Tarragon Roasted Chicken Breast with Veg and Smoked Garlic Bechamel

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tarragon Roasted Chicken Breast with Smoked Garlic Bechamel

If there is ever a mantra you hear when learning to cook, it is:

Learn how to make a good bechamel. It'll take you places.

That's certainly true. A bechamel is like the big momma of the sauce world. Formed from the basis of a roux (butter and flour), it is used in a lot of French cooking and is the tasty white sauce in the Italian classic dish, lasagna. Bechamel's are lovely because they are the palate's blank canvas: any combination of herbs and spices can be added to a bechamel to produce a truly stunning sauce that will marry all of the components of a well-cooked plate of food.

This dish of tarragon roasted chicken breast, roast potatoes and cabbage is elevated with a nice, full-bodied bechamel whose main flavor is oak-smoked garlic. I came across the garlic about a month or two ago while having brunch with friends in a cafe in Manchester. They had a display of oak-smoked garlic on the counter just as you walked in and your olfactory senses were assaulted with the lovely, sweet, woody scent for the duration of your stay. So strong was the scent and my craving for that garlic that by the time I left, I was shaking at the thought of getting my hands on it.

It made our car smell lovely and garlicky, as well as our fridge and when I finally got around to putting it into my bechamel, it very nearly made me shout out in glee. Yeah, it's that good.

Now, I'm more of a thin-to-slightly thick type of girl when it comes to bechamel. I don't always want my bechamel to be the gloopy consistency it can be in lasagnas, but I don't want it to be watery either. I like a perfect balance of smooth with a few lumps of bits in it. Now, whether this is how the French intended it is irrelevant. For me, this works best because everything (namely the chicken and the roasted potatoes) really absorb the sauce without being overpowered by it.

So this meal? Simple. All you need is chicken breast (or a whole chicken or whatever parts you want) good roasting potatoes diced into chunks and fresh cabbage, washed, drained and torn into medium-to-big pieces.

First off, you're going to want to get the potatoes peeled and diced and boiled to softened. Next, heat the oil or fat for roasting in the roasting tin. I started off using lard but I have since switched to a combo of unsalted butter and olive oil, which I think works best for my tastes and leaves the potatoes crunchy on the outside and extra light and fluffy inside.
After the butter and oil is heated, place the potatoes in the roasting tin. They should sizzle when they come in contact with the butter and oil. Turn once to coat and then roast about 35 to 40 minutes on 200 C/400F until done.

While the butter and oil is heating up, you want to sear the chicken breast. Heat up a dry pan until it is searingly hot and place the meat in the pan pressing down lightly (don't squeeze out the juice) and searing each side for three minutes before moving to a roasting tin and sprinkling with herbs and spices before putting in the oven with the potatoes.

Cabbage is such an easy vegetable and everybody like it a specific way, so just make it whichever way your prefer. I prefer doing it my mom's way: a little bit of butter and water in a stock pot, put the cabbage in and steam being sure to season extra well and add more butter and salt before serving. Simple.

Bechamel's dead easy: a cup of milk, a tablespoon of butter, a tablespoon of plain flour, garlic & tarrgon (or whatever herbs you want). Basically, you melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until it forms a roux. Then gradually add the milk, now stirring with a whisk. After all the milk is in, add your chopped garlic, salt and pepper. Continue to stir until it reduces down to the thickness that you prefer. Finally, remove it from the heat & add the herbs. Give it a good stir & serve up.That's the simple way. If you really want the flavors to be prominent, then you need to begin by simmering the milk along with the herbs and spices over a low heat. Then set aside and follow the instructions as given.

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