Last weekend, I packed up my shotgun and shells, grabbed my turkey tag, loaded my boots into the truck, and prepared for a long day of searching for toms. I am notorious for throwing half of what I need for a day out into the truck cab and leaving half of what I need on the couch or somewhere else. I tend to forget things like socks to go with my boots, and I have had the pus-filled, bright red, tender to the touch blisters on my toes to prove that instead of going home, I trekked on sockless (which in case you are wondering, is never worth it!). I have forgotten shells to go with my shot gun. I have seen the bird I was destined to meet up with that day, only to reach into my empty pockets and then picture my shells sitting on the counter, probably next to my bird tag. I probably most often forget to bring something to eat, you know, like lunch or dinner, or at least a snack.
This weekend was going to be different! I remembered my shells (see, I even listed them in my opening sentence there!), I remembered my tag, and I remembered socks! And I decided that I was going to take food too. Figuring I would be out all day, I decided a more significant meal was needed and not just a snack. I started to pull out a loaf of bread and jars of peanut butter and jelly when a thought hit me. Carrying around a loaf of bread and all these jars was just as difficult as grabbing my dutch oven and throwing together a fancy little picnic.
That is what I love about the dutch oven. With a little pre-planning, it is just as easy as grabbing a loaf of bread, and the meal will be ten times what a loaf of bread has to offer. In an effort to make a very simple meal, I picked something that required few ingredients and was also easy to just transport in Ziploc bags or Tupperware containers. When making dutch oven meals outdoor friendly, I try and do a few things before-hand. I dice up any vegetables or fruits I plan on using, thus eliminating the need for bringing a knife and cutting board. I clean my meats and remove unwanted fat. I mix together any ingredients that can be combined into a single container, thus eliminating how many items I have to carry around.
This lemon cream chicken is a perfect easy, quick dutch oven lunch. And a picnic with a dutch oven meal is waaayyyyy more fun, and delicious, than “pb & j” sandwiches.
So, for home preparation on this meal, in a medium-sized Tupperware container I combined two cloves of minced garlic, a teaspoon of red pepper flakes, half cup of chicken broth, half cup of heavy cream, the juice of a lemon, a couple tablespoons of fresh minced tarragon, and salt and pepper to taste. The Tupperware is a great way to go because not only is everything in one convenient container, but you could just shake the entire thing to mix it. And then you don’t need a mixing spoon!
For the second part of home preparation, in a large Ziploc freezer bag, the kind that has the slide tab so you know things are good and sealed, dump in eight bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs. You could also do this meal with chicken wings or drumsticks too. You just want a meat that has a little skin and fat on it so you can develop some good flavor in the dutch oven without having to carry around extra oils or butters. To the Ziploc bag add a couple tablespoons of olive oil, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, the zest from your lemon, a tablespoon of fresh minced thyme, a tablespoon of fresh minced rosemary, and salt and pepper. Seal the bag and then massage all the marinade ingredients around the chicken pieces.
Viola! The meal is ready to go and all you need to do now is place your cream in its Tupperware container and your chicken marinating in its Ziploc bag in a cooler with a little ice. The picnic is just about ready to go! Before you leave the house, be sure to grab the dutch oven, a bag of coals, your lid lifter, a charcoal chimney, a lighter, some newspaper, tongs for the chicken, and a spoon. Oh! And don’t forget something to eat on! And with!
Okay, so once out in the beautiful outdoors, pour the coals into the charcoal chimney, place the newspaper under the chimney, light, and let the coals burn until they start to turn grey. This can take up to fifteen minutes. Once the coals are ready, pour a good little stack on the ground, I did about 14 to 16 for this first part, and place the oven over the coals. Let the oven heat up to where you can’t hold your hand over it for more than two or three seconds. Once the oven is good and hot, place the chicken thighs into the oven, skin side down, and let them sear for two or three minutes. Flip and repeat. Right now, you are just browning the chicken and not fully cooking it. Remove the chicken from the oven and pour in the Tupperware containing the lemon tarragon sauce. Bring the sauce to a slight boil and allow to simmer for five or ten minutes. Once the sauce has reduced down just a bit and started to thicken, add the chicken thighs back to the oven.
Place the lid over the oven and add ten or twelve more coals to the top of the oven. Allow the chicken to cook an additional twenty minutes. There are two ways to check if the chicken is done. First, you can always, and I do mean always, tell a dutch oven meal is ready by the smell test. What is the smell test? Good question! It is a very simple test. Once you start smelling the amazing aromas of your meal seeping out of the closed dutch oven, you know your meal is ready. I am serious! I know it sounds crazy, but it has yet to fail me. So, for this lemon tarragon cream chicken, you will know the meal is ready when the air starts still fill with tangy scents of lemon and rich hints of tarragon, which has a smell similar to black licorice.
Second, cut into a piece of the chicken and check for doneness. The juices from inside the chicken should run clear and it shouldn’t be pink on the inside. So, there are two tests for you!
To serve this fantastic picnic lunch, I piled my plate high with just a bagged salad mix. I was even able to just pour the salad dressing directly into the bag for easy stirring of my salad ingredients. Don’t forget when you plate your chicken to pour a heaping scoop of cream sauce from the bottom of the pan over the top of your seared roasted lemon chicken! Mmmmm…it is sooooo good, and even better when enjoyed after a long day of turkey hunting under a setting sun!