How funny that, at my house, we consider chicken a treat. Once considered everyday fare, it can be difficult to find good-quality chicken at a reasonable price, so we rarely buy any. In the early years of cooking for myself, I used chicken more than any other protein; it was inexpensive (my eyes were not yet open, shall we say), versatile and plentiful. I was comfortable cooking it on the stove top or in the oven, scared of working with fish, unaware how to use tofu, unsure how to properly cook beef and worried about undercooking pork. Nowadays, when I do have the chance to buy good chicken, I like whole birds, to roast with lemon, shallots & thyme, or bone-in thighs. Flavorful, moist and adaptable to so many recipes, I would take thighs over a skinless boneless anything any day of the week. It’s easy to remove the skin if you prefer.
This dinner was built around tarragon. I happened to have chicken in the fridge, intending to bake it and use the meat for a pot pie or with dumplings. As I was starting to prepare it for the oven, I saw a bunch of tarragon and recalled a beloved dish from my college years: chicken tarragon salad from Wild Oats in the Tontine Mall in Brunswick. A great little soup and sandwich shop, Wild Oats introduced me to tabbouleh, curried chicken, minestrone and that wonderful chicken tarragon salad. Chicken and tarragon are best friends, in my culinary world, so it was a no-brainer to put them together for dinner. The mushrooms were just because (and they worked!); the cream was to replicated the creaminess of the mayo in the salad I was thinking about. I don’t think I had ever tasted tarragon before that Wild Oats salad, but now I love that herbal, anise-y flavor and use it in pickles, to infuse vinegar, with seafood (especially lobster, when I am lucky enough to have any) and with eggs.
This chicken dish is quick to prepare and has a surprising depth of flavor; with just a few ingredients, you can really taste the mushrooms, the tarragon, etc. You could use boneless thighs or breasts, even drumsticks, if you prefer; make sure to adjust the cooking time accordingly. I served the chicken with roasted asparagus spears and found the only thing missing on my plate was a crusty piece of bread, spoonful of rice or noodles to sop up the extra sauce. Simple, tasty, a dish I will make again.
Chicken Thighs with Tarragon Mushroom Sauce
- 4 organic chicken thighs
- 2 T. olive oil
- 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
- 2 – 3 cloves of garlic, chopped roughly
- 1 c. chicken stock or water
- 2 tsp. butter
- 1 c. sliced mushrooms
- 1/3 c. cream
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1 T. (or more) fresh tarragon, chopped
To a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add the oil and dried thyme and cook the chicken thighs, skin side down, until they are golden brown. This takes about 8-10 mins. depending on your pan; do not move or flip the chicken or it will stick and the skin will be soggy. I find that the chicken will release from the pan without sticking when it’s ready. Anyhow, when your chicken is golden, flip it and add the garlic to the pan. Cook for about a minute, until you start to smell the garlic, then add the stock or water. Lower the heat to the high end of medium and simmer for an additional 10-15 mins.; the chicken is done when a meat thermometer registers 165 degrees. Remove the chicken to a plate to rest; reserve the pan juices in a bowl.
In the same pan you cooked the chicken in, melt the butter and add the sliced mushrooms. Cook for 2-3 mins. and then return 1/4 – 1/2 c. of the reserved pan juices (you can skim the fat if you like, add the garlic back in or not) and increase the heat slightly. You want to reduce the sauce while finishing the mushrooms; this generally takes about 4-6 mins. When the sauce has reduced by about half, add the cream, lower the heat and cook for another minute or so, to warm through and thicken the sauce. Season with salt & pepper to taste.
To serve, place one or two thighs on a plate and ladle mushrooms and sauce over the top. Garnish each piece with a liberal amount of tarragon.