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Chicken is rather boring. Versatile, will take any seasoning you can think of, nobody tends to dislike it. Still not terribly exciting, and chicken breast fillet is the most boring of its parts. Usually dry and crumbly and without much flavour.
But it’s easy to cook, so I used to, reluctantly, usually whole fillet roasted and then sliced into a salad. Until I came across the recipe for creamy chicken fillet whose source I’m afraid I forget, neither do I remember what the original flavour was because I instantly started experimenting with different variants.
Because this is a chicken dish matrix. Chicken template. Chicken archetype. Basically, you can chuck in any vegetables and seasoning you like or think will go with chicken and cream (which is just about EVERYTHING) and it will work. This is my favourite variation, with leeks, a few mushrooms, tarragon and coriander, and a fig, just to be seasonal. I like the leeks sliced quite thickly, so there’s still a bite to them.
Now other options are: mushroom, spinach and garlic, tomato, oranges and raisins, fennel and gorgonzola, parmesan or just simply tarragon and grainy mustard. Just follow the same steps as below – brown the chicken pieces, fish them out, cook the veg in the pan, pour in cream, season, flavour or condition (isn’t that what you do when putting in condiments?), chuck the chicken back in and cook down well so the cream becomes a thick sauce.
- one chicken fillet per person, skinned and cut into chunks or thick strips
- 2 leeks, cleaned and sliced diagonally into 1cm thick discs
- a handful of mushrooms (oyster or shitake preferably), chopped roughly or torn
- a good bunch of tarragon leaves
- a small bunch of coriander
- a pinch of ras el-hanout spice, or a little ground cinnamon and ginger
- oil and butter for frying
- about ½ cup of double cream
- salt and pepper
Heat a little oil in a large pan and brown the chicken pieces. They don’t have to be completely cooked through, if thick, as they will get there happily in the sauce at the end of cooking. Fish them out of the pan and keep aside. Cook the leeks in the same pan on medium-high heat, adding a knob of butter and stirring well but letting them caramelise a little. Add the chopped herbs, mushrooms, spices and a generous amount of salt and pepper.
Give it a good stir and when they are cooked enough to your liking, pour in the cream. Don’t turn the heat down but let the cream bubble away and reduce, stirring if it threatens to burn. Put the chicken back in, mix everything well and cook for another few minutes, adding more cream if you like it really saucy.
I like it when the cream only just coats everything else, rather than lots of sauce. Unless you serve it with rice or pasta – you’ll need a fair bit then.