sunday lunch: traditional tarragon roast chicken

tarragon roast chicken
"Dragon's teeth" sounds like some kind of medieval expletive, but in fact it is a country name for the herb tarragon, artemesia dracunculus, so named because its spikey leaves were supposed to resemble the teeth of a dragon. 

Now I have always had a bit of a soft spot for dragons; something to do with being told by Chinese friends in Malaysia that my birth during the Year of the Dragon was auspicious. Personally I think it gave me delusions of grandeur at far too young an age, but I have always felt a bit of affinity with dragons ever since.

But one should always approach dragons with caution (preferably bearing gifts). I usually approach tarragon with a similar sense of vigilance, although perhaps more the way you would treat someone's unfamiliar pet. Approach gingerly and see if the pet bites or scratch. If all is well, proceed to tickle under its chin!

For many years I had thought that I didn't much like tarragon (or any other aniseed flavours). As a child I gave liquorice allsorts and sherbet fountains a miss. When Pernod became the drink de jour amongst teenage girls, I just said no.

But once I started cooking for myself, it dawned on me that I did like some aniseed flavours, in particular fresh basil and star anise. I often use fennel seeds in curries too. What I don't like is being coshed around my tastebuds by a herbal sledgehammer - when someone else's mild mannered kitty becomes a slathering lion whose fearsome jaws are clamped around my head and all I can do is burp aniseed for the next week . . . we've all been there!

Tarragon is a relative newcomer to Britain (introduced in the 16th century) but has been a stalwart of classic French cooking for much longer. Approached calmly and with some restraint, tarragon roasted with chicken is a delight and is a traditional way of roasting a chicken. Combine the tarragon with lemon and butter and you get a wonderfully succulent and aromatic roast. Perfect Sunday fodder!

Serves 4 to 6
Skill level: Easy

1 free range chicken (about 1.5-2kg)
3 x medium sized English onions
40g butter
a small bunch tarragon, chopped
1 x lemon, zest and juice (retain the halves)
3-4 x garlic cloves, lightly smashed
1 x bay leaf
half a bottle dry white wine
salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C / Gas Mark 6.
  2. Season the inside of the chicken with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Zest and juice the lemon. Quarter the shells and put 2 into the chicken cavity.
  4. Stuff in 1 or 2 of the garlic cloves, together with the bay leaf.
  5. Take one of the onions and quarter. Stuff as many of the quarters into the chicken cavity (any that won't fit can be lobbed into the roasting tin to roast with the chicken).
  6. Mash the butter with salt, pepper, lemon zest and the roughly chopped tarragon. Use about three quarters of this flavoured butter to smooth under the skin of the chicken. The rest of the flavoured butter can be massaged into the surface of the chicken. If there is any left over, pop it inside the chicken cavity.
  7. Halve the remaining onions and use as a trivet for the chicken. Place them on the bottom of the roasting tin and place the chicken on top of them.
  8. Add the remaining garlic, lemon quarters and onion. Pour the lemon juice over the chicken. Pour the white wine into the base of the roasting tin. Roast the chicken for 20 minutes for every 500g in weight plus an extra 25 minutes and 10 to 15 minutes resting.
  9. After the first 20 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 180C / Gas Mark 4. Baste and return to the oven for the rest of the cooking time. Check every 20 minutes or so. Baste again if you want to. If it looks as if the chicken is burning, then cover in foil.
  10. The chicken is cooked when the juices run clear when the flesh is pierced with a sharp knife or skewer.
  11. Wrap in foil and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes, just enough time to perfect your gravy, cook the Yorkshire puddings (if making, and how could you not?) and sort out the rest of the vegetables.
  12. To make the gravy, pour off any excess fat but keep the pan juices. Place the roasting tin on the stove top, over a moderate heat. Add more wine, or vermouth or water. Heat through, scraping up the caramelised bits sticking to the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper.



belleau kitchen said...

totally agree re tastes and maturity... I was never a fan of that tarragon taste but have grown to love it. Can I suggest next time you add a dash of Pernod to the roasting tin when you bake, it's amazing with chicken. Beautiful looking roast x

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

Dom - I still shudder at the thought of Pernod (when I was a teenager Pernod & Black was the drink of choice of binge drinkers . . . yuk!) But I know you're absolutely right and it's pretty good with seafood too . . . but baby steps for me at the moment!

Karen S Booth said...

I came late to appreciating tarragon too, but I love it now. When we lived in Hong Kong and Singapore, my sister was the darling with our Chinese friends as she is was born in the year of the dragon, me, I am a dog! Ha, what a cruel twist if fate! Lovely roast chicken too......Karen