Anticipation (Chicken Fricassée)

Today is my 32nd birthday. Barring significant medical advancements or major catastrophe, I’ve only got one more power-of-two birthday left. I’ve seen 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, and now 32. I expect I’ll see 64, but I’m not holding my breath for 128. These are the things I think of in the wee hours of the morning…

Anticipation - pot holder on saute pan

Chicken, when done properly, is a deceptively simple kitchen pleasure. It is said that a whole roast chicken is the true measure of a cook, where all complication of garnish, pairings, and the like are stripped away – the final product showing the cook’s ability and attention (or inattention) to detail in all its plain glory.

At the other extreme, chicken is a vehicle for flavor, delivering its own texture characteristics but melding into the background. Consider many chinese dishes (by this, I mean Americanized chinese dishes, like Kung Pao chicken, General Tso’s chicken – mmm… – and the like) or cajun fare (chicken étoufée, gumbo, jambalaya) – it’s hard to imagine any less assertive flavor in a dish.

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Somewhere in the middle lie sautées and fricassées. Break a chicken into parts, brown it in a pan, and finish cooking in a simple pan sauce. There are some important technical distinctions – in a sauté, the chicken is removed from the pan and the juices reduced and thickened into a sauce, while in a proper fricassée, a little flour is to the meat before adding liquid so the sauce forms in the pan as it cooks – but these aren’t such involved or technical dishes as to mask the chicken itself.

It’s not a bad weeknight meal – this isn’t 30 minute start-to-finish cooking, but with a couple of quick sides it’s a nice way to wrap up a day. It shows off some sophistication and skill without being extravagant.

Here’s how it’s done:
    •    Break a chicken into parts. I took this bird into quarters (boneless breasts, bone-in thighs and legs) which was generous, can go to six (split legs and thighs) or eight (cut the breasts in half) depending on the audience.
    •    In a hot, wide sauté pan, brown the chicken on both sides in a little oil until golden. If you can’t do this in one go without overcrowding the pan, do it in batches.
    •    With the chicken out, throw in a couple of handfuls of chopped onion and some whole, peeled garlic cloves. Leaving the garlic whole brings more of its mellow sweetness than sharp bite to the party. As the onion softens and becomes translucent, throw in equal parts white wine and chicken stock (about 1/4 cup each, maybe 1/2 cup each) and deglaze. Scrape up all those brown bits of goodness on the bottom of the pot.
    •    Put the chicken back in the pan – it’s okay if it’s a bit crowded now – and cover. Pop it into a preheated 375F oven for about half an hour, or until the instant read thermometer you test with tells you that it’s done.
    •    Meanwhile, cook up a couple of sides – I was able to get some rice cooked during that time – and plate and serve. Enjoy!

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Note that I didn’t really do anything to thicken the sauce – having the thinner pan juices as-is mix in with the rice on the plate was just fine by me. If you want to be proper, though, either stir in a tablespoon of flour after the onions are sautéed before adding the wine and stock, or let the thicken rest and reduce/thicken the juices. (Skim off the fat, bring to a boil, and thicken with some sort of starch, such as a cornstarch slurry or a beurre manié. But that’s something for another post.)