Cooking with Tarragon

Cooking How-To,Featured Article,How-To,Ingredient
July 12, 2011

The herb that gives béarnaise sauce its characteristic flavor is a favorite of chefs and cooks the world over.


American culinary godfather James Beard once quipped, “I believe that if ever I had to practice cannibalism, I might manage if there were enough tarragon around.”

Presumably, he never had to test his theory. But the sentiment says a mouthful about the praise this herb has garnered.

Tarragon’s name comes from the French word estragon, or “little dragon,” probably a reference to its coiling, serpentine roots—tarragon will literally strangle itself if not properly divided. For ancient people, a plant’s appearance suggested its medicinal use; hence tarragon became an antidote for snakebite. Chewing on a tarragon leaf can numb the mouth, so it also became a go-to remedy for toothache.

Tarragon is probably best loved by the French: It’s essential in the traditional seasoning blend fines herbes and gives béarnaise sauce its characteristic flavor. Tarragon’s anise-like taste complements fish, poultry, beef and a variety of vegetables, notably peas. It’s classic in vinaigrettes and herb butters. Mix it with mayo for a quick sauce for fish. But use it judiciously—tarragon’s assertive taste can overwhelm culinary wallflowers.

This herb is a faithful perennial in the southern United States, provided it’s divided every couple of years to avoid that nasty habit of self-inflicted strangulation. Tarragon vinegar is a great way to preserve its flavor. Freezing it is also a handy option. Remove leaves from stem and freeze leaves individually on a cookie sheet. When frozen, transfer to an airtight container.
—By Jo Marshall


Halibut with Tarragon-Lemon Breadcrumbs

Fillets with a nip of horseradish-spiked mayonnaise and savory crumbs perfumed with tarragon and lemon.


Frites with Garlic and Tarragon

Oven-baked and crispy, these French "fries" make a great side for fish or steak.


Shrimp Salad

This light and creamy salad features sweet, succulent shrimp.


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