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Chicken with Tarragon and Morels

The first “fancy” meal I cooked for my husband Charlie way back in 1981 was from Craig Claiborne’s cookbook, and I’ve been cooking it ever since. It’s a beautiful French-style chicken breast poached in a wildly flavorful and decadent tarragon cream sauce. Definitely not everyday fare, but for those special occasions ... wow. I’ve made a few small revisions over the years, but the spirit of the recipe remains the same. In 1986, Charlie’s Mother was turning 70, and it had been a tough few years for her. Therefore, a big surprise celebration was in order. I offered to cook as delicious a meal as I could come up with. Now, realize I had never cooked for the woman who would become my mother-in-law. She was a proud North Carolina farm woman while I was, and remain, an urban Yankee actor. Needless to say, there was a lot riding on this meal. As the date approached, I was cast in a show and so couldn’t travel to North Carolina to cook. These days Charlie is a decent cook, but in 1986 his skills were ... limited. So we devised an emergency improvised cooking school. I gathered all of the ingredients, and he watched like a hawk as I made the dish. Then a few days later, we did the same again. And then he cooked it, with me standing over him, offering gentle hints. It was not bad. For the fourth try, I went to the other room of our two-room apartment, put on my headphones, and pretended not to worry as he made the dish entirely on his own. It was good! I was quite proud of both the teacher and the student. Fast forward to the dinner. By all accounts, Charlie’s rendition of the main course was stellar, and his mother was thrilled with her boys for going to all that trouble for her. (And yes, she came to consider me one of her boys, and it meant the world to me.) So, thank you, Mr. Claiborne, for both the dish and what it meant to my relationship with Harriet Otelia Browder. This version is my current update of my go-to recipe. Here, dried morels get a quick soak in hot water, which renders a super-flavorful broth that adds another layer of richness to the cream sauce. It’s classic, comforting, and just as good, if not better, than a warm hug on a cold day. I’m pretty sure Harriet would approve.
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Chicken Freekeh Skillet with Warm Feta-Lemon Relish

March is a tricky time of year for me, food-wise. By this point, I’m yearning for tender, mild spring vegetables and ready to say bye-for-now to hearty root veggies and brassicas, but the farmers markets are still pretty sparse. So as I wait for the season to fully turn over, I look for ways to bridge the gap between rib-sticking winter fare (it’s still chilly outside, after all) and lighter, fresher tastes. This easy whole-grain skillet hits that spot for me because it’s filling and satisfying, but the pops of fresh citrus make it bright and sunny, too. I include whole grains in a lot of my weeknight dinners because, sure, they’re nutritious, but more importantly they have such amazing textures and flavors. And there are more options available now than ever, such as sorghum, amaranth, millet, rye berries, teff, and more—way beyond the more-familiar brown rice, wheat berries, and quinoa. In this dish, I’m using freekeh, which is a type of wheat; it’s harvested when it’s young and green and then roasted, which gives it a smoky flavor. I opt for cracked freekeh because it cooks quickly. If you can’t find it, you can substitute bulgur, which is also cracked wheat (just not roasted). Another quick-cooking staple in my kitchen is boneless, skinless chicken thighs. They’re always meaty and juicy and nearly impossible to overcook. I sear them first, then nestle them into the half-cooked freekeh to finish cooking under a layer of lemon slices to cut through their richness. My favorite part of this dish, though, is the relish. It’s garlicky, a little spicy, herby, and full of surprises. First, it includes firm feta cheese that gently warms to the point that it becomes soft and almost gooey—which is the way I always want feta from now on. The relish also gets a brazen hit of citrus from chopped lemon sections, which offer tart, juicy bursts that are way more forward than lemon juice would be. The effect is an unsubtle finishing touch that balances out the nutty grains and meaty chicken. It’s an almost complete meal that my whole family loves, and it’s done from start to finish in just 35 minutes. I’ll serve a simple vegetable on the side—usually blanched broccoli or haricots verts tossed with browned butter—and daydream of sunnier days to come.
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Rosy Harissa Chicken

Although we’re more accustomed to seeing them in vases than on our plates, roses are often used in Middle Eastern cooking, from fragrant rose water in desserts to dried rose petals in spice blends. When my favorite boutique spice house, New York Shuk, developed their Rosey Harissa Spice, a dry version of harissa flecked with rose petals, it inspired me to develop this chicken recipe. I immediately envisioned a beautifully roasted bird showered with a flurry of rose petals in dusty hues of garnet and fuschia; the recipe nearly wrote itself! And while you could use paprika (sweet, hot, or smoked) instead of the specialty harissa, you won’t have a good excuse to sprinkle your chicken with rose petals—which is more than half the fun. This chicken becomes tender and juicy after a bath in a kefir marinade redolent with harissa paste, lemon, and garlic. It’s easy to prepare the day before you want to make it—you just have to think ahead a little. When I’m having people over, or honestly, when I’m just working a little late on a weeknight, I like to have dinner half-done before I even turn on the oven. Since the heat level of harissa pastes can vary quite widely, it’s a good idea to taste as you go when adding the additional harissa to the pan sauce at the end. But I recommend going a little hotter than you think. The juicy but mild chicken is best when dipped in the spicy jus thickened and enriched by the softened lemon, shallot, and garlic that are cooked alongside the chicken. It adds up to a perfect balance of heat, brightness, and comforting, slow-cooked flavor. For a version using a whole chicken, see my new book, Open Kitchen. For either version, serve with crusty bread or with plenty of Israeli couscous to sop up all the delicious sauce.
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More Chicken

Coconut-Scented Chicken with Sweet Potatoes

This one-steamer meal is inspired by Thai tom kha gai (coconut chicken soup). Unsweetened coconut cream lends richness while the aromatics add punchy spice and heat. Once the chicken cools, you can remove the skin and bones, then shred the meat for an exciting chicken salad.
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Römertopf-Roasted Chicken and Root Vegetables

This is the most delicious, juiciest roast chicken we’ve ever made in the F&W kitchen. The simply seasoned bird, nestled in a bed of vegetables and topped with the soaked, steam-creating Römertopf lid, starts in a cold oven, which guarantees slow-cooked flavor. Uncover the pot during the last 20 minutes of cooking for extra-crispy skin.
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Chicken Pot Pie with Leeks and Thyme

This classic chicken pot pie comes together in just about an hour and uses only one skillet.  Come for the patchwork of crispy, golden-brown puff pastry, stay for the comforting, classic flavors of the filling. Leeks and thyme lend a cozy, traditional flavor to this dish, while Dijon mustard adds a subtle, unexpected punch.