Some experts say that food isn’t love, but I disagree. The glorious memories I have of my mother’s chicken fricassee have everything to do with love. This dish of hers was beyond delicious, it showed she cared. We were brought up to believe that the wings were the best, most precious part of the chicken and here was this wonderful meal, basically all chicken wings. It couldn’t get better than that.
Except that my mother added meatballs, which my father loved, and potatoes, which we all thought was one of earth’s greatest treasures. Gizzards – a leftover add-on from the days when inexpensive filler foods stretched a meal for big families — sure, we ate them too, respecting tradition, loving their chewy goodness.
Chicken fricassee was one of the premier family foods of my childhood. I loved it.
After I married and had children, I made it for my family. My kids hated it. What’s more, anytime I cooked braised chicken of any sort they called it fricassee and made snarky remarks about it.
That’s basically what chicken fricassee is – braised chicken. Although, technically speaking, in a true fricassee there’s no pre-browning, but who really cares?
My mother made it old-fashioned, Ashkenazi Jewish style, with paprika, schmaltz and onions, but the method is simple, no matter what you include: Brown the ingredients, then simmer them slowly with liquid and seasonings.
The recipe is amazingly forgiving. You can avoid the centuries-old argument about whether braising is best done on the stovetop or in a slow oven – either will do. You can use wings, as my mom did, or other parts; leave out the meatballs or gizzards if you like; add vegetables such as potato, carrots, mushrooms and peas. My mother did all that, depending on what she had in the house.
You can also cook chicken fricassee in advance. I make a big batch on Sunday and break it into freezer portions. When I need a ready-meal I’ve got one!
Fortunately for me, tastes often change over the years. My kids now like the dish, and the grandkids actually ask for it. So, chicken fricassee is back on the menu for my family! Just the way my mother made it (except for the schmaltz).
16-20 oz. chopped beef, veal, turkey or a combination
1/2 cup plain dry bread crumbs or matzah meal
1 large egg
2 Tbsp vegetable oil (or melted chicken fat)
12-15 chicken wings, cut into sections
1 lb chicken gizzards
3 medium onions, sliced
1 Tbsp paprika, approximately
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups water, approximately
4 medium all purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into small chunks, optional
4 carrots, cut into chunks, optional
10 oz coarsely cut mushrooms, optional
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a large bowl, combine the chopped meat, bread crumbs and egg, and mix thoroughly. Shape the meat mixture into 1-1/2 inch balls and place them on a large baking sheet.
Bake the meatballs for 16-18 minutes, turning them occasionally, or until lightly browned on all sides. Remove the meatballs from the oven and set aside.
Reduce the oven heat to 300 degrees. Pour the vegetable oil into a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the wings a few at a time and cook them for 6-8 minutes, turning them occasionally, or until lightly browned. Remove the wings from the pan and set aside.
Add the gizzards to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4-5 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove the gizzards from the pan and set aside.
Add the onions to the pan and cook them, stirring occasionally, for 6-8 minutes or until lightly browned and softened.
Using the same pan (if large enough) or an ovenproof casserole, return the meatballs, wings and gizzards to the pan.
Spoon some of the onions on top of the meats. Sprinkle the ingredients with the paprika, salt and pepper. You might have to use layers, depending on the size of the pan; if so, season each layer before adding the next.
Pour in 2 cups water. Either cover the casserole and bake the fricassee for 45 minutes OR turn the cooktop heat to low, cover the pan and cook on the stovetop for 45 minutes. Add the optional ingredients if desired, cover the pan and cook an additional 50-60 minutes, or until the meats and vegetables are tender. Check the pan occasionally and turn the ingredients gently if the ones on top seem dry. Check fluid levels and add more water if needed.
Pronounced: AHSH-ken-AH-zee, Origin: Hebrew, Jews of Central and Eastern European origin.