Sunday, 8 April 2012

Chicken, Leek and Tarragon Casserole. For sea.

It's hard to imagine that in one weeks time I will no longer be sitting cross legged upon my lovely double bed with the view all flat and stationary out of the window. We will be all at sea, slowly discovering our sea legs and adjusting to the routine of watches and life aboard. As the ships cook, I  only have the one 3 hour watch to do, usually after dinner and the rest of my time will be spent preparing meals for the crew. Now if the weather is fine and the seas are calm then, to be frank, it's a pretty cushty job. But if the weather is not so favourable, the responsibility to feed the crew lies with me alone as nobody else on board would volunteer.

I've been pre-cooking these last few days at the house and taking the prepared dishes down to the boat to stuff in my tiny-wee, little freezer. These are my rough weather dishes. If it all starts to get a bit gnarly out there, then I am prepared for it. Take out a frozen meal and slap it in the oven. Easy. Otherwise it can take literally hours to make the most simple of dishes and it's exhausting.

Mariquita has been transformed from her stripped winter maintenance bareness, to her fully geared and accessorised passage coat. Complete with life rafts, passage sails and stanchions. Ooh , it's all starting to get very exciting. That feeling of impending change. A journey is afoot!

Now, before I start getting all poetic on you, let me give you a little recipe. It's a little recipe but with the potential to feed lots of hungry mouths and tastes delicious, is simple and economic, hearty yet elegant. Its the tarragon you see. Its a clever little herb that has an air of sophistication. It's grace can turn any run-of-the-mill dish into a charmer. Even a frozen chicken and leek casserole, emancipated from its tin foil and bunged in a gimballed oven swinging willy-nilly in a stuffy galley that's bucking like a bronco, will taste like it's heaven sent and all because (I reckon) of that most debonair of herbs; tarragon.

A great family sized dish served with mash, or rice or pasta! And will freeze splendidly. 

For Chicken, Leek and Tarragon casserole to serve 6 you will need;

8-10 chicken portions, a mix of thigh and breast.
6 large leeks, washed and sliced but not too thinly 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
4 stalks of celery, washed and roughly chopped
1 large bunch of fresh tarragon, the leaves stripped from the stalks and chopped
500ml white wine
500ml chicken stock
2 tbsp plain flour
1/2 tbsp clear honey or sugar

  • Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4. In your largest nonstick frying pan, fry the chicken pieces in some oil so that they are a gentle golden brown on both sides. This might take a few batches. Place the browned chicken into an oven proof casserole dish with a lid.

  • Once the chicken is browned and resting in its dish, add a little more oil to the frying pan and start to saute the leeks and celery. This shouldn't take too long, around 5 minutes, before adding the garlic and half of the chopped tarragon. Add the honey or sugar and saute for another couple of minutes, stirring frequently. The honey balances out the acidity of the wine.

  • Add the leeks to the chicken pieces in your casserole dish.

  •  Add a little more oil or butter to the pan and use a wooden spatula to stir and loosen any remaining leeky, garlicy goodness from the pans bottom before adding the flour. Over a very gentle heat stir the flour in to make a roux, which will look like a paste. Take the roux off the heat and begin to very slowly add the stock and wine, stirring well between additions to get rid of any lumps before adding more of the liquid.

  • Once all the liquid has been added, let the sauce come to a gentle simmer then season with salt and pepper before tipping into the casserole dish with the chicken and leeks.

  • Add  the remaining tarragon, give it all a good stir and pop into the oven for 1 hour 20 minutes. Check the seasoning before serving.
This is delicious served with mashed potatoes but also goes beautifully with pasta or rice, so it can suit any taste,  occasion or weather condition and angle at which you are serving it. Handy.

If the wind we have at the moment dies down a little, tomorrow we go out for our first sail of the year.
It’ll be a learning curve for everybody with such a new crew and it feels like its been ages since the last race at St Tropez! 

Hope I remember how it all works...
Thanks for reading,