I look forward to the Summer Solstice; it is the longest day of the year and the perfect day to throw a potluck dinner. Spring vegetables, like tender greens and sugar snap peas, have started to fade, and the more robust summer produce makes for delicious inspiration.
Potlucks that focus on local fare are so interesting. Each dish tells a story about the season, the farmer and provenance—not to mention the cook!
Potlucks have come a long way since Technicolor Jell-O molds and tuna casseroles; the word goes back even further to the 16th century and the work of Thomas Nashe, where it appears like this: potluck. It means “food provided for an unexpected or uninvited guest, the luck of the pot.” The communal meal, where guests bring their own food, appears to have originated in the late 19th or early 20th century in western North America from Native American Indians (Chinook), who described these gatherings as “potlatch,” a ceremonial feast where, in addition to dining and dancing, participants distributed possessions to share their wealth with the community.
Potlucks have evolved. Diehard football fans call it “tailgating.” Slow Food East End calls them “Snail Suppers,” the idea being to slow down and share a meal prepared by individual community members who support good, clean and fair food for all.
My contribution that solstice was influenced by chef Jason Weiner and his chicken fricassee, which I was lucky enough to taste twice last summer. Weiner made the dish for Outstanding in the Field at Paumanok Vineyards and for the closing dinner of the Food Lab conference at Stony Brook Southampton. Both times they were similar, yet different, but what does fricassee mean? A fricassee is made with sautéed cut-up meat that is then braised then served with its sauce. “I throw the term ‘fricassee’ around extremely loosely,” says Weiner. “I like the way it sounds and I think it conjures comforting memories for folks.”
Wiener used chickens from Browder’s Birds and chose seasonal vegetables layered in an amazing heap. For Outstanding in the Field, the chicken was grilled and had a light smoky undertone, with pleasantly chewy maitake mushrooms, charred sweet corn, crisp red onions and velvety potato puree—all complemented by braised kale. For the Food Lab dinner, the chicken was braised and paired with a variety of mushrooms from the East End Mushroom Company.
I drew on both for my potluck dish. I grilled Browder’s Birds over applewood, made a jus from roasted neck, back and rib bones and then deglazed the pan with Marsala. Into the pan went maitake, oyster and shiitake mushrooms from the East End Mushroom Company. Then I brought it all together to simmer in the jus for 15 minutes. As Weiner says, “You basically deconstruct and then reconstruct again.”
This year’s Summer Solstice is on June 20.
Barbecued Chicken Fricassee — Laura Luciano
2 whole chickens cut into their parts (backs, cages, neck bones)
Mirepoix: 3 celery, 3 carrots, 1 large onion, diced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
1 garlic head
Salt and pepper
½ cup olive oil
East End Mushroom Co. mix (oyster, maitake, shiitake), chopped
4 sprigs thyme
2 cups Marsala wine
4 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons butter
Bunch of scallions
This can be done a day before you barbecue the chicken.
Preheat oven to 350°. In one roasting pan add backs, cages, neckbones, mirepoix, 2 springs of thyme, sage and garlic. Season with salt, pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Roast for 1 hour until golden brown (maybe longer).
In another pan add the mushrooms with the other two springs of thyme and drizzle of olive oil. Roast at 400° until golden brown. Set aside or refrigerate to use the next day.
Remove the roasted chicken bones from the oven and set over medium-high heat on the cooktop. Add Marsala wine to deglaze the pan and begin scraping down the brown bits with a wooden spoon. Add the chicken stock and continue to simmer for 10 minutes to reduce the liquid a bit more. Remove from heat and strain through a sieve; mash the vegetable pulp through the sieve. Add the butter to the jus and mix until it melts. Store in refrigerator the day before you barbecue the chicken or set aside if you are going to make the day of.
Day of barbecue:
Heat the jus over low heat until it loosens up. Reheat the mushrooms in the oven until warm. Salt and pepper the chicken parts generously. Drizzle some olive oil on the scallions and season them as well.
Place the chicken and the scallions on the grill. BBQ the chicken until skin is crispy and the scallions are wilted. Then in a large roasting pan place the chicken and the mushrooms. Pour the jus on top and gently move around to make sure everything is coated.
Serve on a large platter and garnish with grilled scallions.