Friday, February 17, 2012

Tarragon Chicken

by Sheila Connolly

This is one of my favorite quick and simple dishes that looks fancier than it is.  It is derived from a recipe by my idol, Julia Child, in Mastering the Art of French Cooking (did I mention I have three copies?  One is falling apart, but the others are too clean to use—go figure).  For years it was my go-to company meal, because it didn't require too much attention, so I could socialize with my friends instead of worrying about cooking.

Before I jump in, a word about chickens.  Recently I watched an old (black and white!) episode of Julia Child on my local PBS station WGBH, where the show originated.  Julia reduced a whole chicken to pieces, and declared that it would serve eight.  My, how times have changed!  Does your market offer only monster chickens?  Or chicken breasts that weight well over a pound each, even minus the wings?  You will notice that here I cook only two breasts, which is more than enough meat to feed three of us, with some left over for the cats and for a nice chicken salad sandwich the next day.

For this recipe Julia specified a 3-pound bird.  Around here that's a large Cornish Game Hen (which is really a small chicken, folks).  It doesn't matter for this recipe—use whatever you have, as long as  it all fits in your covered casserole dish. Dark meat, white meat, or a mix—all fine.


1 chicken, cut into serving pieces
2 Tblsp butter
1 Tblsp cooking oil
Salt and pepper
Fresh or dried tarragon

Pat dry your chicken pieces and sprinkle all sides with salt, pepper, and tarragon (use lots!).  Melt the butter and oil together in your casserole and sauté the chicken pieces until they are lightly browned.  Remove and set aside.

1 large onion, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced (you will notice the ones here are not orange—I happened to have some pretty ones on hand, so I used yellow and red ones)
Salt and pepper
Fresh or dried tarragon

Add another tablespoon or two of butter (if needed) to the pan and sauté the sliced onion and carrots slowly without browning (about five minutes).  Sprinkle with salt, pepper and tarragon.

Return the chicken pieces to the casserole and cover.  Cook over low heat (if you cook it too fast it toughens) until the chicken is cooked through. (I usually just poke the breast pieces.  If they have stopped jiggling and stiffened, they're cooked but still juicy.) This should take no more than half an hour, although the timing will depend on how many pieces of chicken you have in your casserole.  You could also put the whole thing in a preheated 325 degree oven for the same amount of time.)

When the chicken is cooked, take the chicken pieces out of the pan and set aside, keeping them warm.  Add a cup of chicken stock to the vegetables in the pan and scrape up the tasty stuff on the bottom.  If you want to thicken the sauce, take 2 Tablespoons of dry sherry and mix in one Tablespoon of cornstarch, and dribble it into the sauce, stirring steadily, until you reach the consistency you want. 

Add some more tarragon and a tablespoon of butter, stir one last time, and there you are!  Serve with white rice.

Bon appetit!


  1. Love the idea of anything that looks fancier than it really is. And those red carrots are gorgeous Sheila!

  2. Mmm, delicious! Tarragon is such a nice herb for chicken. I have seen giant chickens in the stores for years and avoid them. Have they been bred that big? I go out of my way to buy Amish chicken at the only store in my area that carries them. They tell me people drive two hours for the Amish chicken. They're still normal size!

    ~ Krista

  3. Krista, I've read that today's commercially produced chickens are so top-heavy they can't even stand, but since they're cooped up in tiny cages it doesn't matter. Something is wrong with this picture.

    At the other extreme, we have friends who raise a few chickens in the backyard, and a while a go they had to cull the roosters, and invited me to the chicken dinner. It was amazing to me how little meat the critters had on them.

    I really should find a local supplier--or start raising my own!

  4. Wow I never saw carrots other then in orange, how pretty. I like tarragon. I have a chicken in packets recipes and it used tarragon. (Thanks for reminding me I have this recipe).

    I really enjoy adding all these great recipes to my collection. I have a section called "Mystery Kitchen Recipes" just for those I found here.

    Thanks to ALL who contribute!

  5. I am really out of date as I did not know you could have any color but orange for carrots, but they are pretty. I will have to check where I shop and see if they have added them. I do love the different colors of bell peppers and use them alot.
    I can remember watching Julia on tv yrs ago and she always made me laugh. This does look like a delicious dish I should try.
    I have your series on my wish list and hope to read Fire Engine Dead soon.

    misskallie2000 at yahoo dot com