Prince Oblonsky’s tarragon chicken with a soft onion-vermouth sauce

“No comfort food requires fresh tarragon.”

Grace Dent, Comfort Eating

This is quite a versatile recipe.

On the one hand it is real comfort food. It just goes to prove there’s an exception to every rule, and this recipe is the exception to one of Grace Dent’s stringent requirements defining comfort food.

The first time I made it The Chief Taster and I both had awful colds – and this was just the ticket – chicken soup with substance so to speak.

On the other hand, this is quite a sophisticated, dinner-party-worthy dish. A dish for the intelligentsia since, under the guise of Poularde à l’Estragon it appears fairly early on in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina as part of a smart menu, preceded by a spring vegetable soup and turbot, and followed by a fruit salad which is presented to Prince Stepan Arkadyevich Oblonsky, Anna’s brother. Oblonsky is a serial adulterer, a shallow sort of fellow…in a bad way. This dish however, is shallow and serial in a good way. It’s best served with the chicken on a bed of billowy, golden onions in a shallow platter. And it’s so easy and comforting that you’re likely to use this recipe again and again…serially as it were.

tarragon chicken
Portrait of a Young Lady (so-called Anna Karenina) by Aleksei Mikhailovich Kolesov


Due to the finite size of even the largest frying pan, don’t try to make this for more than six people.

It can be made ahead of time, and it freezes well.

Serve with romanesco if you can find it; or with tenderstem broccoli and either mashed, or baked, potatoes. Or even better with bratkartoffeln – German fried potatoes.

tarragon chicken recipe

Recipe for tarragon chicken with a soft onion-vermouth sauce

Serves 2 (if you make this for four you will find that the two onions and 1 cup of vermouth is still sufficient).


• 50g/2 oz/one-fifth of a brick of butter, plus a little more
• 2 decent-sized chicken legs (including the thighs) or joints, skin on, bone in
• 2 onions
• 240ml/1 cup dry vermouth
• A few sprigs of tarragon
• Smoked salt and Indonesian long pepper
• 3 tbsps crème fraîche…or mascarpone. Don’t be tempted to substitute with yoghurt – it separates and goes unattractively lumpy.


1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
2. Get the butter melted and foaming in a big frying pan.. Fry the chicken, skin side down first, until golden. Then turn and fry the other side. Remove to an oven-proof dish.
3. Meanwhile peel and slice the onions.
4. Put the onions in the vacated frying pan (which will by now contain a satisfying amount of chicken fat) and fry gently for a little – once transparent, pour over the vermouth.
5. Snip over about half the tarragon, and season. Add to the oven-proof dish, and move the chicken joints to be on top.
6. Dot over a bit more butter.
7. Bake for half an hour – check the chicken is done – if you put a skewer in, the juices will come out clear.
8. Take the dish out of the oven and add blobs of crème fraiche, which, with luck will start to sink into the sauce. If it doesn’t, put the onions and vermouth into a small saucepan, simmer. Reduce for a few minutes. Then, using a cappuccino whisk if you have one, whisk in the crème fraîche.
9. Serve out the onion-wine juice on plates, put the chicken joints on top, and snip over the rest of the tarragon.

Music to listen to

Below you can listen to the overture to the score of the film of Anna Karenina, and watch the trailer:

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