Getting to the point where I don’t need recipes has been liberating. Between staples that I always have on hand and then some random stuff in the fridge I can usually whip up something pretty tasty with minimal hassle. I still use recipes. There’s so much I don’t know in terms of fundamentals and then nuances of various cuisines. But figuring out how to wing my way to something good...that’s pretty cool. That’s where this meal came from. Both of the recipes are easy. Not many ingredients. Not a lot of steps. Nothing delicate. You just turn on some heat and start slamming away.
It was a crappy day. Spent close to six hours at the airport not getting to Chicago for a meeting tomorrow. Gave up. Came home. Decided to take on the big ass hill that starts just on the other side of Sunset from the new casa. Important note - um...in winter it gets dark early and fast. Bring a flashlight you moron. I liked the hike, particularly when I got to the end of the road and slipped through a fence and caught a trail. Avoided any bad pratfalls but did have a few scary stumbles on the way down in the dark. Sans flashlight or headlamp. On top of that felt a little under the weather all weekend. Not sure if I’ve got something or am just stressed out from the move and not really sleeping well in the new place just yet. So haven’t felt great. Just kinda off. I didn’t want to do anything new. I didn’t want to go to the store. I didn’t want to go out. I didn’t want to screw with grub hub or pizza.
I had a pack of chicken thighs and a pound of fingerling potatoes. Chicken and taters works just fine. But only if you do stuff to it. Otherwise its dull as all get out.
Looking in the fridge, I found this...
Tarragon still in pretty good shape. Some scallions that had a little life left to ‘em. Garlic. A random shallot. A lemon.
The whole thing was gonna live or die by tarragon. It’s a strong licorice-y flavor. It only works well with a few things. Fortunately, one of those things is mustard. Dijon, specifically. Dijon and Tarragon have a fraught relationship. It’s like they dated long ago. Not just went out a few times but for real dated. It was heavy. There was talk of marriage. Ultimately, it didn’t work out. Dijon flirts with damn near everything and everyone invites it to the party. Tarragon is an acquired taste...intense, brooding, and lacking in self-confidence. There was talk of a dalliance between Dijon and garlic...and mayo...and olive oil...and...no one could prove it but Tarragon got all hurt and self-pitying and it fell apart.
You generally want to keep them separate. Like, if you invite them to the same social event you do NOT seat them together. But every now and then they get over their history and remember they liked each other for a reason. Pick your spots, don’t go to the well too often, and be careful who else is around so it doesn’t get nasty.
So...garlic and scallions to one side. Tarragon and shallot to the other. Lemon in between ‘cause it gets along with everyone.
Since I don’t have enough imagination to conjure up Mustard-Tarragon Taters I decided I’d go with them for the chicken and save the garlic and scallions for the potatoes.
You want to get rolling with the potatoes first.
Scallion-Garlic Smashed Potatoes
2 lbs fingerling potatoes
2 tbsp butter, divided
4-5 green onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup grated parmesan
salt and pepper to taste
Get a sizable pot going over high heat. Throw in a hunk of salt and then the potatoes. You can peel ‘em if you want. I like to leave the skins on. Bring them to a boil and then knock the heat down a bit to a strong simmer and let ‘em go for 25-30 minutes. There’s absolutely nothing for you to do during this time. You can start on the chicken. Or clean the kitchen. Watch TV. Go for a walk.
When they’re done, drain them in a colander. Drop one tablespoon of the butter into the still warm pot, reduce the heat to medium low, throw the potatoes back in and hit them with salt and pepper. It’s pretty hard to over-salt potatoes so don’t be shy. Cover the pot and give it like a minute, maybe two for the butter to melt. Holding the lid in place, shake the living daylights out of the potatoes. I mean, get all aerobic with it. Shake it the hell up. This mixes up the salt and pepper, gets the butter all over everything, and smashes the potatoes. Also, it’s kinda fun.
Throw in the garlic and scallions. Cover again, and shake like a crazy person. This smashes the taters a bit more and gets the garlic and scallions well embedded. The heat from the potatoes will lightly cook both and mellow them a bit. So you still get an onion and garlic bite but it brings out the sweetness. Finally, add the cheese, give one more much more controlled less spastic shake, and cover. Turn the heat off.
6 boneless-skinless chicken thighs
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 shallot, thinly sliced
¼ cup white wine
½ lemon, zested and juiced
2 tbsp Dijon
2 tbsp tarragon, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
I used thighs for this but you can use breasts. If you’re doing that, use two breasts that you cut in half...meaning cut through the side so it opens up like a book. Otherwise, you’ll be cooking the breasts for a long ass time.
Put a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and butter. Salt and pepper the chicken well on both sides. Once the oil is shimmering, add the chicken, flat side down. You should hear a satisfying sizzle. Let that go a minute and then reduce the heat to medium. Don’t touch it for 5 minutes. Seriously...don’t even look at it. Just leave it the hell alone.
Use the time slicing up the shallot and chopping up the tarragon.
Turn the chicken after five minutes. Cover the skillet (you don’t have to do this but it will accelerate the cooking process - if you don’t cover it, just let it cook longer). Let it go another 5-7 minutes until done. Remove the chicken to a plate and loosely tent with foil.
Add the shallots and a pinch of salt to the skillet (the salt helps them release their liquid so they don’t burn). Let them go 3-4 minutes until soft. Add the wine and lemon juice and scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Let it go 2-3 minutes until it’s reduced by half(ish). Stir in the dijon and let it simmer for a minute. Add the tarragon, give it a good stir and give it a taste. There’s two things most likely to need an adjustment...salt, though that’s unlikely because there’s already a fair amount rolling around in there...or it’s a little sharp, in which case stir in a tsp of honey or a 1/2 tsp of sugar. You might not need it. It kinda depends on how sweet the lemon is. Just taste it and if you feel like, “that’s a little much” throw in the honey. Last step is to pour any juices that have gathered on the plate the chicken is resting on into the sauce and let it come up to a simmer. Plate the chicken, give a liberal dollop of sauce, and hit it with a little parsley if you have some laying around. Don’t worry about it if you don’t...it’s a nice to have not a gotta have.
Together, they come out looking like this...
These dishes are great as standalones but really nice together. The chicken dish with the mustard and tarragon is kinda sharp and blatant. The potatoes, with the parmesan and the starchy, creamy potatoes is a nice counter-balance to it.