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Chicken in Cream Sauce with Baby Carrots
John Tullock

A basically simple dish can be rendered sublime with the addition of the right herb, as this recipe demonstrates. A fancied-up version of chicken fricassee, fresh cherivl added just before serving seems to unite the sweet flavors of carrots and caramelized onions with the savory taste of chicken. Try it for a springtime dinner party. A four quart enameled cast iron casserole, such as those made by Le Creuset, is ideal for this and many other recipes. Although the recipe contains generous amounts of butter and cream, subtle seasoning produces a light and delicate result.

Please note that dried chervil cannot be substituted for the fresh chervil. In fact, the dried product tastes a lot like grass clippings. If fresh chervil is unavailable, substitute other fresh herbs, such as parsley, oregano, tarragon, or basil. A combination of 2/3 parsley and 1/3 tarragon probably comes as close to the taste of chervil as one can achieve.

Wash and scrape 2 dozen baby carrots. Place them in a steamer over boiling water, cover and steam for 6 minutes. Plunge into ice water to stop the cooking and set the color, drain well, pat dry with a kitchen towel and reserve.

Thinly slice an onion into julienne. Measure 2/3 cup of the onion, reserving the remainder for another use. In a large, heavy pot, melt 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter over gentle heat. Add the onions, stir well, and cook very slowly until the onions are golden in color but not browned. Regulate the heat and stir gently from time to time to caramelize the onions evenly. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve. Do not discard the fat remaining in the pot.

You can complete the preparation up to this point in advance, and refrigerate everything up to 24 hours.

To the pot in which the onions were cooked, add another 4 tablespoons unsalted butter. Place over medium heat. When the foam subsides, sprinkle salt and white pepper lightly over 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast fillets, and place them, skin side down, in the butter. Cook over medium heat until lightly browned, about 4 minutes, then turn and cook an additional 4 minutes. Add 4 tablespoons dry sherry and evaporate almost to dryness. Add 6 tablespoons water, reduce the heat, and arrange the carrots and caramelized onions around the chicken breasts. Top each breast with a bay leaf. Cover, reduce heat to the lowest possible setting, and poach the chicken and vegetables until the breasts are cooked through, about 10 - 12 minutes.

With tongs, remove the chicken breasts to a work surface, discarding the bay leaves. Loosely cover the chicken with foil to keep it warm. Increase the heat and reduce the liquid in the casserole to a glaze, watching carefully so it does not evaporate completely and burn. Add 1 cup heavy cream and stir well to incorporate the pan juices. Keep the sauce hot, but do not allow it to boil after the cream is added. Taste, then correct the seasoning. Use white pepper to avoid black specks in the sauce, and do not be too heavy-hended with the salt. The chervil garnish will brighten the flavor considerably.

Slice the chicken breasts on the bias and arrange them attractively on plates. Divide the sauce and vegetables evenly among the four servings, and garnish with finely minced fresh chervil, about a teaspoon per serving.

Accompany the chicken with another springtime treat, tiny new potatoes steamed in their skins. Serve a simple salad of baby greens as a first course, and the meal is complete. Ah, Spring!

John Tullock is an expert gardener and self-taught cook who likes to develop new recipes using his own fresh produce and the best from the local market. His interest in plants and horticulture begin in childhood, and he holds a masters degree in biology from The University of Tennessee. He also co-owns "Native Sons Nursery," a retail business that specializes in rare ornamental and gourmet vegetable plants.

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