Over the years, I’ve learned that an ordinary-tasting chicken breast can be transformed into something quite gourmet if you prepare it with a bold and balanced mix of ingredients. And that’s exactly what happened when I cooked up today’s recipe.
To prepare it, boneless, skinless chicken breasts were coated in flour, seared in hot oil until just cooked through, and then removed from the pan. Lemon juice and chicken stock were poured into the pan and simmered until greatly reduced and richly concentrated. Cooking and reducing the lemon juice also alters its composition. That, in turn, allowed me to add the next ingredient, whipping cream, to the pan without fear it would be curdled by lemon juice’s acidity.
I also added chopped tarragon and coarsely cracked black peppercorns to the pan, then brought the cream sauce to a simmer. The chicken was returned to the pan and cooked a few minutes in the sauce, giving it a bold and balanced mix of lemony, herbaceous and peppery flavours.
The chicken was then plated, topped with the sauce and served with side dishes. I chose miniature potatoes and green beans, but rice pilaf or orzo and any other green vegetable, such as asparagus, would also go well with the chicken.
Seared Chicken Breast with Creamy Lemon Peppercorn Sauce
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, seared, then simmered in and smothered with a lemony, peppery sauce accented with tarragon.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: About 15 minutes
Makes: two servings
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (each about 175 to 200 grams; see Note 1)
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
• salt to taste
1 Tbsp olive or vegetable oil
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup chicken stock (see Note 2)
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns, coarsely crushed (see Note 2)
1 tsp minced fresh tarragon, or 1/4 to 1/2 tsp dried (see Eric’s options)
2 sprigs fresh tarragon (optional)
Put flour in a shallow dish. Season chicken with salt (the sauce will add a peppery taste), then coat each breast with flour.
Pour oil into a 10-inch or similar-sized skillet set over medium, medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add the chicken and sear four or five minutes per side, or until just cooked through (lower heat if chicken is browning too quickly). Transfer chicken to a plate.
Drain any oil in the skillet, wipe clean with paper towel and then set back over the heat. Pour in the lemon juice and stock, bring to a simmer, and simmer until greatly reduced, to about two tablespoons.
Add the cream, peppercorns and tarragon to the skillet, season with salt and mix to combine. Bring this sauce to a gentle simmer, lowering the heat as needed to maintain that gentle simmer (small bubbles should just break on the surface). Set the chicken back in the skillet and simmer in the sauce two minutes. Turn each breast over and simmer two minutes more.
Set a chicken breast on each of two dinner plates, top with the sauce and serve, garnished with sprigs of tarragon, if using.
Note 1: The chicken breasts I used had the chicken fillets, the strip of meat that runs down the centre of the breast, removed. If yours came with it attached, pull them off and save for another use, such as slicing and using in a stir-fry or pasta.
Note 2: If you bought a carton of store-bought stock, you’ll only need a small amount for this recipe. Save the rest for another use, such as soup. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to four days. It can also be frozen.
Note 3: You can coarsely crack the peppercorns with a mortar and pestle. You can also set them on a cutting board and use the bottom of a heavy skillet to press on them, roll and crack them. Or place them in a plastic bag and crack them with a rolling pin.
Eric’s options: If you don’t care for tarragon, try another herb, such as thyme, to taste.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.