Discovering something new in the culinary world is always a blast, don’t you agree? Even though I have always heard of tarragon and may have eaten it on many occasions, it was still a mystery to me. Last Saturday at the Farmer’s market, my favorite vendor, who always has a plethora of herbs picked that morning, was selling bundles of tarragon. It was time to try this intriguing herb. I grabbed a bunch armed with the determination to learn everything about this new herb. It kindly posed for a photo-op:
Tarragon is an aromatic herb. When you bite into one of those thin leaves, you taste licorice, mint, and a hint of lemon grass. At the same time, when it is cooked, this herb enhances the other flavors in the dish and adds some depth as well. It is very lovely. My partner, who has so graciously consented to come on this culinary journey with me, chewed up a few of the leaves and said it tasted like tangy green grass and a bit of coconut. Thus began our journey into the unknown.
Tarragon this and that:
- There is a Russian and a French version (superior), which are hard to tell apart by looking, but if you crush one of the leaves with your fingers and it smells strongly of anise, it is the French variety. The Russian type will have little smell.
- The Latin form of tarragon: dracunculus means “little dragon” because it was used as a cure for dragon and rabid dog bites. Believe what you will.
- Folklore says this herb was brought to Italy in the 10th century by invading Mongols, and it makes a good breath freshener.
- Elizabeth David, author of Italian Food writes, “The only region of Italy where I have found tarragon in common use is Siena. In that town it is used to flavour stewed and stuffed artichokes, and if asked for will be put into salads or cooked with sole in the Sienese restaurants.” When referring to flavoring fish stew, she writes, “…tarragon and fennel, mint and basil, nutmeg, mace (nutmeg), and coriander seeds . . . are fine flavourings for fish.”
Uses of fresh tarragon:
- Add tarragon leaves to green salad; use either whole leaves or roughly chop leaves and mix with lettuce or greens.
- In The French Laundry Cookbook, tarragon is part of a charming “herb salad” made from Italian parsley, chervil, chive tips, thyme leaves, and chive flowers. This combination of fresh leaves and flowers can enliven salads, fish dishes or serve as a garnish.
- When making fresh tomato sauce for pasta, add freshly chopped tarragon leaves at the end of cooking to add more flavor.
- Tarragon is a lovely complement for deviled eggs. Simply finely chop tarragon leaves and add to egg yolks and mayo. Similarly, you can add the chopped leaves to scrambled eggs. Good stuff.
Cooking with tarragon:
- Spaghetti and fresh herbs:
- In a small bowl mix 1 cup of (packed) herbs to include: tarragon, basil, thyme, mint, chives, marjoram, or coriander.
- Add 2 Tablespoons olive oil, 1 minced shallot and mix well.
- Cook 1/2 pound of spaghetti, drain and add to herb mixture. Toss well to coat the pasta. Add fresh pepper and salt to taste. Garnish with grated Parmesan cheese.
How do you use this wonderful herb? I would love to hear about your ideas!