency you prefer, season with salt and white pepper, and then whisk the lemon juice into the sauce. Do not let the sauce boil or the lemon will curdle it.
  8. Mix the sauce with the pulled chicken, add the parsley and serve with mashed potatoes, rice or, for a seventeenth (and nineteenth) century touch, toast. But that tradition is not New England’s.


Notes:

- Older New England recipes have tended to simplify their English antecedents; this one is a typical example. The Editor’s mother deletes all of the optional ingredients and her fricassee is delicious.

- If you want to emulate the Fanny Farmer, then cut the chicken into serving pieces before simmering it for about 40 minutes; you will not want the chicken as well done as in the ancestral version. Pat the cooked chicken pieces dry, dust them with seasoned flour and brown them in lard or butter over medium high heat. Then follow steps 4-8 and serve the sauce with the chicken.

- There is nothing wrong with adding herbs and spice, or for that matter a couple of anchovies at step 1, to this fricassee; they are traditional in Britain and, other than the anchovies, the American south. None are included because they do not reflect the Editor’s experience of New England. A heaped teaspoon of dried thyme is a good addition to the stock at step 1; a pinch of mace to the sauce with the flour at step 6.

- The earlier Fanny Farmer is entitled The Original 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cookbook (Boston 1918) by Fanny Merit Farmer; the centennial edition cited is called The Fanny Farmer Cookbook (New York 1996) by Marion Cunningham, who updated, expanded and reformatted the original text.

- In The Gift of Southern Cooking (New York 2003), Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock use a slightly different technique to achieve a spectacular result with Grandma Peacock’s Chicken and Rice. Instead of adding thickeners, they cook rice in the pot with the chicken. Their version produces something like a savory rice pudding with a concentrated chicken flavor. It is among our favorite recipes.


-a chicken cut into 10 pieces as for bfia fricassee
-good coarse salt
-2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
-a rib of celery with leaves
-a small peeled onion
-5 cups water
-1 ½ cups short grain rice


  1. Make sure the chicken is dry and season it heavily with the salt.
  2. Melt the butter over medium low heat in a pot big enough to hold it comfortably in a single layer until it “becomes frothy but not brown.” (Gift 94)
  3. Toss the chicken in the hot butter and cook slowly until it turns a pale gold all over.
  4. Add the celery and onion, tightly cover the pot and reduce the heat to the lowest possible level (use a flame retarder if you do not have a low flame function on your stove) to cook the chicken for 20 minutes.
  5. Add the water to the pot, partially cover it and cook the chicken for another 35 minutes.
  6. Throw away the celery and onion, check the seasoning to ensure that the stock is a little salty (the rice will need it).
  7. Stir the rice into the chicken, cover the pot tightly again this time and cook for about another 30-45 minutes or until the dish is a little soupy but not thin.
  8. Cover the pot, turn off the heat and wait 10 minutes before serving the chicken and rice.