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.