Although my family preferred to dine at home for Italian food, we would on occasion patronize a local neighborhood restaurant in Brooklyn named Michael’s. This past summer, after a visit to our parents’ graves, my brother and I, prompted by nostalgia, thought we would return there with our spouses for lunch.
When we entered, we were amazed at how little the place had changed; the son of the original proprietor still remembered us even after a 25 year absence; it was still elegant, with white tablecloths, polished stemware, and attentive waiters dressed in dark suits and ties. Even the menu was as I remembered it, allowing my brother and me to pick out parents’ favorite dishes as well as ours.
Mine was always their lemon chicken on the bone, a fricassee with small bone-in pieces of chicken, perfectly browned and napped in an intensely flavored lemon sauce and always served, even today, with sautéed string beans and a potato croquette.
Last night, I tried to re-create this dish—but only with a modicum of success. I based my recipe on a recipe from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. However, I used a chicken cut into 16 pieces as opposed to the 8 called for by the recipe and I did not follow the original recipe’s directions for cooking the breast meat for a shorter time than the dark. After browning, I cooked the entire batch of chicken for close to 50 minutes. Consequently, some of the pieces of white meat were not as moist as I would have liked them to be. Finally, the amount of sauce I wound up with was considerably less than I had expected, despite using more wine and lemon juice than was called for.
Nevertheless, the final dish was more than edible and both of us went back for seconds. The flavor of the sauce was extremely close to what I was aiming for and the dark meat was both moist and flavorful. Before long, I shall attempt this dish again and hopefully will have more success—perhaps another visit to Michael’s in Brooklyn will help.
Fricasseed Chicken with Rosemary and Lemon Juice
Adapted from Essentials of Italian Cooking
3 pound chicken, cut into 16 pieces
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 2-inch sprigs fresh rosemary
3 garlic cloves, lightly smashed
Fresh-ground black pepper
1/3 cup dry white wine
4 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Wash with cold water and thoroughly pat dry the chicken
Choose a lidded sauté pan large enough enough to eventually accommodate the chicken in a single layer without overlapping.
Place oil and butter in the pan over medium-high heat. When the butter foam subsides, put in the chicken skin-side down. Brown the chicken well on both sides. Add the rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, turning the chicken from time to time. (At this point, Hazan says to remove the breasts and set aside. I left all the meat in the pan.)
Add the wine, and bring it to a brisk simmer of about 20 seconds. Then lower the heat to cook the chicken at a very low simmer. Place the lid on the pan, leaving it slightly ajar. Cook for 40 minutes (Hazan calls for returning the white meat to the pan at this point), occasionally turning the pieces to ensure even cooking. Cook for at least 10 minutes more, until the thigh meat is tender. While the chicken is cooking, check the liquid in the pan. If too low, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water.
When the chicken is done, remove from heat and transfer the pieces to a warm serving platter, using a slotted spoon. Tip the pan and spoon off all but a little bit of the fat.
Add the lemon juice and zest to the pan and place over medium-low heat to deglaze the pan, using a wooden spoon to scrape loose any brown bits on the bottom and the sides of the pan. Pour the pan juices over the chicken and serve at once.
We served the chicken with a simp couscous and steamed green beans.
Wine Pairing: Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc