French tarragon has a spicy anise flavor with a basil note and a sweet aftertaste. Its leaves hint of pine and licorice.
The flavor of French tarragon diffuses quickly in dishes so it is best used sparingly. Add finely chopped tarragon to soups and cooked vegetables such a beans, beets, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli.
- Tarragon is the principal flavoring in béarnaise sauce and white and brown sauces for chicken and veal and can be added to butters, vinegars, and marinades.
- Tarragon butter is simple to make; it can be frozen and is an easy way to add tarragon to many cooked dishes. Here’s how: For each 2 tablespoons of softened butter, add 1 teaspoon of finely chopped tarragon, 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, and salt to taste.
- French tarragon is one of the fines herbes—the classic quartet of chervil, chives, parsley, and tarragon that is essential to French cooking. The fines herbes are chopped finely and added to cooked foods just before serving. While long cooking will diminish the aroma of tarragon, it will not diminish its flavor.
French tarragon has slender, spiky green leaves rarely more than an inch (2.5 cm) long. The leaves can be harvested when required and whole stems can be used for drying after midsummer.
There are two substitutes for French tarragon, but neither is preferred. Russian tarragon is coarser in appearance than French tarragon and is bitter tasting. Mexican tarragon is actually a species of marigold and is used sometimes in place of French tarragon, particularly in the southern United States.
Tarragon is native to Siberia. It is a perennial plant and the only culinary herb that is a member of the daisy family. Tarragon is a slender plant that grows to about 24 inches (60cm) tall.
Tarragon came into common culinary use in Europe during the fifteenth century. It was first introduced to Spain by the Arabs. Tarragon’s Latin species name dracunulus means “little dragon.” In medieval times, tarragon was believed to be an antidote to bites of venomous animals.
Choose. Select tarragon leaves and sprigs that are fresh and sprightly. Avoid leaves that are dull or wilted, yellow or brown. Tarragon is most flavorful before it flowers in late summer. The freshest tarragon will be the tarragon you grow yourself.
Store. Tarragon will keep for 1 week in the refrigerator when wrapped in a paper towel and placed in a plastic bag. Tarragon can be preserved by freezing or drying or in vinegar. Fresh frozen leaves will retain more flavor than dried leaves. Tarragon will lose much of its aroma after drying.
To preserve tarragon in white wine vinegar, remove the leaves from the stems and pack them tightly in a clean jar; then cover them with white wine vinegar and refrigerate for up to one year. Squeeze the leaves lightly to remove the vinegar before using.
Serve. Tarragon can be used raw, dried or cooked. Use tarragon sparingly to impart its distinctive licorice-like flavor. Add fresh leaves to meat dishes and stews. Add leaves to mayonnaise for fish dishes, salad dressings, light soups, tomatoes, omelets, or scrambled eggs.
- Rub tarragon onto roast chicken or mix with chicken stuffing. Use whole stems under fish or with roast chicken or rabbit. Use tarragon in marinades for meat.
- Add tarragon near the end of cooking to prevent bitterness. Put a fresh stem or two of tarragon into bottles of good cider vinegar or wine vinegar to make tarragon vinegar; allow a couple of weeks for the flavor to develop.
- Add tarragon to preserves, pickles and mustards. Tarragon is essential to ravigote and tartar sauces.
Flavor partners. Tarragon has a flavor affinity for asparagus, chicken, eggs, fish and seafood, mushrooms, mustard sauces, potatoes, poultry, salad dressings, salsify, tomatoes, and zucchini.
Tarragon combines well with basil, bay, capers, chervil, chives, dill, garlic, parsley, and salad herbs.
The botanical name of French tarragon is Artemisia dracunulus sativa. The botanical name of Russian tarragon is A.d. var. inodora. The botanical name of Mexican tarragon is Tagetes lucida.