Monday, 5 March 2012

Chicken with Tarragon and Wild Mushrooms

"Follow the instructions below and you too might come second / third / fourth / fifth in a wine sponsored blogger cook-off…"

Back in January I was invited by the nice people at Wines of Bordeaux to take part in a blogger cook-off at Westminster Kingsway College. Being fairly competitive by nature, it seemed like a good opportunity to flex my culinary muscles and show the other bloggers out there who’s boss. But pride comes before a fall, and the victory that had seemed in my mind’s eye a foregone conclusion did not materialise!

This put me in a black mood for days; going over every pinch of pepper and shake of salt in my mind. Did I under-season, was my chicken over-cooked, was my presentation too rustic for the tastes of the autocratic judges? Ultimately, who could I blame for this failure (obviously not myself)?

We were supposed to be cooking in pairs, but the friend I had lined up to be my sous-chef for the evening bailed out at the last minute, blaming “work commitments”, although I think he was worried I was going to go all Tom Aikens and brand him with a hot palette knife. In any case, I was forced to go solo, and a scapegoat was unearthed – thanks a lot Franny, it’s all your fault I lost! Having said that, on reflection, my presentation, as shown above, left a bit to be desired!

Not wishing to come across as a bad loser (which I am), I will say that the winners’ pork dish was very good and all credit should go to them. However, I will stand by my own effort, which was braised chicken with tarragon and wild mushrooms, as it was delicious and certainly worthy of your time. It’s the kind of dish that you can cook to impress some chums at a dinner party / supper club / lunch date, because it doesn’t require too much last minute attention and, if you get it right, tastes pretty refined.

As the cook-off was being sponsored by Wines of Bordeaux, we had a little tasting session and tutorial before the real business got underway. Led by Laura Clay from Birmingham Imbibers, this was quite a nice way to start things off, and in any case a glass of Sauternes always goes down well. Prior to the competition I’d been told I would be cooking a meal for four using chicken, but not just any chicken, a poulet noir no less (a recherché French breed of poultry for the uninitiated). However, I didn't know what other ingredients would be available until I got there, so it was a bit of a “Ready, Steady, Cook” affair (just minus Ainsley Harriot and an audience of pensioners and students).
I’d already had it in mind that braising the chicken would be a good option, so when I saw the mushrooms and tarragon - which is my favourite herb - sitting there in the kitchen, a poulet noir a l’estragon et champignons sauvages seemed the obvious answer (sorry about the French, but this is a Wines of Bordeaux event, so I had to squeeze some in!). Picking up some shallots, leek, celery and a few other bits and pieces my selection was complete.

Follow the instructions below and you too might come second / third / fourth / fifth in a wine sponsored blogger cook-off…

Chicken with Tarragon and Wild Mushrooms

Serves 4

One free range chicken, jointed into eight and seasoned with salt and pepper
4 shallots, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 leek, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
300ml white wine
300ml cream
100g wild mushrooms, cleaned, sliced and ready for the pot
Handful of tarragon, roughly chopped
Lemon juice
Salt and pepper

1.   Start off by browning the seasoned chicken pieces in some olive oil and butter in a large sauté pan over a gentle heat. Do this until the skin is golden brown and the chicken is partially cooked through. Now take the chicken out of the pan and set aside to keep warm.
2.   Into the same pan, add the shallots (reserving approximately ¼ for later on), garlic, leek and celery. Season and cook these for another 10-15 minutes, until soft and translucent.
3.   Turn up the heat under the pan and add the wine. You want this to boil for a couple of minutes so that all the alcohol is burnt off. Then add the cream, bring up to the boil and return the chicken to the pan, putting it in skin side up.
4.   Leave the chicken and vegetables to cook slowly in the liquid for 20-30 minutes, by which time the drumsticks and thighs should be cooked through and tender.
5.   In the meantime turn your attention to the rest of the shallots and mushrooms, which you need to fry gently in some butter and oil for 10-15 minutes until the mushrooms have lightly caramelised.
6.   Now remove the chicken from the pan for a second time and strain the sauce through a fine meshed sieve into a clean saucepan. Taste the sauce for seasoning, add the mushroom and shallot mixture, the tarragon and a touch of lemon juice (which will add a bit of acidity to cut through the richness of the cream sauce) and heat through for a couple of minutes. Finally return the chicken to the pan to heat through.
7.   With that done, you’re good to go. Make sure each person gets a piece of white and dark meat on their plate and plenty of the sauce. In the competition, I served this up with some Savoy cabbage, which I blanched and then fried in butter with some pancetta, and some crushed new potatoes. But any greens alongside something starchy would go very well.

The hand of Gastrolad, seasoning the chicken

Part of the competition was to match the food with a wine (unsurprisingly from Bordeaux). Unfortunately I can’t remember which one I chose. It should be something dry and white, probably oak aged, with a touch of acidity. So in this case, a white Bordeaux blend is actually a good choice.

All in, I really enjoyed the whole experience, especially the cooking in a professional kitchen, so thank you very much to all the guys from Wines of Bordeaux and Westminster Kingsway College who all helped to make it a really fun experience.

Some of the wines of Bordeaux!

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