I’m a bit of a Johnny-come-lately to tarragon. I was a bit of a Johnny-come-lately to fennel, too. I blame Good and Plenty. Remember them? They’re candy coated black licorice pieces. There was nothing worse when trick-or-treating than seeing those being tossed into your Halloween loot bag. I loathed them.
Good and Plenty were my first introduction to that anise, licorice taste. I didn’t know then that there are different shades and intensities to anise. So for about 15 years I avoided anything that was described as having that licorice flavour. But a persuasive write up on fennel (the white, bulbous vegetable with delicate green fronds) in the Washington Post food section about 10 years ago piqued my interest enough that I felt emboldened to try it. And I liked it! Yes, that anise flavour is there, but it’s sweet, soft and slightly herby, not bitter or pungent. Fennel was now off the no fly list. But I still avoided tarragon, thinking it had to be something I couldn’t possibly like.
So another 10 years goes by after my favourable fennel introduction before I’m convinced to give tarragon a try. I don’t even think it was so much as being convinced actually; it’s just that my reluctance to try it and my prejudice against it just evaporated. While at the green grocers, I just tossed a package of tarragon into my basket and that was that. 25 years of rancor just gone with a flick of the wrist. Tarragon isn’t pungent with anise. It’s softly perfumed with it, a bit floral and sweet. Tarragon is the best interpretation of what the anise flavour is.
And then you add cream to it. Oh lordy, is that lovely. This chicken sauté with tarragon and cream is the first dish I ever made with tarragon. How could I have been so misguided about it? All those years missed eating this dish just because of those crap Good and Plenty. But I’m thrilled that I finally came around.
Chicken Sauté with Tarragon and Cream
Very slightly adapted from Real Cooking (Michael Joseph, 1997)
By Nigel Slater
The name says it all. This dish is about three things: chicken sautéed until golden brown, tarragon and cream. I love the way the tarragon smells, releasing that floral, sweet, spicy smell when it hits the heat.
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 pieces of chicken on the bone, skin on (thighs or breasts)
a generous handful of tarragon (about 30 large leaves or 40 small ones)
2 small shallots (or 1 large), minced
a small glass of white wine
3 heaped tablespoons of crème fraiche
a squeeze of lemon juice
You can make this with either thighs or breasts. If using breasts, cut each breast in half horizontally to make two equal pieces. To get four pieces, you’ll just need two breasts.
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Melt the butter in a shallow, sauté pan (not non-stick) over moderate heat. Add the oil. When the fat starts to froth, add the chicken skin side down. You should hear a good sizzle when the chicken hits the fat. It will spit a bit. Don’t move or jostle it too much. You’ll need the chicken to cook undisturbed for it to caramelize properly. If you need to peak to see how the colour is coming along, do so as unobtrusively as possible. Cook until the skin is pale gold. This will take about 8-10 minutes.
Once golden, turn over so it cooks on the other side. Add half of the tarragon leaves and turn down the heat a bit.
Continue cooking, with the pan now covered with a lid, until the chicken is a golden, reddish brown. This will take 10 to 15 more minutes. Pierce the thickest part of the chicken with a skewer. If the juices run clear then it is cooked. If there are specks of blood, then it will need a little longer. Once cooked, remove the chicken to a plate, pouring off most of the fat. Hold the tarragon back with a spoon so it stays in the pan. Now you’re going to make the sauce and the sticky, browned bits leftover from sauteeing the chicken are going to give you lots of great flavour.
Turn up the heat. Add the minced shallots and sauté for a few minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon, scraping up the browned bits leftover from the chicken sauté. Add the wine, deglazing the pan and scraping up any remaining browned bits. Toss in the rest of the tarragon and then add the crème fraiche. Stir it all together. Add the chicken back to the pan and pour in any of the juices from the chicken that accumulated on the plate.
Let the sauce bubble until it has reduced by about half, watching closely so it doesn’t disappear entirely. Taste the sauce for salt. As the sauce bubbles for a minute or two, stir in a squeeze of lemon juice to cut the richness just a bit. The sauce is delicious. Serve the dish with bread to mop it up.