In the early 80s I had a restaurant on Nantucket Island called The Dockside, and this was one of my signature dishes. Little did I know back then that the cooking technique used in this preparation was a variation on sous vide.
We stuffed chicken breasts with a bundle of vegetables and a lump of tarragon butter, then rolled them in plastic wrap to create neat sausage-like rolls. At service time, we poached the chicken rolls in stock to order, a stressful exercise that involved careful attention to ensure the meat was neither under- nor overcooked.
Sous vide, of course, takes all the guesswork out of the cooking and guarantees perfectly moist, succulent chicken every time.
This is an elegant dish, with a simple yet sumptuous sauce, that admittedly takes a bit of time to put together. The wow factor makes it worth the effort, however, and some advance planning takes the stress out of the presentation. It’s easy to julienne and blanch the vegetables and make the compound butter a day or two in advance. Best of all, the rolls themselves can be completely assembled a day ahead of cooking or assembled and frozen for up to a month (if you do freeze them, defrost before cooking).
The chicken will be very hot when you remove the plastic and slice it into medallions. Unless you have asbestos fingers, wear kitchen gloves to make this step less uncomfortable! For a stylish presentation, plate with steamed fresh asparagus or blanched and sautéed fiddlehead ferns.
- Cut the carrot, leek, and zucchini into 2½-inch lengths and julienne them, keeping each vegetable separate.
- Fill a medium-size bowl with ice and water and set aside.
- Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil over high heat and add the carrots. Blanch for 30 seconds and then add the leeks. Cook an additional 30 seconds, then drain the vegetables and plunge them into the prepared ice bath. When cool, drain again thoroughly and set them aside. (The zucchini is not blanched.)
- Mash the butter with a spoon until it is smooth. Add 1 tablespoon of the tarragon and mix together to make a paste. Set aside at room temperature.
- Trim the chicken, discarding fat and tendons. Remove the tenderloins (if any) from the breasts and reserve for another purpose. Place one breast at a time in a zip-lock bag or between sheets of parchment or wax paper, and lightly pound the chicken to an even thickness of ¼- to ⅓ -inch. Season each breast with salt and pepper.
- Cut 4 pieces of plastic wrap approximately 12 by 16 inches and set aside.
- Place one chicken breast on a clean work surface. Arrange a small, neat bundle of julienned carrots, leeks, and zucchini at one end of the chicken (the end nearest you). Place a tablespoon of the tarragon butter on top of the vegetables. Roll the chicken tightly, starting from the end with the vegetable stuffing.
- Transfer the chicken to one of the pieces of plastic wrap and center it on the bottom of the long edge. Roll the breast in the plastic to create a tight roll. Holding the roll, twist one end of the plastic wrap several times against the meat; then repeat on the other end, twisting in the opposite direction to make a perfect, tight cylinder. Knot each end of the plastic as close to the chicken as possible. Using scissors, trim off all but 1 inch of plastic on each end. Repeat with the remaining breasts and vegetables. Reserve all leftover julienned vegetables for the sauce.
- Place the chicken rolls in a food bag and vacuum seal. Refrigerate the package until you are ready to cook.
- Preheat the water bath to 140°F (60°C). Cook the chicken for 40 minutes or up to 3 hours. If the breasts weigh more than 6 ounces, increase the cooking time to 50 minutes or more.
- To make the sauce, place the chicken stock in a small skillet and reduce over medium heat to ¾ cup. Add the vermouth and cook for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the crème fraîche. Cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Add the remaining julienned carrots, leeks, and zucchini, the parsley, and the remaining tarragon to the sauce and heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep the sauce warm while you finish the chicken rolls.
- To serve, remove the plastic wrap from the chicken rolls and drain off any accumulated juices. Cut each roll crosswise into 5 or 6 slices. Slightly overlap the slices on warmed plates and nap with some of the sauce. Serve immediately.