French tarragon is an alluring aromatic herb, and when used with subtleness, it can turn most any humble dish–chicken especially–into a showcase of sublime flavor. But, I didn’t always cook with tarragon until one night I was properly introduced to a now-favorite recipe for Chicken Braised in Tarragon Cream.
I recall dining years ago at Vive la Difference restaurant located in Broussard, Louisiana. Owned by the legendary local restaurateur Leebob Cox, the setting for this fine dining venue was an 1800s-era plantation home lovingly restored as a world-class restaurant. During the 1980s and 90s, it was a splendid upscale Creole French establishment that enjoyed many years of success.
The chef there pushed the envelope of Cajun and Creole, and he loved to introduce locals to off-the-menu house specials that were more in tune with European recipes. During one memorable visit, I vividly recall a special menu special of Chicken Braised in Tarragon Cream that he created featuring breast of chicken pan-braised in a creamy tarragon-infused bath. The sauce was mind-expanding, and an explosion of flavor to anyone like me who was, at the time, new to the taste of tarragon.
As herbs and spices go, tarragon is a sweet, yet pungently powerful combination that lures you in with its tantalizing aroma and snares you with its addictive flavor. Anise or licorice is the predominant taste profile for tarragon, and my pursuit of that intoxicating flavor has led me to embrace cooking with several different liquors–Pernod, Herbsaint, and even Absinthe–that share tarragon’s heady traits. Over the years, reliving that first blast of an herbal awakening has been a pursuit of mine. Vive la Difference restaurant closed long ago, but with this elegant Cajun recipe for Chicken Braised in Tarragon Cream, I hope to recreate, and even elevate, that chicken dish for you.
A fresh, whole free-range chicken is one of the few foods that can stand up to tarragon. I’ve experimented with fish and other seafood dishes with varying degrees of success. For the most part, tarragon can overpower a dish that sometimes results in an unbalanced tangle of tastes. But if done right, it is superb.
Fresh tarragon can be grown easily, and I have a small section of my herb garden dedicated to it, but with the proliferation of mass marketed herbs, you can find it in most any supermarket. The key to this Chicken Braised in Tarragon Cream is keeping a delicate hand on all of the seasoning elements and resist creating competing flavors that result in taste confusion. Many cooks–me included–are guilty from time to time of adding a dash of tried-and-true hot sauce or a sprinkle of the obligatory Cajun seasoning mix as a matter of course. In many cases, it works fine, but in this Chicken Braised in Tarragon Cream recipe, resist all temptations to improvise. It is that delicate mingling of the scent of tarragon into the velvety cream reduction coating the gently braised chicken that will make it hard for you to forget this dish.
- 1 whole free-range chicken or 4 chicken quarters
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons sunflower oil or canola oil
- I cup diced yellow onion
- ½ cup diced bell pepper
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 4 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves, for garnish
- Remove any parts (neck, gizzard, etc) from inside the chicken. Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Cut the chicken in half removing and discarding the back. Cut the wing tips off and discard. Cut each chicken half into quarters. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
- In a heavy skillet with tight-fitting lid, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken and lightly brown on both sides. Remove the chicken to a platter and keep warm.
- Add the onions and bell pepper to the pan and stir until the onions turn translucent, about 5 minutes.. Add the garlic and the fresh tarragon as well as the white wine. Stir while reducing the wine by half. Once reduced, add the chicken stock and cream.
- Return the chicken to the pan and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover the pan and cook for about 45 minutes or until the chicken is done to an internal temperature of 165ºF. Remove the chicken to a platter and keep warm.
- With an immersion blender or in the container of a standing blender, rapidly pulse the tarragon-infused mixture just until the vegetables are pulverized, about 30 seconds. Add the mixture back to the pan over medium heat until the sauce reaches a simmer.
- Mashed potatoes are a must for serving with this dish. For serving family style, arrange the chicken pieces on a platter and place a mound of mashed potatoes in the center. Optionally, place the chicken on an individual dinner plate with mashed potatoes on the side. Just before serving and once the bubbly sauce reaches the proper thickness, spoon the sauce over the chicken pieces and the mashed potatoes. Garnish with chopped fresh tarragon and pair with lightly chilled white wine.
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