Friday, January 26, 2007


Weekend Cookbook Challenge #13 - Tarragon Chicken with Buttered Leeks

  How does one recapture Paris at home? Plenty of cookery books have tried to answer this question, such as the most recent notable, Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris, and Daniel Young's great recipe compilation of The Bistros, Brasseries and Wine Bars of Paris: Everyday Recipes from the Real Paris. I suppose it is really best to wait longer and see what comes to mind. For now though, my angelheart Eric and I miss going to the Coquelicot boulangerie in Montmartre and watching an old lady walk her strangely svelte German Shepherd every morning.

The food in Paris is much like any other city in that there are plenty of hits and misses, both categories in which we did well at striking. France really is known for its hearty fare, pastries (give me a religieuse - coffee or chocolate - any day, any time), and breads. Of course there are those dining institutions that step outside the bounds a little, such as: Fogón, a modern paella and tapas themed restaurant in the bustling Quartier Latin, which served an incredible paella valencia, redolent of pork and saffron; Pitchi Poï, a Jewish restaurant tucked away in a square in what is probably the best place for regular shoppers with a good eye (i.e. those not intent on taking out a second mortgage to shop on the Champs-Elysées or the Rue Saint Honoré), the Marais, which is famous for their blinis and vodkas...and I can vouch for their caramel vodka (!); and L'Écaille de la Fontaine near the gorgeous Opéra Garnier, which serves mostly seafood, so my angelheart Eric was incredibly satisfied - especially with his fat oysters. For traditional fare, the best places we went to were La Poule Au Pot, located near the Louvre, where one is served elegant and substantial mains (my angelheart Eric had a divine braised chicken with morrels, and for dessert I had the most gorgeous profiteroles with pistachio ice cream...Heaven!); and Le Repaire de Cartouche, whose creative chef offered, among other things, lamb terrine with figs and deer on mustard leaves and chanterelles.

The ingredients that most evoke French food to me are tarragon and leeks. So it is on the return from Paris that I use Jerry Traunfeld's fabulous The Herbal Kitchen to not only recreate a little bit of France but also to use as my submission to Weekend Cookbook Challenge #13, for which one is to use their latest acquired cookery book - well, it was the last one I acquired before going to Paris. Mr. Traunfeld's recipe calls for boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but I used bone-in, skin on chicken thighs, which I browned after sprinkling with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper before embarking on the rest of the recipe. When using leeks, make sure to wash them properly because sand settles in the leaves. I chopped the leeks thinly then put them in a bowl of water to rest while the sand sunk to the bottom of the bowl and then repeated the process twice more.

Tarragon Chicken Thighs with Buttered Leeks
(from Jerry Traunfeld's The Herbal Kitchen)

2 cups thinly sliced leeks, white and green parts only
2 cups chicken broth
4 tablespoons (56.5g) butter
1 1/2 pounds chicken thighs (or boneless, skinless chicken breasts)
Kosher salt
black pepper, freshly ground
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons coarsley chopped tarragon

1) Put leeks in a large skillet with chicken broth and half of the butter and cook at a gently boil over medium heat until leeks are tender and the broth has boiled down such that the leeks are not completely submerged in the liquid.
2) If using boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. If using chicken thighs, do as stated in paragraph preceding the recipe.
3) Place chicken on top of simmering leeks and spoon some of the leeks over the chicken.
4) Cover skillet tightly, reduce flame to low.
5) Check chicken for doneness, approximately 10 minutes if using boneless, skinless chicken breasts (15 minutes if the breasts are large), and 20 minutes if using bone-in, skin on, chicken thighs.
6) When the chicken is done, lift the pieces from the leeks and put on a warm platter.
7) Increase flame under leeks to high and stir in the lemon juice, remaining half of butter, and the tarragon. When the butter melts, taste the sauce and add salt and pepper according to your preference.
8) To serve: Pour leek sauce over chicken pieces.

I love the sharpness of the lemon and the creaminess of the leeks. I am glad that I decided to go with the chicken thighs because they gave a very light crunch, allowing for some play on the tongue; otherwise, it might have been too much like soft hospital food, however tasty.
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Shaun, this sounds so amazing. I hope to go to Paris one day. A beautiful entry for WCC!
Very nice work Shaun. Love the simplicity of this dish--and yes, tarragon immediately conjures up romanticized images of France for me...

A wonderful-sounding and simple dish! I used to make a chicken, tarragon & white wine dish quite often few years ago, but got tired of the recipe eventually. I think it's time to give it another go, so I've bookmarked your recipe. Thanks!
Hi Shaun! Glad to see you back and revitalised!
Your trip sounds wonderful! Never mind missing out on the UK, you didn't miss much except some rain and snow!
Freya x
Sara - This really is quite amazing. It is so very simple, takes hardly any time, and has a wonderfully creamy and lemony sauce. I will make it again.

Jasmine - Leeks and tarragon are a great combination. The mild onion flavor of the leeks is balanced by the mild anise flavor of the tarragon - though both sweet, both have very different background notes that are complementary. Isn't it funny that I never had anything with tarragon when I was in Paris?

Pille - If my descriptive language could do the dish more justice, I would use, but I'm quite poor at getting the point across. However, I'm glad that your interest has been piqued because it is a worthwhile weeknight meal to make.

Freya - Thanks for the welcome home. After two weeks of being back I'm sufficiently revitalized. Now I just have to get organized enough to move back to NZ...sigh. Hopefully it won't be too long before Eric and I can drop by and say hello...and maybe stay for dinner?
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