Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Details Make the Dish





Monday Morning Post


Getting a meal on the table in today's fast paced world is a lot different than in grandma's day when soups and stews that simmered for hours were the back bone of daily cuisine.

In our search for quick, we've come to think volume of food instead of complexity of taste. Volume never satisfies hunger. It's the complexity of taste that satiates the palate. Complexity of taste is the romance of old fashioned cooking.

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Marvelous Old Fashioned Chicken Fricassee

This recipe is long but it's easy so don't get scared away.
It's long because I give you a lot of detail.

It doesn't take much time to make but save it for a Saturday night supper or Sunday dinner (is there still such as thing?) when you don't feel rushed.
The details should not be hurried or glossed over.
It's the detail that makes the dish.

Here's what I mean:
The chicken pieces, for example, are frequently turned as they cook to baste them in their warm butter bath. Skip the turning and your chicken will still taste good but the complexity of flavor will be missing.

Reducing the sauce instead of thickening it with cornstarch or flour is another example.
By evaporating the water, you're creating a concentration of flavor waiting to explode on the tongue. The bit of cream or evaporated milk that is added to the reduced sauce collects all the flavors and binds them together. Marvelous!

Don't be tempted, by the way, to call this chicken stew.
The term stew means the chicken has been cooked in liquid from the beginning.
Fricassee (pronounced frick-ca-sea) means the chicken has been sauted in butter before the liquid is added yielding a more complex taste.
Stew is good but fricassee is better.

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Serves 4 to 6
Pan size not important but a deep, 12 inch skillet or pot with a lid works best
Serve over cooked rice or noodles
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2 1/2 to 3 pounds chicken thighs or breasts (see Karla's tip 1 below)
1 carrot (about 6 inches long - peeled)
1 stalk celery (about 8 inches long - strings removed see Karla's tip 2 below)
1 small to medium onion
8 tablespoons butter (divided)
3 tablespoon all purpose flour
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup medium sweet white wine (like Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Viognier or a blend)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves (or 2 tablespoons dried)
1 small bay leaf
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1/4 teaspoon dried)
1/2 cup heavy cream, light cream or evaporated milk
1 (2 oz) jar chopped pimentos (drained) or 1/2 a fire roasted pepper, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
8 oz white mushrooms
1/3 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Wash chicken well under tepid running water. Drain. Dry with paper towels.

Finely chop carrot, celery and onion. Melt 4 tablespoons butter in pan. Add the chopped vegetables. Cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, over low heat till slightly soft - about 5 minutes. Do not brown.

Push vegetables to the side of the pan. Raise temperature to medium. Add chicken, skin side down. Cook, uncovered and turning the pieces every 3 or 4 minutes, until chicken has firmed slightly and is an opaque white - about 12 minutes. Tongs work well for turning. Also 2 spoons, on in each hand. Do not pierce chicken with a fork to turn. You'll loose the juice.

After chicken has firmed, reduce heat to low, cover pan and cook 10 minutes more.

Remove lid. Sprinkle 1/2 the flour over the chicken. Turn the pieces. Sprinkle the remaining flour over the chicken and turn pieces again. Replace cover. Cook 5 minutes more turning pieces once.

Heat stock to boiling and pour over chicken. Add wine and herbs. Replace cover. Simmer until chicken is cooked - about 30 minutes.

While chicken is cooking, wash mushrooms and drain. Cut mushrooms in half or, if large, in quarters. Put water, 1/4 teaspoon salt, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons butter into a small skillet. Bring to a boil on high. Add mushrooms. Partially cover pan and cook on high till mushrooms have release their juice and are soft - about 5 minutes. Set aside.

When chicken is done, remove it to a serving platter with sides and keep warm.

Drain the mushroom cooking broth into the chicken broth. Bring mixture to a boil over high heat and let it boil until it's reduced to about 2 cups.

Whisk in cream or milk, drained pimentos and cooked mushrooms. Continue reducing sauce, if desired, until it becomes the thickness you like. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour sauce over chicken and serve.


Karla's tip 1:
Use thighs or breasts but, for even cooking, not at the same time.

Karla's tip 2:
Break the stalk in half. You'll see the strings because they will prevent the stalk from completely breaking. Grab the strings with your fingers and pull them down the length of the stalk to remove. Discard.

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