This is a quick-time version of the classic French poulet a l'estragon (though you could speed it up further by bashing out the chicken breast or by using a turkey cutlet in its place, which would make this dish pleasingly alliterative) and is an instant reminder of the comforts of old-school cooking. Tender chicken (it's the poaching early on that sees to this), aromatically fresh and insistently herbal tarragon, a generous splosh of vermouth, all rounded off by rich, pale cream: this has the nostalgic, yet robust, charm of that French bistro of fond memory or happy imaginings. If you can't get fresh tarragon, do not despair: just double the freeze-dried tarragon at the start and add some freshly chopped parsley at the end. And I can assure you it would be worth your while considering a teaspoon of tarragon mustard, too, along with the cream. About which, please don't wimp out on me: this is old-fashioned cooking which cannot be proscribed by new-age dietary concerns. But, if you insist, halve the cream, and add another 2 tablespoons of vermouth when you're pouring the rest in after the chicken's had its first 5 minutes cooking. Eat with a tumbled mixture of French or green beans and asparagus tips along with steamed baby white-skinned potatoes or, hard to beat for me, some white basmati rice forked through with a soupcon of butter and freshly ground white pepper.
- 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
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 cook 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.