Today’s cookbook is one that I’d call a classic – even though when people much more influential than I am put lists together of their favourite classic cookbooks, this one isn’t on those lists. It is, however on mine.
The book is Nick Nairn’s Wild Harvest and I’ve been cooking from it since 1996.
In case you haven’t met Nick before, he’s a self-taught Scottish chef who went from being unable to boil an egg (his words not mine) to being the youngest Scottish chef to win a Michelin star.
A staunch supporter of Scottish food and produce, Nairn joined the merchant navy at the age of 17, and ten years later, despite no formal training, opened his restaurant Braeval near Aberfoyle in The Trossachs. Ten years after this he had a Michelin star under his belt, was a regular on Ready Steady Cook and had his own TV series on the BBC – Wild Harvest.
I have each of Nairn’s cookbooks – and have favourites in each. They form the centre of my mini collection of Scottish cookbooks.
The Drambuie creams, cranachan, and roast salmon cakes from his New Scottish Cookery are particular favourites. It’s the original, though, that I keep coming back to.
While some of the dishes and plating are very late 1990’s (and, in some cases, a tad fussy), there’s plenty in this book I still cook. Dishes like the lasagne of wild mushrooms and asparagus with herby butter sauce; pearl barley risotto with mushrooms; roast fillet of salmon with new potatoes, wilted greens and hollandaise; roast duck with root vegetables, puy lentils and mushroom and tarragon sauce; and roast lamb with garlic and rosemary baked in foil and served with dauphinoise potatoes I cook at least once each winter. His little chocolate pots are an any time of the year treat.
The recipe I’ll bring you though, is one that I featured in Happy Ever After. It’s Tarragon Chicken – or, if we’re being a tad French and posh, poulet à l’estragon. The techniques are French, but the Scottish and the French go way back so it makes sense – the auld alliance dating back to the 13th century.
It does require a bit of faffing, but it’s absolutely worth it. Nairn does provide also a “Cheattie” Tarragon Chicken if you can’t be bothered with all the reducing of wine and stock. It uses chicken breasts and double cream and is very nice, but not as nice as the original (in my humble opinion).
Okay, without any further havering, here’s the recipe.
What you need
- 6 chicken thighs (preferably free-range) – bone in, skin on – or a combo of chicken drumsticks and thighs.
- 2 tablespoons oil for frying (I use rice bran, but sunflower is fine)
- 50g unsalted butter
- 1 large Spanish (ie purple) onion, peeled and sliced into gorgeous little half moons
- 1 garlic clove crushed (I usually throw another couple of unpeeled cloves into the pot for a tad more flavour)
- 15g tarragon leaves (you’ll need the stalks, so don’t throw them away). Pop what you don’t use into the freezer for next time.
- 165g button mushrooms, cut in half
- 300ml white wine
- 600ml chicken stock (I always make my own and have it in the freezer. Any good commercial stock is fine, but please not powdered stocks for this recipe.)
- few drops of lemon juice
- salt, pepper
What you do with it:
- Heat a large pan until hot & add the oil. Fry the chicken until golden. Keep aside.
- Heat a large saucepan or stove top friendly casserole pan. Add the butter, then garlic, onions & tarragon stalks (the ones I told you to hang onto). Cook for about 5-10 minutes until they start to colour. Add the wine & reduce the liquid by about 3/4 .
- Add the chook, mushies and the stock. If it needs it, add just enough water to make sure the chicken is covered in liquid. Add a few drops of lemon juice. Bring to the boil and immediately lower the heat. Simmer gently with a lid on for an hour- skimming & stirring occasionally.
- Remove the chicken and set aside. Increase the heat & reduce the cooking liquid by half. Remove the tarragon stalks (and any stray garlic cloves which you threw in), pop the chicken back in & add the tarragon leaves- that you have had the foresight to chop up.
- Naturally if you are doing this as a soupy in the bowl with lots of juices thing, don’t stress too much over the reducing.
- Plonk it in the middle of the table with mash or pasta or whatever it is you are using, and let people help themselves. Too easy.