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Fricassee is an old term, first attested in English in the mid-16th century. It is a French word, but the exact etymology is uncertain. It is theorized to be a compound of the French frire (to fry) and casser or quasser (to break in pieces).
Many cooking references describe fricassee simply as a French stew, usually with a white sauce. Mastering the Art of French Cooking describes it as "halfway between a saute and a stew" in that a saute has no liquid added, while a stew includes liquid from the beginning. In a fricassee, cut-up meat is first sauteed (but not browned), then liquid is added and it is simmered to finish cooking. Cookbook author James Peterson notes that some modernized versions of the recipe call for the meat to be thoroughly browned before braising, but the classical version requires that both meat and vegetables remain white, with no caramelization.
By the general description of frying and then braising in liquid, there are recipes for fricassee as far back as the earliest version of the medieval French cookbook Le Viandier, circa 1300. In 1490, it is first referred to specifically as "friquassee" in the print edition of Le Viandier.
Fricassee of chicken is commonly found, both in modern recipes and antique ones, but virtually all kinds of meat, poultry, fish, and even vegetables alone, can be found in fricassee dishes.
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