I have decided that the Freezer Is My Friend. Not in terms of ready meals – yacksville except for fish fingers (do they count as a ready meal?) – but in terms of pre-prepared (by me) delicious meals for one. The sort of thing that I can whip out of the freezer in the morning, chuck in a pan when I get home from work and serve up in less than 15 minutes with some pasta or rice and a couple of my 5-a-day on the side.
My freezer is a pretty scary place. It’s teeny tiny, yet contains an extraordinary amount of crap including frozen peas, soya beans, quorn sausages (they’re blatantly getting chucked out), chicken breasts of a huge variety of ages, an East London Steak Company steak (WIN!), a bag of wine slush, these horrible little scallops (who knew that scallops could actually be actively unpleasant?), some ropey looking chicken livers, half fat coconut milk and a number of bags of entirely unidentifiable “food”. Most of this is going to go in the bin (NOT the steak – never the steak) to make space for my new fad. Filling. The. Freezer.
So far I’ve made bolognese and oxtail ragu. This is all well and good but I felt like I needed something less rich and with absolutely no tomato in it at all and something that goes with a carb that isn’t pasta. I racked my brain…BINGO! Casserole! Specifically…
Chicken and tarragon casserole (makes 6 portions)
12 chicken thighs, skinless and boneless
100g cubed pancetta (you can totally leave this out, it’s just as good without it)
12-18 whole shallots, peeled (use 18, they go amazingly mushy and delicious)
500g chestnut mushrooms (if you use the baby ones you won’t need to do any chopping at all)
A little olive oil
2 tbsp seasoned flour
2 tbsp dijon mustard
500ml chicken stock
150ml dry sherry (apparently wine works too)
5 tbsp creme fraiche
3 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped
Before we start, do NOT do as I do. Unless you have ace kitchen skillz, don’t be cheap and buy chicken thighs that are skin on and bone in. The skinning is easy and weirdly pleasing. The boning…not so easy. My chicken thighs ended up a little bit massacred. I feel really bad about this, they really didn’t get the respect that they deserved. (Will someone buy me some good knives – preferably Kin – and teach me how to bone stuff please?)
Anyway. Take your skinless, boneless chicken thighs and coat them in the seasoned flour. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and brown the thighs in batches, popping them into the bottom of a large lidded casserole dish as you go.
While this is going on, deal with your shallots. TOP TIP KLAXON!!!!! Shallots are a bit of a fiddly pain in the butt, right? Not any more. Cut off the woody root end, put the shallots in a bowl, pour over boiling water and leave for about 20 seconds. Drain the water off and then peel the skins off – it’s SO much easier than regular peeling and you don’t get the weeps either. (Top tip courtesy of @rankamateur – she was also the one that told me about this recipe too.) Here are the shallots:
Once the chicken is all browned off, fry off the pancetta until it’s brown and crispy. The original recipe calls for 150g – I used less than 100g and I genuinely think that you can leave it out entirely as I made it without for a non-pork eater last night and it was still entirely delicious. However, if you’re using the bacon, get it brown and crispy and chuck it into the casserole on top of the chicken.
In the bacon fat, saute off the shallots so that they look like this:
Once brown, they need to see the inside of the casserole dish too. The final bit of frying is for the baby mushrooms. They want a few minutes of browning off and then – yup, you guessed it – they go into the casserole as well, along with the dijon mustard.
Make up the chicken stock and pour it into the frying pan with the sherry. Let the frying pan cool down a bit first if you want to avoid extreme bubbling, boiling over and a big old mess all over your hob. Clearly, I did not do this because I am very, very foolish. Deglaze the pan and pour the liquid over the chicken/bacon/shallot/mushroom mixture. Give it a bit of a stir around so that the mustard gets mixed in. Add a bit of black pepper but no salt at this stage – there may well be enough from the seasoned flour and the stock cube.
Put the lid on the casserole and put it in a preheated oven at around 140c. This is the bit where you go off and do stuff but, unlike last week when I made the ragu, there’s no real time for a nap. You have 90 minutes to kill. I watched an episode of the West Wing, put fresh bedclothes on my bed and painted my nails. If I had alcohol in the house, I would have tucked into that instead of doing all these good things.
90 minutes later, return to the kitchen, remove the casserole and lo and behold! This is what you have:
The chicken falls apart, the shallots have gone all soft and silky and melty, the sauce is delicious. YUM. You’re not finished yet though. Pour the liquid through a sieve/colander into a saucepan. Put the creme fraiche into a separate bowl and stir some of the sauce into it. If you put the creme fraiche straight into the sauce, it doesn’t really mix in properly and you get little spots of white through your sauce.
Mix it together and then add to the saucepan, whisk it around and then bubble it all up furiously so it thickens up a bit. Chop up the tarragon and then add that to the sauce, turn off the heat and check the seasoning.
Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve with either mashed potatoes or some rice.
Voila! This is pretty much my food heaven, it’s just so comforting. I think that you could easily get away with using significantly less creme fraiche and I won’t be using any bacon in it in the future – I think this is the first thing that I’ve ever cooked where bacon genuinely hasn’t added anything to it. The best thing about this recipe is that it’s incredibly easy – you don’t even have to chop anything other than a bit of tarragon right at the end. This is definitely going to be added to my mental list of favourite things.
I still have a bit of space in the freezer though. What next? A curry? Pork? Chicken again? Bring on the suggestions but while you’re thinking, make this.