Chicken fricassee in its various incarnations is homey comfort food, a bird slowly cooked in gravy or white sauce. Modern recipes are often designed for quick and efficient cooking, using boneless chicken breasts and condensed cream of chicken soup. More traditional versions use a stewing hen, slow-cooked until tender. The cooking time may be long, but the prep time is short, so it's a good family-pleasing meal for busy moms to prepare.
Etymology and Method
The term fricassee derives from the French words for fried and broken. This describes the first step in making fricassee, which is browning a cut-up chicken in a pan with onions. Once the chicken is browned, simmer it until tender and thicken the sauce. It's simple enough to do, though as always there are details to be considered.
Stewing Hens vs. Broilers
Traditional recipes assumed a tough, mature chicken. Stewing hens can be had inexpensively at farmer's markets and some other locations, and they make a wonderful fricassee. They require long, slow cooking to become tender, but have a rich, robust flavor. You can use a broiler from the supermarket just as easily, which is already tender and requires a shorter cooking time. Save on prep time by asking your butcher to cut up the chicken into serving pieces for you.
Fricassee is commonly cooked on the stove top, and occasionally in a covered baking dish, but a slow cooker is ideal for busy households. After initially browning the chicken, you can fill the slow cooker with chicken pieces and broth, and get on with your day while the bird cooks unattended. At dinnertime, you'll only need to thicken the sauce and prepare your side dishes. As a bonus, your house will smell wonderful all afternoon.
Chicken fricassee works well with any side dishes you choose to prepare. Boiled or mashed potatoes, rice or egg noodles are all good choices, so feel free to use whichever of them your family prefers. Small new potatoes are especially good, when they're available. Serve the fricassee with steamed vegetables or a crisp salad with creamy dressing, to round out the meal. Fricassee recipes almost all call for bone-in chicken, because it retains the most flavor and nutrition. If you have little ones who aren't able to handle the pieces easily, debone theirs at the counter while you're making up the plates.