What do you serve when you have invited 20 people over for a birthday dinner? Chicken Fricassee is my answer. A lot of the preparation can be done in advance and it also doesn’t matter very much if in the final stages the Fricassee gets an extra 10 minutes on a slow heat.
French Cuisine knows many ways to prepare chicken. Roasting, baking or frying all involve cooking a chicken in fat like butter or oil. If there is any liquid added it is done at the end of the cooking time. Another way of preparing chicken is poaching or stewing and this means chicken is cooked in liquid like stock or wine. Finally braised chicken, or Fricassee as the French call this dish, fits into the middle of roasting and stewing. The chicken is first fried in butter or oil. Then a liquid is added to finalize the cooking. A fricassee can be dark like a Coq au Vin where the chicken is cooked in red wine. But this Fricassee is of a light color because of the use of white wine and cream. It sets a nice background for the fresh colours of the spring vegetables. It is a great dish that is easy to prepare. I’ve had many successes with it and so will you.
With a creamy fricassee like this you have several options for the wine. The cream in the sauce is the main ingredient to keep in mind when I am deciding on what wine to serve. A classic choice would be to serve a well-structured white Burgundy or a Graves with this dish. And since you only need a small glass of wine for the cooking I would splurge and use the same wine for the preparation of the Fricassee. But when I am in a more experimental mood I could serve a red wine with this Fricassee. My personal choice would be an elegant medium bodied Bordeaux from our cellar that has aged 5 to 6 years. The tannins need to have become supple and balanced to pair with the creamy sauce. A Pomerol or Lalande de Pomerol would be my choice because it will offer me the earthy and cherry tones from the Merlot grapes I’m looking for.
Lalande de Pomerol is a small appellation located just north of St. Emilion on the so-called Right Bank of the Bordeaux vineyards. Close to 200 different chateaux produce wine here with an emphasis on Merlot and Cabernet Franc. What attracts me about the Lalande de Pomerol is that, because it is not as prestigious as it’s more famous brother Pomerol, the wines are in general more affordable. Especially in great vintages like 2009, 2010 and a recent 2015 Lalande de Pomerol offers some great value for money.
Fricassee de poulet et petites legumes de printemps
1500 grams of chicken (breast meat cut into cubes of 4cm)
4 small onions diced
250 grams mushrooms sliced
400 grams of carrots finely diced
250 grams fresh green peas shelled
3 stalks of celery sliced
4 tablespoons of butter
a glass of white wine
250 ml crème fraiche or double creme
Salt and pepper
In a Dutch oven melt 3 table spoons of butter and add the chicken cubes. Gently stir and brown the chicken over a slow heat for 5 minutes until all the pieces get some color on all sides. Take the chicken out of the pan and set aside. Turn the heat up and add the onions and mushrooms to the remaining butter in the Dutch oven and fry for 5 minutes. Add the chicken back to the pan and pour in a small glass of white wine. Season with a good pinch of salt. Stir in the cream and mix everything together.
Up to this step you can prepare this dish a day in advance. In that case transfer the fricassee to a clean bowl, let it cool and keep it covered in the refrigerator until the next day.
Otherwise continue heating with the lid off the pan and let the chicken cook through in about 5 minutes on a gentle heat. Just before you are ready to serve, add salt and pepper to taste and stir in the finely chopped parsley.
The spring vegetables are best if they are cooked at the last minute. That way they will keep their bright fresh colors. But you can do all the prepping and cutting up to a day earlier to save time when your guests have arrived. Cut the carrots in small cubes and celery in slices. Melt a tablespoon of butter over a small heat in a skillet or Dutch oven and add the carrots and celery cubes. Stir so all the vegetables are covered with butter and put a lid on the pan. Let the vegetables simmer for about 5 minutes on a slow heat. You don’t want the vegetables to fry so keep the heat low. After 5 minutes add the peas, a pinch of salt, and a splash of white wine. Put the lid back on the pan and let the vegetables simmer for another 5 minutes until just tender.
Serve the Fricassee de poulet with the spring vegetables on the side on a bed of steamed rice or pasta. You can garnish with some more parsley.