Anna’s best friend calls this ‘Gavin’s Chicken’, but unfortunately I can take no credit whatsoever for this fantastic dish, which I found in Tamasin Day Lewis’ great book Good Tempered Food. She herself gives the credit to others. Who cares, for it is delicious and rich, and its two-stage preparation makes it an ideal dish for dinner parties. I was never quite sure where the name came from, but while cooking it recently, it did occur to me that the sauce bears a certain resemblance to the cheese fondues from the Savoy regions of France, Switzerland and Italy. The dish also includes copious quantities of that other great chicken enhancer: tarragon. Although there is a little preparation involved, it’s all pretty straightforward and can be split over two days and all-in-all makes for a stress-free special meal.
Use a free-range or organic chicken if you can: you’ll notice the difference.
Makes: 6 generous portions
Preparation: 20 mins (x3)
Cooking: 1¾ hrs + 25 mins (x2)
Chicken (about 2kg)
First we’ll poach the chicken. Place the chicken breast up in a large pot for which you have a lid. Chop the carrots and celery very roughly. Half the onions lengthwise and peel. Stick one of the onion pieces with the cloves. Top and tail the leek, chop into large pieces and wash thoroughly to remove any grit. Arrange the vegetables, with the bay leaves, thyme and peppercorns around the chicken. Add some salt but don’t overdo it: you can always add a little later but you can’t get it out again! Fill with cold water until the chicken is just covered. Put on a high heat and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat, put on the lid and simmer very gently for about 1½ hours. During the early stages you may need to skim a little scum from the top of the liquid.
After cooking, carefully lift the chicken out of the pot and leave to cool on a large plate. It will almost be falling apart and I find that two fish slices or pan turners work best. Pour the poaching stock through a fine sieve into a large clean bowl and leave to cool also. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, take the meat off the carcass, disarding the skin and any sinews. It’s easiest to use your fingers. You should be aiming for large bite-sized pieces. Except for the breasts, which you’ll need to cut into smaller pieces, this is the size that will naturally come away. If continuing the next day, place the chicken pieces in a bowl, cover with cling film and put in the fridge. Remove the fat from the stock with a fat separator or with absorbent kitchen paper towels. You’ll probably end up with over 2 litres of stock. Reserve 400ml for the next stage and keep the rest for making soups, risottos etc. The stock will keep for several days in the fridge and for months if frozen promptly.
Heat the chicken stock from the previous stage. For the sauce, melt the butter in a pan over a lowish heat. Add the flour and cook gently for a few minutes to make a roux. Don’t let the mixture colour at all. I find it easiest to do the next stage off the heat at first but some prefer to keep the low heat going. Pour the stock slowly into the roux and keep stirring to stop any lumps forming. Don’t panic if it looks a little lumpy: just slow down or stop the pouring and increase the stiring until things are smooth again. When you have added all the stock there should be a nice shine to the sauce. Add the wine and cream. Increase the heat and stir until the sauce has thickened nicely. When the sauce is starting to bubble, stir in the grated gruyère cheese, mustard and tarragon. Adjust the seasoning and let bubble away gently for 15mins.
Place the chicken in a buttered oven-proof dish and pour the sauce over it. You can prepare this several hours ahead. When it’s time for dinner, heat the oven to 200°C, mix the breadcrumbs, parmesan and a little olive oil (just enough to bind the mixture) and sprinkle over the top of the chicken and sauce. Place the dish in the oven and cook for about 25mins until bubbling and the breadcrumb mix golden.
Serve with some new potatoes and green vegetables, such as fine beans. Enjoy!