Chicken Fricassee Roman Style or Poulet en Cocotte Bonne Femme are classics of simple home cooking so flexible that they turn out well whatever you put in them – a one pot meal as quick and practical to make for one as for a dozen.
The bacon (or ham etc.) adds a rich, subtle layer of flavour to what is basically a fast and simple dish – the taste varying whether you use plain or smoked bacon, lardon, pancetta or cured ham (prociutto, Serano, etc.).
In my mother’s very battered and spattered “The Talisman Italian Cookbook” (published 1950) “Roman Style” chicken pieces are cooked in lard with tiny strips of prosciutto, red wine, garlic and chopped fresh tomatoes.
In the classic “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” Poulet en Cocotte Bonne Femme combines cut up chunks of bacon, baby onions and small new potatoes (but no wine). While the recipe calls for a whole trussed chicken, I have often made this with bought chicken pieces – with the advantage that the dish is ready in 30-40 minutes, rather than over an hour.
Elizabeth David’s “French Provincial Cooking” includes cubes of bacon in her “Coq au Vin” with red wine and mushrooms. Again, the recipe calls for a whole chicken, but I have found that pieces work just as well, with the benefit of a shorter cooking time.
In “1,000 Spanish Recipes” Penelope Casas gives us Pollo a la Sevilliana - sautéed chicken pieces with cubes of Serrano ham, fresh olives and dry sherry instead of wine.
Sauteed – or fricasseed*** – chicken pieces, whether breasts, thighs or a cut up whole bird, are a home cook’s best friend.
Flexible, fast and all in one pan – what’s to not like? The secret is to cook the chicken slowly, with heat low after the initial browning, covering the casserole so the chicken braises gently in its own steam while you do something else.
*** In “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” Julia Child gives the following definitions:
Saute: no liquid is included in the cooking
Stew: the chicken is simmered in liquid from the start of the cooking
Fricassee: the meat is always cooked first in butter or butter and oil.
As she says, there are subtle but definite differences in taste.
This past week I had a package of pancetta I needed to use quickly (my freezer having suddenly collapsed) plus lovely chicken breasts from the farmer’s market. What I made was put together with what needed cooking plus what was on hand – the classic task of the home cook.
Fricasseed Chicken with Pancetta, Shallots, Fresh Tomatoes & White Wine
ALL YOU NEED IS: for 4 (or 2 with leftovers)
2.5-3 lbs/1.6k chicken breasts (or pieces)
4 plum tomatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 clove garlic, minced
2 banana shallots, chopped into small pieces
a few springs fresh thyme
70gr/2.6 ounces pancetta, cut into slivers
1 glass white wine
salt and freshly ground pepper
75gr/2.6 ounces butter
chopped fresh parsley
Cut chicken breasts into 3 or 4 pieces. Melt butter and oil together in shallow casserole and when butter foams, add chicken pieces. Cook on low-medium heat until lightly browned on all sides – about 10 minutes.
Remove chicken and place on dish. Cook chopped onion and garlic slowly until soft but not coloured. Add pancetta and cook until soft. Return chicken to pan and add chopped tomatoes, thyme leaves and wine. Cover and simmer on low heat for 30-40 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Add chopped parsley and serve with new potatoes, rice or orzo.