Much of my inspiration for this column comes from the foods I'm currently preparing in my own home kitchen. Quirky as it may sound, much of what I prepare at home is more often than not dictated by the weather. And then there are other idiosyncrasies.
Like most folks, I'm particularly fond of food cooked on a grill, but the thought of eating barbecue on a gray day in February is almost as unthinkable as having chopped raw garlic on top of my morning bowl of oatmeal. It's just not right. What is right are those wonderful thick soups, hearty stews, and all of that other stick-to-the-ribs fare that would be equally out of place on a hot sunny day in August.
But here we are in the dreary month of February, the month in which our esteemed 16th president was born. So, apart from the weather, but just as idiosyncratic, I can think of nothing more appropriate than a delicious, smooth and creamy chicken fricassee. This great old-fashioned dish was Abraham Lincoln's number one favorite. He requested it be served every Sunday at the White House.
Technically, a fricassee is considered a white stew in which the chicken is sauteed without browning. This is called a white saute and takes a considerable amount of care to keep the chicken pieces from sticking to the pan. I prefer the appearance of this classic dish when the chicken has been browned. And I also like to add some sliced mushrooms that have been sauteed in butter. Worthy of a president and just the thing for a gray day in February.
1 chicken (4-5 pounds), cut in 8 pieces
8 tablespoons (1/4 pound) whole butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, sliced thin
2 ribs celery, sliced
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
1 bay leaf
4 tablespoons flour
1 half-pint whipping cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Pat the chicken pieces with a paper towel.
Heat 4 tablespoons butter with the oil in a large Dutch oven or casserole.
Lightly brown the chicken on all sides.
Add boiling water to just cover the chicken pieces.
Add the onion, carrot, celery and bay leaf.
Cover the pot and simmer until the chicken is tender (45 minutes to 1 hour).
Remove the chicken to a platter with a slotted spoon and keep it warm.
Strain the broth into another pot and skim off the surface fat.
Bring the broth to a boil and let it reduce to 1 1/2 cups.
Melt the remaining butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour to make a light roux.
Cook the roux for 2-3 minutes, turn off the heat and let it set for 5 minutes.
Slowly add the hot stock and, stirring constantly, simmer for 4-5 minutes.
Add the cream and simmer until the sauce begins to thicken.
Add the lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.
Pour over the chicken.
Serve with buttered noodles or steamed white rice.