Chicken fricassee became popular with frugal Southern cooks during the Depression because it stretched a single chicken to serve a family of four to six. Further, if the chicken happened to be a little tough, it didn't matter because the long simmering process made the meat fork-tender.
As the chicken cooked, it developed a rich brown gravy flavored by the chicken bone marrow that leached out into the bubbling stew. It is the taste of the full-bodied gravy that distinguishes chicken fricassee, and in more recent years, the dish has become more commonly known as chicken and brown gravy or stewed chicken.
Though I say chicken fricassee might be more commonly known by another name today, it might be a dish totally unfamiliar to young people. Gravy-based recipes aren't fashionable in our health-conscious cookbooks and kitchens, and when a host recently served chicken fricassee to a group of young people, they said they had never heard of the dish nor tasted it before then.
After the meal, all the cooks in the group wanted the recipe.
Chicken fricassee was traditionally prepared from a stewing hen that would be floured and fried in butter to achieve the brown color desired for the gravy.
The recipe tester for this dish, my husband, had tasted the traditional fricassee many times because both his mother and grandmother made the dish often when he was growing up. He decided to try substituting a few easier-to-use and perhaps more healthful ingredients in the preparation to discover if the rich taste of the old classic could still be reproduced.
1 large chicken, cut up
1 cup cooking oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 1/2 quarts water
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped green onion tops
Dredge chicken in flour and brown in hot oil. Remove chicken and brown onions in oil.
Return chicken to pot and add about 1 1/2 quarts water and seasoning. Cover and cook until chicken is tender, stirring to be sure it does not stick. The gravy should be thick. Ten minutes before serving, add 1 tablespoon each of chopped parsley and chopped onion tops. Serve over cooked rice.
Serves 4 to 6.
- Recipe adapted from "Talk About Good!" published by The Junior League of Lafayette, La.
4 chicken thighs
4 chicken drumsticks
2 chicken breast halves
Salt and black pepper to season chicken
1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups chopped onions
5 cloves garlic, finely minced
3/4 cup chopped celery, also include celery leaves if possible
4 to 5 cups water
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crumbled
1/8 teaspoon red pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup red wine
1 1/2 bunches of green onions, chopped, including tops, reserve
1 tablespoon chopped green onion tops for garnish
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided
Cooked brown or white rice for 6
Liberally salt and pepper chicken pieces.
Heat olive oil on medium-high in a large Dutch oven-type pot or two heavy skillets if you don't have one pot big enough. It's important when browning the chicken not to crowd the chicken pieces. You have to have plenty of room for the chicken to sear and brown on all sides and not steam cook in this step. Go for a dark golden brown crust on the skin.
Remove the browned chicken from the hot oil and add in the flour and stir to make a medium-brown roux. Next, stir the onions (not the green ones), garlic and celery into the roux and cook until everything is softened and caramelized with a nice covering of roux.
Return chicken to the pot with the roux and vegetables and pour in 4 to 5 cups water. Add seasoning - the thyme, red pepper and salt. Stir everything until the gravy is starting to thicken. Reduce heat to low and stir in red wine.
Simmer, covered, for about 2 1/2 hours. Check occasionally to make sure the gravy is developing. Add more liquid if needed, but it shouldn't be necessary.
Stir in almost all the chopped green onions and 1/2 cup of the chopped parsley and simmer covered for an additional 30 minutes.
Check for seasoning. Serve over cooked rice. Garnish each serving with a sprinkle of chopped green onion and chopped parsley.
Testing note: You could prep the dish in a Dutch oven or cast-iron skillet and then simmer the gravy in a slow cooker so you don't have to keep watch while it cooks down. Also, you might prefer omitting the red pepper if you like a milder gravy.