Recipe of the week: Julia Child's chicken tarragon

Today’s post is the twelfth in a series of weekly Julia Child recipes. This week, public affairs associate Laura Duff embraces her love of butter and tries tarragon for the first time with Julia’s poulet poêlê à l’estragon recipe.

“The buttery, aromatic steam in the casserole gives the chicken great tenderness and flavor”

Coveredcasserole Have you ever browsed through Appendix Two in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume II? Compiled as an “illustrated roundup” of kitchen equipment, this thirty-eight-page Batterie de Cuisine is Julia’s guide to the tools and implements mentioned in both volumes of Mastering. She explains the properties of cookware materials, discusses the advantages of various designs, and advises readers on how to use and care for their own equipment. In the section on casseroles and braising pans, Julia features nine different pans for this slow cooking technique, enabling cooks to determine which one best suits the recipe being prepared. This week’s featured object is an enameled cast iron pan that sits atop the Garland range in Julia’s kitchen. It’s also a good choice for cooking this week’s recipe.

Where to find the master recipe for poulet poêlê à l’estragon:

  • Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol I, pp. 249-251
  • An online version from the Kitchen Musings blog

Laura’s story

Many people associate Julia Child with great love and significant use of butter; I now have a glint of an understanding why. I have always loved food and—more importantly—cooking, having watched my English mother and grandmother in the kitchen hour after hour. What I was not able to pick up quickly, both my mother and grandmother spent many hours diligently explaining: the best way to make stock, roll pastry, and bake biscuits (or “cookies” in the U.S.). After poring through Julia Child’s recipes looking for the one that I wanted to attempt, the Poulet Poele a l’Estragon (also known as Julia Child’s Tarragon Chicken recipe) stood out. This was not a method that I had used to cook a chicken in the past—a new technique, new flavors, and an exuberance of butter . . . what could be better?

I began by preparing all the ingredients, with growing interest in what fresh tarragon would actually taste like. This in itself was a new flavor for me. I pride myself in trying anything from chicken feet and snake on my travels to baked beans and eccles cakes (a sweet desert of currents and puff pastry) from my native England, yet I had never to my knowledge tasted fresh tarragon.

PlateSend us YOUR photos of chicken tarragon! We'll feature the best photo on the museum's blog. Email to submit a photo or use our Tumblr submission page.

As I started to baste, stuff with tarragon, and truss the chicken, the wonderful smell of the melted butter in the casserole pot began to waft around the kitchen. Who could not already be a huge fan of this dish? Careful not to break the skin, I slowly began to turn the chicken over. This was slightly harder than I had originally anticipated as the chicken seemed perfectly comfortable where it originally was. In the end I succeeded and was rewarded with a nicely browned chicken.

After setting the chicken aside I started again with melting more butter and placing the carrots and onions in the casserole, allowing them to cook but making sure that they didn’t burn. After adding some salt and more tarragon to the casserole pot I reached for the chicken again, setting it breast side up over the vegetables, reaching for just a dab more butter, and finally covering it with aluminum foil and the lid and allowing the oven to do its work.

Looking absolutely delicious, I was anxiously waiting for the first taste. Sadly, although I have always had a love of all things licorice, I do not particularly enjoy the taste of tarragon (I have since found out that all my family members are also not fans, perhaps explaining why I had not had it before.) The chicken, on the other hand, was perfectly cooked, tender, and juicy and was delicious cold with salad the next day. I will definitely use this method for cooking chicken in the future. Next time, though, I’ll reach for my old favorites: lemon, thyme, and garlic!

Do try this at home!

We invite you to join with us in this celebration of Julia Child’s life, work, and contributions to American culinary history. Please share your experiences making Julia Child’s recipes by posting your story, photos, or video on our Tumblr page for this recipe series. Don’t forget to check back next week.

Laura Duff is a public affairs associate at the National Museum of American History.

Posted in Food History