As usual, Julia puts it succinctly: “One frequently runs into chicken recipes labeled sautés which are actually fricassees, and others labeled fricassees which are actually stews. The fricassee is halfway between the two. No liquid is included in the cooking of a sauté. For a stew, the chicken is simmered in liquid from the start of its cooking. When a chicken is fricasseed, the meat is always cooked first in butter or oil, until its flesh has swelled and stiffened, then the liquid is added. There are subtle differences in taste between these methods…. It is an ideal technique for ahead-of-time dishes, as the chicken loses none of its essential qualities if it is allowed to cool in its sauce and is then reheated.” (Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volume I).
To add to the confusion, in France a fricassee is usually sauteed briefly in butter, but not browned. French chicken fricassees often have a creamy, white sauce accompanied by onions and mushrooms (see Julia’s fricassee de poulet a l’ancienne). But even Julia lists coq au vin, which calls for browned chicken, among fricassees. Similarly, in the Caribbean, where fricase de pollo is a popular dish, the chicken may be served in a white sauce (often on French speaking islands) or browned and then simmered in a tomato-based sauce (see the Cuban recipe offered here). The recipes that follow come from across the globe, but all are first sauteed, then covered and braised. They all, as Julia points out, reheat nicely, and some actually improve if made a day ahead.