November 12, 2017:

Hola!

It's hard to believe, but winter has arrived early in my hometown. One week it was in the 70s and gorgeous outside, the next week it dropped down into the 40s and then boom, less than a week later, into the 30s. We've already had several hard freezes, the earliest that's happened since I moved here in 2014. Anyway, the trees had not even begun to turn color yet in the neighborhood - and now most of them are bare due to the many hard freezes and strong winds that blew most of the days last week. Wowsers! Today, however, the sun stayed out all day, there was no wind to speak of, and the temperatures felt positively balmy outside. I was very glad because I had to be out and about today.

So, the poor trees did not have a "fall" this year but we did get enough rain to ease my mind that my pines and shrubs will have enough moisture in the ground to survive the winter. The squirrels are SO fat and SO furry, I can't help but think they know we're in for a bad winter. Sigh. I'm way behind in everything including lots of garden clean-up that now I won't get to unless we get a few days of "Indian Summer," which doesn't seem likely this year. I did, however, get everything outdoors pretty much put away, except for the area rug (it needs to be "washed" with some soap and rinsed off) and the mosquito net curtains on my Shezebo. Now I'm already thinking about Christmas, and soon it will be here, before we know it! So, I figured it's about time I put up my "autumn" photographs from prior years as the seasonal header here at Maison Newton. Enjoy your Thanksgiving, that will be here soon and then it's into full-tilt Christmas decorating. Take care, everyone!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Nigella's Tarragon Chicken

Hola darlings!

I had intended to finish cleaning up the backyard this weekend, but the weather is not cooperating.  While it is in the low 50's temperature wise today and tomorrow (before dipping back into the 30s  next week) and the walk to the Pick 'n Save extra-early this morning was pleasant (it wasn't yet raining hard), it is rainy and windy (will be increasing to consistent 30 mph later on today, and tomorrow), gloomy and grey.  Overall depressing and all I want to do is cook, drink gallons of cheap pink wine and snuggle up close to the fireplace whilst watching Property Brothers videos!

I looked for a recipe for tarragon chicken after I had a recollection that one of the chicken dishes my former roommate Connie and I made when we lived in that third-floor walk-up on Stowell Avenue was chicken tarragon.  I remembered the flavor, but not the name, even after all these years!  It was a memory that had to slowly percolate up through the layers of 34 or so years, and it took awhile, but it finally came into my conscious mind one day and said Voila! I am here!



Well then, I could not bring myself to ignore it :)

I stopped when I found Nigella Lawson's recipe - I think it is perfection, and how can one possibly improve it? [Ahem, see below..]

Until recently, I did not know who Nigella was.  But then I saw her on a television show on regular old commercial t.v. (I do not have cable) some months back with three other judges.  I don't remember the name of the show, but I fell in love with Nigella and how she cooks.  She was warm, friendly, empathetic, and totally down to earth.  I believe she is a big star in the United Kingdom.  When I saw that this recipe was hers and I read her description of it, there was no way I was NOT going to do my own attempt at it!

Here is Nigella's recipe

Ingredients

2 teaspoons garlic oil
2 fat scallions or 4 skinny ones, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon freeze-dried tarragon
2 chicken breast fillets, skinless and boneless
1/3 cup vermouth or white wine
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
Fresh white pepper, to grind over
2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon, plus a pinch more for sprinkling (Note: if you cannot get fresh tarragon, double the amount of freeze-dried tarragon at the start of the recipe and add fresh chopped parsley at the end to taste.)

Directions

Heat the garlic oil in a frying pan or Dutch oven that has a lid and in which the chicken breasts will fit pretty snugly.  Add the scallions, stir, then sprinkle in the freeze-dried tarragon, stir again and gook them in the garlic oil for a minute, stirring some more as they cook.

Put the chicken fillets into the pan, curved side down, and cook for 5 minutes, watching the scallions don't burn.  If they look like they're beginning to, scrape them from the pan and let them sit on the chicken pieces.

Turn over the breasts, and add the vermouth (or white wine).  Let the vermouth bubble up, then add the salt.  Put the lid on, turn the heat down low and leave it to simmer gently for 10 minutes.  Check the chicken is cooked through by making a small cut into the thickest part and ensuring the juices run clear - if not, simmer for a few minutes longer and check again.

Remove the chicken breasts to warmed plates.  Bring the remaining liquid to a boil, add the cream and stir well, then sprinkle in the fresh tarragon, stir again and give a good grind of white pepper. Pour the sauce over the chicken breasts, and give a final scattering of tarragon to serve.

Trying to Improve Upon Perfection

Well, I wouldn't be me if I didn't add my own little bit to Nigella's excellent recipe.  I did not add extra-much -- only thinly sliced sauteed mushrooms.  They were on sale at the time I assembled the ingredients for my lemon chicken piccata, at $1.00 for an 8 ounce container of whole white button mushrooms.  In that recipe, I used about 1/2 the container of mushrooms, so I had 1/2 container left to use.  [Today when I checked the price, they were $2.00, YIKES!  For white button mushrooms.  What the hell is happening to this world, I ask you, when white button mushrooms cost $2.00 for 8 ounces.  Baby bellas whole were $1.99.  I opted to buy a container of baby bellas today, for better flavor and saved a penny in the process.  Unbelievable!]

I could not find white pepper at the Pick 'n Save, so I used my regular store-bought finely-ground black pepper, and I did not have garlic oil - can one actually buy garlic oil or is that something good cooks make for themselves???  I used olive oil with powdered garlic instead.

