"Tarragon with tomato is the French answer to the Italian duet of tomato and basil."
I've said it before and I'll say it again: tarragon is a quintessentially French herb, distinctive and inimitable, and massively underestimated. Tarragon tastes to me like a cross between chervil and fennel—slightly licorice, delicately perfuming. It's reserved, but not a wallflower because its flavor is so distinctive. This week, the herb garden underdog is the hero of this easy, summery, satisfying chicken-on-the-bone stew.
For some inexplicable reason, tarragon has always struck me as feminine—and her first and second husbands are chicken and tomatoes. Tarragon is the secret to the best chicken salad, and tarragon with tomato is the French answer to the Italian duet of tomato and basil, another delicate but distinctive herb. Tomato and tarragon soup, served warm or cold in the summer, is a true treat and a welcome way to shake up everyday flavors.
I love this dish because it's light, yet hearty, cheap from the fall-off-the-bone dark meat chicken, but still elevated from the fresh summer tomatoes and tarragon, and vermouth that creates the stewy, steaming sauce. You should have many extra baguettes on hand for lapping up the broth.
This dish was inspired by one late night at the Cordon Bleu where we made a different Tarragon Chicken dish. I have no idea how to make that dish, or what went into it, despite several volumes of meticulous notes. (Every chef seemed to have another version, and they all seemed to detest teaching this one dish so much that they just whispered, "Do whatever you want"—the antithesis of the usual Cordon Bleu instruction!) All I remember was being in that hot, Paris kitchen at nine at night, deconstructing and deboning that damn chicken. That was a bloody one—for the chicken, and my thumb.
I thought to myself how much I hated what I was doing at that moment, but how this tarragon chicken combination was such a great idea. I'm not sure if any of us finished the dish that night, but as soon as I got home I knew I wanted to French in a Flash-it. And how could paring a dish down to its best ingredients and leaving the chicken on the bone ever be a bad thing?
I assure you: C'est si bon!
About the author: Kerry Saretsky is the creator of French Revolution Food, where she reinvents her family's classic French recipes in a fresh, chic, modern way. She also writes the The Secret Ingredient series for Serious Eats.
French in a Flash: Tarragon Chicken
About This Recipe
- 8 vine ripened tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely diced
- 8 chicken legs
- 8 chicken thighs
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
- 4 shallots, roughly chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1/3 cup dry vermouth
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
- 6 stems tarragon
First thing's first: deal with the tomatoes. Cut out their little belly buttons, and slit and X onto their behinds. Drop them in boiling water for 10 to 20 seconds, and shock in ice water. Use a paring knife to help you lift off the skin, and then quarter them. Cut out the guts and seeds, then dice. This may seem like an unnecessary step, but it's really so easy, and the result is a much lighter, sweeter, more summery sauce.
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. In a braising pan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken, in batches as necessary, until golden-brown all over. Set the chicken aside, and discard the oil.
Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and garlic, and sweat just a minute. Add the vermouth and the wine, and simmer to reduce and burn off the alcohol. Add the tomatoes and chicken stock and half the tarragon. Add the chicken back into the pan, and bring the liquid to a boil.
Cover and simmer for 1 hour, until the meat is falling off the bone. Boil uncovered for a few minutes at the end if you want to evaporate off some of the liquid (I like it saucy). Scatter the leaves from the remaining 3 stems of fresh tarragon over the chicken, and serve piping hot.