Fricassee is a dish where meat is cut up, braised, and served traditionally with a white sauce. Several cookbooks describe fricassee simply as a French stew with a white sauce; however, Julia Child more accurately described it as “halfway between a sauté and a stew” in her seminal book Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The distinction being that stew includes liquid from the beginning and that a saute has no added liquids, while in a fricassee, the cut meat is sauteed first but not browned, then a liquid is added with the simmer used to finish.
A classical interpretation of this recipe requires that any meat or vegetables used remain free of caramelization. However, modern versions of the recipe thoroughly brown the meat before braising. The general description of fricassee dates back to medieval France circa 1300. Whether following a classic or modern style, virtually all kinds of fish, meat, poultry, and vegetables are used in this dish.
A cool footnote for your inner Cliff Clavin: in Francois Rysavy’s 1972 book A Treasury of White House Cooking, it is noted that one of Abraham Lincoln’s favorite dishes was chicken fricassee. None of the three aforementioned have ever been in our kitchen as well!
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