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Tom's Cookbook Library: A chicken fricassee lesson by Patricia Wells

Food writer and master cook Patricia Wells, in “The French Kitchen Cookbook: Recipes and Lessons from Paris and Provence” (William Morrow), offers insights into the highly successful cooking school classes she has conducted for more than 30 years.

The well-conceived volume contains recipes that range from traditional rustic dishes, such as Winter Pistou, to more elegant fare, such as Tomato Tatins. Especially good is her Fricassee of Chicken with Fennel, Capers, Artichokes and Tomatoes (below).

Wells also shares some time-honored advice for home cooks. She highlights the importance of carefully reading (and rereading) recipes and visualizing the final product.

In addition, she encourages cooks to taste the food they are preparing every step of the way. And she strongly endorses a mise en place (everything in place) approach: measure your ingredients and set them out so what you will be using is readily within reach – weighed, measured, washed and chopped. Furthermore, having called-for equipment at hand also will make the food preparation process go much more smoothly.

Among the recipes Wells shares are Monday Night Beef Salad with Green Beans, Avocado and Arugula; Mussels with Lemon, Capers, Jalapeno and Cilantro; Zucchini “Spaghetti” with Garlic Tahini Dressing; Cranberry and Walnut Bread; and Fig and Almond Tart.




(Serves 6)

Equipment: Large, deep skillet of Dutch oven, with a lid.

1 farm-fresh chicken (3 to 4 lbs.), preferably organic, cut into 8 serving pieces and at room temperature

Fine sea salt

Coarse, freshly ground black pepper

3 Tbl. extra-virgin olive oil

2 onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

2 fennel bulbs, trimmed and thinly sliced

1 cup dry white wine

One 28-oz. can diced Italian tomatoes in juice

1 cup green olives, pitted*

1 cup brine-cured black olives, pitted

1/4 cup capers in vinegar, drained

12 artichoke hearts marinated in olive oil, drained

Cooked rice or fresh pasta, for serving

* French Picholine olives are specified, but other green olives can be substituted.

Liberally season the chicken on all sides with salt and pepper.

In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Add the chicken pieces (in batches if necessary) and brown until they turn an even golden color, about 5 minutes. Turn the pieces and brown them on the other side, 5 minutes more. Carefully regulate the heat to avoid scorching the skin. When the pieces are browned, use tongs (to avoid piercing the poultry) to transfer them to a platter.

Reduce the heat to low, add the onions and fennel to the skillet, and sweat – cook, covered, over low heat – until soft but not browned, about 10 minutes. Return the chicken to the skillet. Add the wine, tomatoes (with juices), olives, capers and artichokes. Cover and simmer over low heat until the chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Serve with rice or fresh pasta.

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