I hemmed and hawed about using vermouth or a sweet white wine.  In the end, I opted to buy a small bottle of sweet vermouth that will last me through several renditions of tarragon chicken!

Now here's some irony for you.  Not even thinking about looking for fresh tarragon at the Pick 'n Save, as I was going up and down the aisles looking for my ingredients when I got to the spices/baking/etc. aisle I bought a small plastic sprinkle jar of dried tarragon.  I have no idea what "freeze-dried" tarragon is, they sure don't sell it at my Pick 'n Save!  It was only as I was heading toward the check-out that the thought popped into my getting senile-brain to check the produce department and see if there was fresh tarragon available.  I looked and looked and then, in a corner really close to the fresh mushrooms where I had been earlier, there it was!  Ta da!  Fresh tarragon!  It was ridiculously expensive - $2.99 for a little plastic container thingy and it held way more than I was going to need, but I bought it anyway.  So now I have dried tarragon in my spice/miscellany cabinet and tonight I'm going to use up the rest of the now not-so-fresh tarragon that has been cooling its figurative heels in my fridge since I made this recipe the first time a few Saturdays ago.

I do not own a Dutch oven.  I knew my large frying pan would be too big to "fit the chicken fillets snugly" and my small frying pan would be too small for what I had in mind.  So, in a nod to the French origins of this wonderful dish, I pulled out one of my "French White" Corningware casserole dishes and used it to cook stove top.  It worked beautifully!

I have to tell you -- until I made this recipe and tried to follow it as faithfully as possible, I have NEVER COOKED WITH SCALLIONS!  Honest!  My Dad loved them -- he would eat them RAW, eeeuuuuwwwww!  Grandma Newton cooked with them all the time -- I remember watching her chop them up when I was a little girl.  But me, nope, wouldn't use them.  I think I had an ick aversion to the "hair" (roots) at the bulb ends, LOL! 

So, when it came to "thinly" slicing the scallions, I knew enough to cut off the hair, er, roots, but I wasn't sure how much of the long green part I could/should use!  I should have checked around online to learn how much of the green part of scallions to use before just diving into this recipe, but I didn't. I just thinly sliced until I'd used up about 2/3rd of the entire scallion, and discarded the rest of the greens.  Also, perhaps I did not slice the green part as thinly as I should have, because there seemed to be a lot of green in my dish.  But let me tell you, the dish tasted fabulously! 

And so now I am no longer afraid of cooking with scallions :)




Above are the chicken breasts I bought (all natural, Roundy's brand - today they were on sale for $1.99 a pound but they have a "must use" date of November 22, 2013 so that's why I'm making tarragon chicken tonight and freezing the rest of the chicken), my sliced button mushrooms (the remainder of an 8 ounce container, or about 4 ounces), my scalped scallions before I thinly sliced them, and my chopped up fresh tarragon. 

I used two of the three chicken breasts in the package, and they were big -- one chicken breast cut in half would have been enough for two meals for me!  So that's what I'm going to do tonight, butterfly one chicken breast and pound it a bit to even the halves out. 




Since I did not have garlic oil, I used some olive oil and tossed in garlic powder and stirred the dickens out of it so it didn't burn.  Then I tossed in the sliced scallions and some of the fresh tarragon and cooked for a few minutes before adding the sliced mushrooms.  My mistake was adding the mushrooms later in the cooking process.  I forgot how much water they add to a recipe!  Tonight when I make this dish I will saute the mushrooms separately in a small frying pan in a tiny bit of butter, set them aside and add them to the sauce after it is made, heating through.




Photo above is after "browning off" the two chicken breasts, adding the required ingredients (including vermouth) and then covering the casserole dish and reducing heat to low to poach the chicken for 10 minutes.  I checked the chicken after 10 minutes by using Nigella's method of slicing into the thickest part of the chicken breasts to see if the juices ran clear, and ended up cooking my "fat" chicken breasts another 2 or 3 minutes, slicing into them each time and watching the "juices" closely to see if they ran clear, until I was satisfied they were cooked through and at proper temperature inside (at least 165 F).  Maybe I need to buy myself a meat thermometer -- wouldn't that make the process a whole lot easier?  But I've never cooked like this in my life, I've never felt the need for a meat thermometer before.  OHMYGODDESS, what is happening to me?

See all that scrumptious brown fond building up on the bottom of the dish, oh YUM!

When the chicken had been fully cooked, I removed it and set aside:



Doesn't that look good, hm mm mmm!  Bits of fresh tarragon and scallion cling to it.

And then it was time to make the sauce!  All that was left to do was to add the heavy cream and a bit more of the fresh chopped tarragon:




I should have reduced more before adding the cream! When I make the dish tonight, I will reduce the liquid before adding the cream, sauteed mushrooms and chicken.



I simmered for some minutes until I judged the chicken was heated through again.

It was SOOOO fricking good, I can't even begin to describe it.  I made an absolute piggy of myself and gobbled down the smaller chicken breast with a tiny side salad of creamed cucumbers.  The larger chicken breast (on the right) was a leftover.  I got two meals out of it!  I sliced the chicken into about 1/4 inch "strips" and heated in the microwave in some of the sauce.  It was even better as a leftover because the tarragon flavor had penetrated into every single micron of mushrooms and chicken and sauce.

So, I'm looking forward to making this dish again tonight.  But I forgot to buy scallions!  But I have a medium-size sweet white onion that I picked up last night when I bought chili-fixings (I will make that on Sunday) and so I'll try the recipe using finely chopped sweet white onion rather than the scallions. 

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