I love tarragon, the delicate, green herb with an elusive, complex, anise-y flavour. It goes well with seafood and chicken and is an essential ingredient in béarnaise sauce, which is often served with steak. Many recipes will tell you that tarragon should be used in small quantities, or the herb will be overwhelming. I've found, though, that it depends on the tarragon: some varieties have a lot more flavour than others. Taste a few leaves before you use it, and adjust the amount accordingly.
Tarragon chicken with fingerling potatoes (pictured)
1 fresh chicken, about 1.2kg
About 10ml cooking oil
3 medium-sized shallots
25 grams plain (all-purpose) flour
500 grams fingerling potatoes
Several sprigs of tarragon, leaves only
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cut off and discard the head of the chicken. Pull off any lumps of fat (I save this and freeze it; when I've collected enough, I cook it over a low flame for about 30 minutes, or until the fat renders out; it's delicious for pan-fried or roasted potatoes). Cut off the wing tips and feet and put them in a saucepan. Remove the legs and cut between the joint to separate the drumsticks from the thighs. Remove the wings (drumette and middle joint) from the carcass. Put the chicken breast side-up on the cutting board. Carve off the breasts from the breastbone. Detach the lower back (the part with the tail and the chicken "oysters") from the rest of the carcass. You should have nine pieces: two wings, two drumsticks, two thighs, two boneless breasts and one lower back. Put the carcass into the pan with the wing tips and feet and add about 600ml of water. Bring to the boil then lower the heat, partially cover the pan with the lid and simmer for at least 30 minutes. Lay the chicken pieces on a cutting board and sprinkle lightly with salt. Leave at room temperature for about 15 minutes while preparing the potatoes and other ingredients.
Scrub the potatoes but do not peel them. Put them in a pan and cover with cold, salted water. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer until the potatoes are just tender, then drain. Slice the shallots. Roughly chop the tarragon and divide into two portions. When the chicken stock is ready, strain out and discard the bones.
Use the cooking oil to lightly coat a large, wide skillet placed over a medium-high flame. When the pan is very hot, sear the chicken pieces - first the drumsticks, thighs and back (because they take the longest to cook), then the wings and, finally, the breasts. You just want to brown the pieces well, not cook them entirely: the dark meat will take about eight minutes, the wings about five and the breasts about two. Place the pieces on a plate or tray when they're ready.
Pour off most of the fat from the skillet, leaving behind 25ml. Place the skillet over a low flame and add the shallots and a light sprinkling of salt. Cook until the shallots are soft, stirring often. Turn the heat to medium. Add the flour to the pan and stir constantly with a whisk for a minute, to make a light roux. Add 100ml of the chicken stock and whisk to smooth out the flour lumps. Add more stock, 100ml at a time, whisking constantly. You'll need about 400ml of the stock to make it a slightly thick sauce consistency (it will thin out when you add the chicken). When the sauce comes to a simmer, whisk in half the tarragon, then arrange the chicken pieces in the pan. Place the fingerling potatoes over the chicken then turn the heat to low, cover the pan with the lid and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the chicken is done. Place the chicken and potatoes in a serving dish, then taste the sauce; if needed, add some salt. If the consistency is too thick, whisk in more chicken stock. Pour the sauce over the chicken and potatoes, then sprinkle with black pepper and scatter the remaining tarragon on top. Serve immediately.
Mussels with tarragon and white wine
Use the small mussels with blue-black shells, because the meat is tender and sweet.
500 grams fresh mussels
15 grams unsalted butter
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
75ml dry white wine
2-3 tarragon sprigs, leaves only
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Rinse the mussels under cold, running water and discard any with cracked shells, then drain. Chop the tarragon leaves and divide into two portions.
Melt the butter in a wide pot set over a low flame. Add the shallot and garlic and cook until soft, stirring often. Turn the flame to high and add the white wine and a light sprinkling of salt. Bring to the boil and cook for a minute, add the mussels, then stir in half the tarragon. Cover the pot with the lid and lower the flame. Simmer, shaking the pan frequently, until the mussels open (about five minutes). Stir in some black pepper, salt (if needed) and the remaining tarragon, then serve.
Styling: Nellie Ming Lee
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