Monday 27 April 2009

Oven-poached Chicken Breasts with a Cold Lemon-Tarragon Cream

A pale, silken sauce, enriched with cream and eggs yolks and zinged with lemon and tarragon, makes this dish one of my all-time favourites for a cooling lunch on a hot day.

Tender poached chicken breasts in a creamy lemon-tarragon sauce: perfect for very hot weather.

 I can't remember who gave me this recipe, but when I first made it for my mother-in-law (a wonderful cook) some 18 years ago, it was a disaster. The sauce was lovely, but the breasts were rubbery enough to bounce across the kitchen. I was desperate to impress her, and she ate it politely, but I had the sense she went away from our house feeling as if she had elastic bands between her molars.

It's really tricky to poach deboned chicken breasts and keep them succulent and tender (you can try the clingfilm method), and it's only recently that I experimented with poaching them in the oven, with great success. A quick poaching and a long cooling in the cooking liquid is definitely the way to go.

If you're nervous about reheating the sauce (it has a tendency to curdle) once you've added the yolks, skip this reheating step, and add an extra teaspoon (5 ml) of flour when you make the initial roux.

Please note that this sauce contains partially cooked eggs.

This is delicious with salad leaves dressed in lemon juice and olive oil; the ones in my picture are red-vein sorrel, which grows like a weed in my herb patch.

I've used dried tarragon here as fresh leaves are hard to find at the moment; if you can find fresh tarragon leaves, you can afford to be a little more generous with quantities.

Oven-poached Chicken Breasts with a Cold Lemon-Tarragon Cream

8 deboned, skinned free-range chicken breasts
salt and milled black pepper

For poaching:
1 bay leaf
a thick slice of onion
8 peppercorns
a few sprigs of parsley
a slice of lemon, peel and all
the juice of 1 lemon
hot water (about 500 ml)

For the sauce:
2 Tbsp (30 ml) butter
2 Tbsp (30 ml) flour
grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp (15 ml) dried tarragon leaves
2 large free-range egg yolks
300 ml single cream
a pinch of white pepper

To serve:
a little finely grated lemon zest
lemon slices
salad leaves

Heat the oven to 180 °C. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and put them in a single layer in a ceramic baking dish (don't pack them too tightly). Add the bay leaf, onion, peppercorns, parsley, lemon slice and lemon juice, and pour over enough very hot water to just cover the breasts (about 500 ml).

Place, uncovered, in the hot oven for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and poke a hole into the thickest end of a breast: it should be just cooked. If there's any trace of pinkness, place the dish back in the oven for another few minutes. Cover with clingfilm and allow the breasts to cool for an hour or so in their cooking liquid. Refrigerate.

Strain off 300 ml of the cooking liquid and set aside. Now make the roux: melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat and stir in the flour. Cook, stirring, for a minute or so (don't let the mixture brown). Whisk in the reserved 300 ml of cooking liquid and bring to the boil, stirring constantly, until the mixture is slightly thickened. Cook over a gentle heat for two minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon rind, lemon juice and tarragon. Season with salt and pepper.

In a separate bowl, lightly beat together the cream and egg yolks. Strain the mixture through a sieve into the hot sauce. Now put the pot back on a very gentle heat and cook gently for a minute or so to slightly thicken the sauce, as if you're making a custard. (You can skip this step: see notes above). I find it helps to keep a finger in the sauce as you stir: once it feels very hot (but not unbearably hot), it's ready; cook it any longer and it will curdle.

Remove from the heat and cover the surface of the sauce with a piece of clingfilm to prevent a skin forming. Cool completely, and then place in the fridge for an hour.

Tear the chicken breasts along the grain into strips as big as your pinkie finger, place them in a bowl and cover with the cold sauce. Toss well to coat, and allow to stand for another hour (in the fridge or out, depending on how cold you'd like the dish) so that the breasts absorb some of the flavour.

Arrange on plates and serve with lemon slices, salad leaves and perhaps some boiled baby potatoes.

Serves 6.

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1 comment:

Nina Timm said...

Ooooo, I love this dish!!! Well balanced and good flavors!!!