With the arrival of the snowstorm of all snowstorms around these parts, there were a few things aside from shoveling that I could do to take my mind off being housebound for the better part of 48 hours. One of those diversions was logging some hours in my kitchen, and under these circumstances preparing a dish that is warming and hearty.
Soups, stews, and big one-pot dishes are great to have on hand for the cold winter months. One recipe I like to prepare is a fricassee, an older cooking term that describes the dish as well as the cooking method.
A fricassee generally consists of meat, vegetables, and a broth, initially sautéed for browning, then slowly braised, and finally reassembled to form a thick, rich stew-like meal.
In this recipe I used chicken thighs as the meat, a cultivated and wild mushroom mix as the main vegetable, a quickly prepared broth made with parmesan rinds and ladled it over Riso di Polenta.
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A few cooking notes:
For salting I used a seasoned salt mix that I like to use from time to time on hearty dishes such as this. It is more like a dry rub than a straight salt and consists of the following ingredients:
4 tablespoons fine sea salt
4 teaspoons Pimentón
4 teaspoons garlic powder
4 teaspoons ramp or onion powder
2 teaspoons turmeric
Other meat options are turkey thighs or rabbit hind legs as both would pair nicely with the mushroom mix.
In this recipe, the mushroom mix consisted of 1 pound of cultivated mushrooms (D’Artagnan offers a nice package of 4 cultivated mushrooms), and the ½ cup of dried wild mushrooms (Earthy Delights offers a 1-pound package, Melange de la Foret, a mix of six different wild mushrooms).
For the quick parmesan broth I prepared the following: in a stock pot combine 12 cups of water, 1 cup of parmesan rinds (found in the cheese department of most grocery stores), 1 carrot, 1 celery stalk, 1 onion halved, generous handful of parsley stems, and a pinch of sea salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook uncovered until the vegetables are soft and sink to the bottom. Cool, strain and reserve.
Take 4 to 5 cups of the strained broth and warm in a saucepan. To that, add any trim or stem cuttings from the fresh mushrooms and the ½ cup of dried wild mushrooms. Gently simmer to reconstitute the dried mushrooms and intensify the flavor of the broth to use later in the preparation of the fricassee. Separate the mushroom trim from the wild mushrooms, discarding the trim and setting aside the wild, cutting any large pieces in half.
Polenta di Riso is the rice-based equivalent of the polenta porridge made from corn. It essentially dates back to sixteenth-century Italy, and is found in the Po Valley where rice is the principal staple crop. Anson Mills packages beautiful rice and corn products and I simply chose to use the Riso in lieu of plain rice or corn polenta as the base on which to serve the fricassee. However, white rice, brown rice, wild rice, farro, grits, and/or corn polenta are all good options—as well as some small dried pasta shapes—to serve with this dish.
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6 bone-in chicken thighs
1 large onion small dice
Soffritto (1 carrot, 1 large celery stalk, 1 to 2 fennel stalks, 2 to 3 garlic cloves)
1 pound of fresh cultivated mushrooms, trimmed and halved if large
½ cup dried wild mushrooms
2 tablespoons tomato paste
¼ teaspoon dried chili flakes (Aleppo or other) or more to taste
2 bay leaves
2 to 3 thyme sprigs
½ cup dry white wine or white vermouth
4 cups of the prepared broth
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Minced parsley to garnish
Heat 4 to 5 tablespoons of olive oil in a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. If using the seasoning salt, sprinkle over the chicken thighs along with a generous sprinkling of pepper, or if not, simply use fine sea salt.
When the oil is hot but not smoking, sauté the chicken thighs in batches skin-side down until lightly browned. Turn the thighs over and sauté for a few minutes longer to gain a little color, remove from the pot and set aside.
Rough chop the carrot, celery, fennel, and garlic and then add to a work bowl of a food processor and spin to a fine dice. Set aside.
Deglaze the pot with the wine, scraping up all the crispy pieces left from the sauté, and reduce the liquid by more than half. Next add the diced onion and sauté until it begins to soften and take on a little color. To that add the soffritto mix, stirring to combine, cooking down until the soffritto base softens and takes on more color.
To that add the tomato paste and thoroughly mix it in to combine with the soffritto, along with the bay leaves and thyme sprigs.
Place the browned chicken thighs back into the pot atop the soffritto, along with any juices which have accumulated on the platter. Scatter the mushrooms, both the fresh and the reconstituted wild, over the chicken and pour 4 cups of the stock over all. Note: if after simmering the mushrooms in the parmesan stock the yield is not a full 4 cups of liquid, simply top off with some of the remaining parmesan stock from the original batch. If making the parmesan stock seems like too much work then either use a good store bought low-sodium chicken stock, or plain water, following the directions noted earlier for the mushroom stock preparation. It might not be as flavorful but it will still be good.
Partially cover the stock pot, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and allow the stew to slowly simmer for an hour or until the chicken and mushrooms are fork tender. Remove the chicken to a platter to cool, mix the remaining broth and remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Raise the heat slightly and slowly cook to reduce the broth, stirring occasionally so as not to burn.
Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin, bones, and any cartilage. Using your hands, shred the chicken and return it to the pot, mixing to combine with the mushrooms and broth. You are now ready to serve, however I would recommend removing the pot from the heat and allowing it to cool. Refrigerate overnight, which will allow the flavors to develop further as dishes like these are always better enjoyed a day after they are cooked.
While the fricassee is cooking, take the time to prepare the accompaniment, whether it’s Riso, polenta, farro, or whatever you choose, following the package directions.
If serving the next day, gently heat the fricassee over medium heat, mixing to turn the ingredients. Spoon a generous amount of the Riso (or other) into deep warm bowls and ladle the fricassee over. Garnish with some minced fresh parsley if using.
You now have a hearty and warming dish to take the edge off these cold winter days. Do enjoy!
Be well, Eat Well.
Time heals, food comforts.