“Oven baked chicken with really big prawns, in a tarragon and brandy cream sauce.”
…my point exactly.
A quick Google search can quickly turn into an hour of going round in circles and we’re still no clearer on what exactly the difference is between the different versions of pink crustaceans. It’s probably fair to say ‘crevette’ is French and therefore to my mind implies a superior eating specimen. But please, let’s not fall out over it.
This dish was inspired by a visit to The Black Rat in Winchester, it’s a combination of the sauce I had on my dish, with the ingredients on the opposing plate, which was actually hare and langoustine. My version is a little less Michelin-y, using ingredients more readily available to the likes of you and I.
The combination of chicken and prawn exists in many different cultures right around the world, the most obvious being paella, then you’ve got your jambalayas and gumbos, fajitas, Pad Thai noodles and of course no.97, the house special chow mein.
The sauce itself is a dumbed down version of a Thermidor, using the cooking liquor from roasting the chicken with the prawns, which we reduce to concentrate the flavour. The prawns required here are those mega-jobs that you’ll most probably find in the frozen section. Either way, they need to be raw and with their heads on. To give you an idea of size, I work on serving just two per person with each chicken breast. You could use a smaller version if that’s all you can get your hands on, it’ll make no discernible difference to the finished dish, the only downside is you’re increasing the faff-factor when it comes to peeling them.
At the bistro I prepare this dish in stages; theoretically it is possible to cook the dish, make the sauce and serve it all in one fell swoop – technically it’s not difficult, but there are a couple of interludes that are more time consuming: peeling the prawns and reducing the stock. It might make sense to break it up into small, manageable chunks.
4 x chicken supreme/breast (preferably with the skin still on)*
125ml x white wine
5 x sprigs of tarragon (sprig = a well-endowed branch the length of a pencil)
2 or 3 x ‘really big prawns’ per person (defrosted, if necessary)
Extra virgin olive oil
Maldon sea salt
250ml x double cream
75g butter at room temperature
75g plain flour
1 x tablespoon brandy
¼ teaspoon of smoked paprika
Salt and pepper (white)
Choose an oven proof dish for this that will accommodate the chicken breasts comfortably, neither squashing them in too tightly or having excessive space - whatever you would normally use for a four-person fish pie or lasagne will be about right.
With the breasts in the dish, drizzle them liberally with the olive oil and massage the oil into each one all over, replace them skin side up.
Now then, the prawns. I peel them raw and sling everything into the dish on top of the chicken, heads, shells, the lot. It makes for a more flavourful stock this way, however if you’d prefer not to peel a raw prawn, just add them whole and tuck them in between the chicken breasts.
Pour the white wine over the whole lot and season generously with sea salt and a few good grinds of black pepper. Toss just 2 sprigs of the tarragon on top and cover the dish tightly with foil.
Shove that in the oven (which you have preheated to 150 ⁰C) for two hours, taking the dish out half way through to remove the prawns. (If you added the prawns whole, once they are cool enough to handle you could peel them and sling the shells and head back in for the remainder of the cooking time to help flavour the stock, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if you didn't.)
Meanwhile, add the plain flour to the softened butter in a bowl and use the back of a spoon to work the flour into the butter to form a paste, with no patches of flour or lumps of butter left. You now have a Beurre Manié. Congratulations to you. This does the same job as a roux, in that it thickens sauces, but rather than cooking it first in a pan and adding the liquid to it, we add it to the liquid in its raw paste form. If you need to say it out loud in public, it’s “bur man-yay”…but with a French accent, obviously.
Leave this to one side for now, you will undoubtedly have some left over, which you can shove in the fridge and forget about. Meaning it will keep in the fridge (wrapped in cling film) for several weeks.
When the chicken’s done, remove each breast to a plate along with the prawns, then pour the contents of the roasting dish into a sieve sat over a medium sized saucepan.
Set the pan over a medium heat, add any juices that have formed on the plate from the chicken and reduce this liquid by half. This doesn’t need to be an exact half; I find the easiest way to do this is to use the handle of a wooden spoon as a dip-stick, the liquor will leave a tide mark on the handle so then you can guestimate roughly when you have reached the half-way point. But if you really must know, you’ll probably start with about 350ml of cooking liquor, and finish with 175ml.
Whilst that’s happening, remove the skin and wing bone from the chicken (if you used a supreme) and peel the prawns. Set to one side for now.
Strip the leaves from the remaining sprigs of tarragon and chop them finely. Set these to one side too.
When you have then reduced the chicken liquor by half, add the double cream and turn the heat down whilst you bring the pan back up to a simmer.
Add the smoked paprika, salt and pepper to taste, and a tablespoon of brandy.
When the sauce comes back up to temperature, take small marble sized pieces of the beurre manié and drop them one at a time into the sauce and whisk them in gradually. You will probably use about half, but feel free to stop sooner if you like the look of it or carry on if you prefer a thicker sauce.
When you’re happy with both the seasoning and the texture of the sauce, add the chopped tarragon.
All that remains now is assembly and presentation. Serve the chicken however you like: leave the breast whole, slice it, halve it on the diagonal etc. Serve the sauce on the side or pour it over the chicken, and do what you will with the prawns. I leave the tails on mine for presentation, and balance them precariously on the top of the chicken, which will invariably slide off when the ‘waitress’ takes the plate, which in turn causes a ping-ponging of blame in hushed voices.
*Chicken supreme in this case refers to the cut of chicken, which is the breast, off the bone, but with the wing bone still attached. As with cooking any meat on the bone, the bone acts as a conductor of heat and adds flavour; bones will also produce a more gelatinous stock. Leaving the skin on the chicken in this case will help keep the breast meat moist.