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Seventeenth-century fricassees

There were quite a few of them, more than a dozen in Rebecca Price’s Compleat Cook from 1681 alone. Mrs. Price was a good writer, and her recipes require little modernization, as this one for ‘A ffricasy of chickins’ demonstrates:

“After you have drawn and washed your chickins, halfe boyle them then take them up and cut them in pieces, put them into 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 whitewine, some grated nutmeg, a little pepper and salt, a bunch of sweet herbs, a shallot or two, let these with two or three anchovies stew on a slow fire and boil up, then beat it up with butter and yolks of eggs till ’tis thike, and put your chickin in and toss them well together, dish it on sippets, and garnish with sliced Lemon and fryed parsley.”


- There is nothing at all jarring about this recipe despite the archaic usage; it is an ‘original’ dish to serve guests.

- It is not necessary to ‘half-boil’ the chicken before browning it; our chickens, with the exception of some older free rangers, are more tender and fatty than the ones that ran about in Mrs. Price’s yard. The browned chicken should take about 40 minutes to simmer.

- The use of anchovies to flavor the stock is characteristically English. They dissolve to give the dish a subtle tang that is not at all ‘fishy.’ Nobody will know you included them in the fricassee.

- ‘Sippets’ are small pieces of fried bread, or latterly toast.

- If you are wary about the use of egg yolks out of concern over either cholesterol or curdling, substitute about a Tablespoon each of flour and soft (but not melted) butter mashed together. Whisk the mash with some of the hot stock in a small bowl before slowly introducing it to your fricassee.

- Traditional fricassees, particularly in the American south, frequently are cooked until the meat of the chicken falls off its bones. As long as you simmer the dish slowly, the texture of chicken cooked this way is tender rather than stringy.

- Mrs. Price thickens some of her fricassees with “3 or 4 spoonfuls” of cream along with the yolks and wine, which are added later in the cooking process (once the chicken has finished its simmer) and followed with a knob of butter.

- It should be no surprise that mace also appears in fricassee recipes recorded by Mrs. Price.