Friday, July 30, 2010

Using and Preserving Summer Herbs: Tarragon

And now, please give your full attention to Anna from Tallgrass Kitchen!

Tarragon is the sexy herb – it isn’t a workhorse like parsley, or an icon like basil. It doesn’t cross cultures as easily as cilantro, but there’s something about it. It’s oh-so-French, and therefore, elegant. It’s the little black dress of herbs – you don’t wear it everyday, but when you do – watch out boys!

Tarragon is a member of the famous French herb mix ‘fines herbes’ (accompanied by chervil, parsley, and chives), which dresses up chicken, fish, eggs, and salad dressings. It is also the principal herb flavoring in béarnaise sauce. It has a very distinctive, strong taste – primarily anise, a little bit sweet, a bit astringent. A little goes a long way.

It’s easy to grow, although if you are north of hardiness zone 5, you need to either mulch it over the winter, or grow it in a pot. Mine is in a small pot that I bring into the garage each winter – it goes dormant, and then sprouts anew in the spring. There are two varieties of tarragon – French, and Russian. The French has a purer, stronger taste, and the Russian is a bit bitter. French is preferred, so be careful when purchasing at a nursery. French tarragon must be grown from cuttings, not seed. You can dry tarragon, but it loses much of its pungency. Freezing is favored – you can either freeze the leaves in a plastic bag, or put in an ice cube tray with a bit of water to melt into soups, marinades, etc.

Tarragon lends itself easily to savory or sweet dishes, as in the recipes below.

Blueberry Tarragon Ice Pops
makes ten 3 oz popsicles

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
3 sprigs of fresh tarragon
3 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
Additional ¾ cup water

1)      Create a simple syrup by bringing 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar to a boil. Turn off the heat and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add tarragon sprigs, and let steep for 30-60 minutes. Strain syrup and discard solids.
2)      In blender, purée blueberries and ¾ cup water until very smooth. If you don’t have a blender that can achieve a silky texture, it is worth the extra step of pushing the liquid through a fine sieve to get rid of the blueberry skins.
3)      Combine simple syrup and blueberry mixture, and freeze in ice pop molds according to manufacturer directions. If you don’t have molds, you can use small paper cups or ice cube trays – put in wooden popsicle sticks or toothpicks after about an hour of freezing, or put plastic wrap over your homemade molds to hold the sticks in place.

Tarragon Deviled Eggs
makes 1 dozen servings

6 eggs, hard-boiled and peeled
3 T mayonnaise
2 T Dijon mustard
1 tsp tarragon or sherry vinegar
1 tsp fresh tarragon, finely chopped, plus more for sprinkling
Salt and pepper to taste

1)      Hard-boil eggs with your preferred method (I put the eggs in cold water, bring to a boil, turn off and cover for 12 minutes, then I move the eggs to a bowl of ice water) and peel. Carefully cut eggs in half, and remove yolks. In medium bowl, add yolks, and all remaining ingredients – mayo through salt and pepper. Mix with a fork or electric mixer until very smooth.
2)      Pipe or spoon yolk mixture into hollows of egg halves. Sprinkle with remaining finely chopped tarragon.
Note: I saw a great tip in a Cook’s Country cookbook – the day before making deviled eggs, lay eggs on their side to center the yolk for an extra pretty presentation.  But if you gotta have your deviled eggs now, it’s fine by me to skip this step!

Other delightful ways to use tarragon:
-          Combine a few tablespoons of honey and Dijon mustard with 1-2 teaspoons of fresh tarragon for a chicken marinade.
-          Soften a stick of butter, add a pinch of sea salt and 1 teaspoon of fresh tarragon. Roll into a log and chill. Slice and let melt over just cooked salmon.
-          Tarragon is a classic flavoring for vinegar – let several sprigs steep in a bottle of white or red wine vinegar for a few weeks. Strain out herb and enjoy in salad dressings.
-          With a spoon or bench scraper, rub a teaspoon of fresh tarragon into ¼ cup of sugar. Sprinkle over strawberries, and serve with a bit of unsweetened whipped cream.

Anna, another Wisconsin food blogger, started Tallgrass Kitchen in January 2010.  From granola bars to homemade fish sticks and amazing chococolate chip cookies, Anna's "prairie-style" blog focuses on simple homemade foods that will appeal to the entire family.  Take a trip over and introduce yourself!

This guest post is part of our Summer 2010 Herb Series: Using and Preserving Herbs. Stay tuned every Friday for more hints, tips, and tricks on how to use summer's bounty!

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  1. Wow,
    love the ideas for tarragon. I have my standard herbs I grow and use, but tarragon, sadly isn't among them. I will have to change that!

  2. Whew, I wish my Tarragon would not last the winter. Besides chives, it is the first herb up in a garden each year and it grows into a HUGE bush. Impossible to use it all. When I do my chef demos at the farmer's market, I bring lots along to give it away and no one takes it. Tough to be the lowly, yet really, tasty, herb.

  3. Tarragon is truly my favorite of all the herbs. It's one of the first to come back each year, and my well-established plant has turned into a bonafide bush -- the flavor is so almost-licorice like. I say almost because somehow it doesn't seem to offend folks who claim to hate anise flavor. I can't tell you how utterly excited I am by the idea of those popsicles -- that's just genius. Scary genius!

  4. I don't think I've ever knowingly had tarragon - crazy! Those popsicles sound so intriguing though!

  5. So THAT's why my tarragon is growing like gangbusters since the first hint of spring sun. I had planted the Russian variety last year (in a pot) for the first time and left it in the garage over winter. I transplanted some to the herb garden in early summer, and it is growing all over the place... but doesn't seem to go to seed. It is a bit on the bitter side, but it's fun to experiment with. Totally trying out the tarragon sugar trick tomorrow... that is just too easy and intriguing to let wait!

  6. The tarragon-blueberry combination is brilliant!

    BTW, when tarragon dries, the flavor changes completely for two reasons:

    Some of the flavor components (especially the ones that provides the licorice note) evaporate away, so dried tarragon doesn't have THAT flavor.

    As the leaves dry, fermentation develops coumarin, which has a fresh hay scent that is barely noticable in the fresh herb

  7. I just recently learned to love tarragon - probably in the past two or three years. It's a great herb. I never would have thought ot use it in a sweet dish. Brilliant!

  8. Both of these recipes look fantastic!

  9. I don't know if I've ever had tarragon.

  10. Thanks for all of the insight and interest in tarragon! I inherited some Russian tarragon at my new house - and it does grow like gangbusters. But I just don't like it as well as the French tarragon in my little pot...

    And Gary, thanks for the science behind why dried tarragon is no bueno - you're like Alton Brown!

    Let me know how your tarragon dishes turn out! I like that everyone is excited to try some tarragon in their desserts - next time I'm thinking tarragon, sweet cherries, and really dark chocolate...

  11. The blueberry tarragon ice pop looks delicious. I also use the herb in my omelets, grilled chicken and vinaigrette on green salad.

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