Month: January 2016

Fricassee of Chicken and Mushrooms with Riso di Polenta

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.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

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.

Mushroom stock

Mushroom stock

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.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

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

Mise en place

Mise en place

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.

Brown chicken in batches

Brown chicken in batches

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.

Chicken torn, skin and bone

Chicken torn, skin and bone removed

Assembled in pot

Assembled in pot

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.

Ready to enjoy

Ready to enjoy

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.



Three Sisters Stew

Recently a friend and I were discussing cooking and comparing some recipe ideas when I mentioned that I was going to try preparing a pot of Three Sisters Stew, a dish I had recently read about.

She asked me what the dish was, to let her know how the recipe turned out, and to pass it along if I thought there was value in her trying it as well. As it turned out, I liked the finished dish enough that I thought there was value in sharing it with all of you.

What initially piqued my interest was an adaptation of the stew published in the New York Times by food writer Sam Sifton, a recipe he adapted from A Taste of Wyoming: Favorite Recipes from the Cowboy State, written by Pamela Sinclair.

In researching some background about the dish, I learned it was based on the three main agricultural crops of various Native American tribes: beans, maize (corn), and winter squash. This vegetable trinity became known as the Three Sisters, and as the folklore goes, was harvested together to coincide with the Thanksgiving celebration.

Another interesting item that points out the resourcefulness of the Native Americans and the symbiosis of the three vegetables was the practice of companion planting.

Without getting too deep into the overall science, this approach required the three crops to be grown in the same fields where an interdependent relationship was realized. The corn provides the tall stalks for the beans to climb, while the beans provide fertilizer for the soil, and the squash provides protection on the ground for the corn and bean roots, which prevents weed growth, keeps the soil moist, and provides a level of mulch.

An interesting perspective, but why limit the dish to just an accompaniment for the Thanksgiving meal as was noted in the Sifton piece? This is the season for hearty dishes like these to be prepared more often rather than at just one annual meal.

One added benefit: This stew can be prepared almost entirely from ingredients found in most pantries, which is how I prepared the recipe I am sharing with you here.

A couple of quick food notes in relation to the ingredient list provided in the NYT piece:

  • I would recommend cutting the pork into ½-inch pieces because there wasn’t enough shrinkage during the cooking process and as such the 1-inch pieces called for were too large. Also, you could simply leave the pork out and make this stew a vegetarian dish as suggested in the NYT article, by substituting either a vegetable stock or you can simply use water.
  • Along with the cumin, I included a teaspoon of ancho chili powder, a pantry staple, which added depth of flavor to the pork.
  • The NYT recipe called for yellow squash, which I interpreted as the cousin to zucchini; it grows in the warmer season and I felt it did not reflect the tradition of this dish. I substituted a butternut squash, but kabocha, or even pumpkin would have worked just as well.
  • The recipe called for either fresh or frozen corn kernels. At the end of each summer I strip the kernels from a dozen or more ears of corn and freeze them to enjoy during the colder months. I, of course, opted to use the fresh sweet corn.
  • The recipe called for canned roasted green chilies which normally isn’t in my pantry. Therefore, I roasted two medium-size polblano chilies until fork tender, removed the seeds and ribs, and then diced them into bite-size pieces.
  • The cilantro was replaced with some roughly chopped parsley and minced scallion greens.
Three Sisters Stew

Three Sisters Stew

1 pound boneless pork loin cut into ½-inch cubes
1 teaspoon each ground cumin and powered ancho chili
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 large sweet or yellow onion, diced
3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium winter squash, peeled and diced
4 cups stock (your choice)
1 15-ounce can each of black beans and pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 14½-ounce can of chopped tomatoes, with juice
2 cups corn kernels
2 polblano chilies roasted and cleaned as described
½ bunch of parsley, roughly chopped
1 bunch scallions, green part only, minced

Season the pork with the cumin, ancho powder, salt, and pepper. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large stock pot or Dutch oven until hot but not smoking. Add the pork and cook, turning often until it is lightly browned on all sides. Remove from the pot and set aside.

Next add the onion to the same pot, stirring and sautéing until it begins to soften and becomes translucent. Add the garlic, mixing to combine, and sauté for another 2 to 3 minutes.

Return the pork, with any accumulated juices, and add the squash and the stock, bringing the pot to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and slowly simmer for 30 minutes.

Next add the beans, tomatoes, corn, and chilies, mixing to combine. Cook uncovered over medium heat to allow the stew to thicken for approximately 40 minutes, mixing occasionally.

Finally, add the parsley and scallion greens, mixing to combine. Check the seasoning and either serve or allow the stew to cool in the large pot on the stovetop. Then transfer to a smaller pot and refrigerate overnight allowing the flavors blend and become more pronounced. Gently reheat and stir so as not to burn the bottom layer.

This is a recipe to have around for these cold winter days. It is good for a crowd, makes good use of pantry staples and ingredients on hand, and comes together quickly. I’m glad I read about it and I’m happy to share it with you. Give it a try.

In the bowl

In the bowl

Eat well, be well.
We observe, we copy, we interpret. Happily tethered to tradition, but always looking forward.