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.

Tarragon Chicken with Morels Recipe
Photo: Alison Miksch
Active Time:
45 mins
Total Time:
1 hr


  • 1 ounce dried morel mushrooms

  • 1 cup very hot water

  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

  • 1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter

  • 1 medium shallot, minced

  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 cup dry white wine

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

  • 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves, chopped, plus more for garnish


  1. Cover dried morels with 1 cup very hot water. Let stand until plump, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove mushrooms, and set aside; strain soaking liquid to remove any grit. Set liquid aside. Leave small mushrooms whole; cut larger ones in half lengthwise.

  2. Sprinkle chicken with 1 1/4 teaspoons salt and black pepper. Melt butter over medium in a large skillet. Add chicken, and cook until barely cooked on both sides, 1 to 2 minutes per side (do not brown). Transfer chicken to a plate.

  3. Increase heat to medium-high. Add shallot to skillet; cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle shallot with flour; whisk until smooth. Add wine; cook, stirring often, 2 minutes. Whisk in 1 cup reserved mushroom soaking liquid, and return chicken and morels to skillet. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and cook until chicken is tender and cooked through, about 10 minutes.

  4. Remove chicken from pan; whisk in cream, chopped tarragon, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Serve chicken on warmed plates; garnish with additional tarragon.

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