Citizens, a good chicken fricassée is a thing of wondrous gustatory beauty, ephemeral and celestial in its juicy perfection. A bad one is beyond awful and a reminder of the culinary 9th circle of hell that awaits the unfortunate who taste such an abomination.
My version is based closely on one that I consider the ne plus ultra recipe of its kind, the very zenith of succulent chicken perfection. Created in a bistro in Australia, I have of course tweaked it to my discerning specifications.
“Cooking everything separately emphasises each ingredient,” says Restaurant Hubert’s Daniel Pepperell. “The mushrooms are earthy and rich from the confit. The chicken is juicy and tender from being steamed, but gains a golden skin from frying. And the chicken sauce has more concentrated flavour than a standard braising liquid would have.”
This recipe is complex and results in a divine and toothsome result, especially with my changes. Begin this recipe two days ahead to brine and dry the chicken.
Battle on – The Generalissimo
250 gm sugar
70 ml cider vinegar and 20 ml balsamic vinegar (original recipe called for only red wine vinegar)
20 tarragon leaves
Lemon juice, to taste or use Verjus (sour grape juice) which is TFD’s preferred souring agent
Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
Curly parsley and flowering thyme (TFD addition) to garnish
200 gm fine salt
1 organic chicken (1.5kg)
2 kg chicken wings
1 onion, quartered
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
50 ml olive oil
500 gm chicken feet (see note)
5 thyme sprigs
2 fresh bay leaves
20 black peppercorns
¾ teaspoon smoked paprika (TFD addition and totally optional, but I like the hint of smoke it adds)
100 ml light cream
50 gm butter, diced
1 tbsp plain flour
100 ml Noilly & Prat Dry Vermouth (original called for dry white wine)
100 gm hen-of-the-woods mushrooms (see note)
10 (about 120gm) button mushrooms
Olive oil, to cover (about 1 litre)
5 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
5 thyme sprigs
For brined chicken, bring 2 litres water to a simmer in a saucepan over high heat, stirring to dissolve salt. Add 2 litres cold water, set aside to cool, then transfer to a container large enough to hold chicken snugly, and refrigerate until chilled (2 hours).
Add chicken, ensuring it’s completely submerged, and refrigerate overnight to brine. Drain chicken (discard brine), pat dry inside and out and refrigerate uncovered overnight to dry.
Meanwhile, for chicken sauce, preheat oven to 220C. Roast wings in a roasting pan until browned (50 minutes to 1 hour). Fry onion and celery in oil in a large stockpot over high heat until golden brown (10-12 minutes).
Add wings and 6 litres water (or enough to cover bones), bring to a simmer and skim froth from surface.
Add chicken feet, thyme, bay leaves and peppercorns and simmer over low heat until stock is well flavored (3½-4 hours). Skim fat from surface, and strain stock through a fine sieve lined with muslin into a clean saucepan (discard bones and herbs).
Reduce stock over high heat to 500ml (45 minutes to 1 hour). Add cream and bring to the boil. Meanwhile, stir butter and flour in a saucepan over medium-high heat until golden (3-4 minutes).
Gradually add vermouth and chicken stock, whisking after each addition until incorporated, then bring to the boil and whisk for a minute. Season with smoked paprika (if using) and keep warm.
Meanwhile, for confit mushrooms, place mushrooms in a saucepan, cover with oil, add garlic and thyme and cook over low heat until tender (30-35 minutes).
Steam dried chicken in a large steamer basket over a large saucepan of simmering water until breast feels firm and internal temperature reaches 64C (40-45 minutes). Stand at room temperature to cool (30 minutes).
Stir sugar in a small saucepan with 50ml water over medium-high heat to dissolve, then boil without stirring until dark caramel, swirling pan occasionally (10-12 minutes). Deglaze pan with vinegars and set aside to cool, then brush glaze over chicken and stand to dry briefly (10 minutes).
Place a frying pan over high heat. Drain oil from mushrooms, place in hot pan and fry until golden and starting to crisp (1-2 minutes). Season to taste and keep warm.
Heat 10cm-12cm vegetable oil in a large deep stockpot to 190C (hot oil will bubble up, so don’t fill to more than a third). Holding the bird securely, carefully lower it into the pot (be careful, hot oil will spit) and fry, turning occasionally, until golden brown (8-10 minutes).
Remove chicken with care (hot oil will drain from the cavity), transfer to a board, and cut into 8-10 pieces, halving legs, and thickly slicing breasts and arrange on a platter. Add lemon juice and tarragon to sauce. Spoon sauce over chicken, garnish with parsley, flowering thyme and mushrooms and serve.
Note: Chicken feet are available from Asian butchers; they may need to be ordered ahead. Hen-of-the-woods mushrooms are available from farmers’ markets and specialists suppliers. If they’re unavailable, substitute oyster or chestnut mushrooms.