Do you cook with Tarragon? If not you’re missing out on one of the loveliest flavors ~ join me as I explore this under-used herb and share some great tarragon recipes to get you started.
Tarragon Dressing (above)
It occurred to me the other day that some of my favorite recipes feature tarragon, and I thought it would be fun to explore this herb together. Tarragon is terribly underutilized in American cooking, which is a shame because it has such a lovely flavor that pairs well with so many foods. If you don’t use tarragon much in your cooking, I hope you’ll read on and be convinced to give it a try. Pick it up next time you’re shopping, or maybe make a little space for it in your herb garden.
What is tarragon?
Tarragon is an herb native to Siberia (!) but grows all over the world. It’s a tall leggy herb with pointed leaves that’s one of the four fines herbes prized in French cooking (chervil, parley, and chives are the others.) There are 3 common types:
- French tarragon ~ this is the one we cook with
- Russian tarragon ~ this one’s not use for cooking
- Mexican tarragon ~ not a true tarragon, but has a similar flavor and is used as a substitute
My simple salad with eggs (below) has a creamy tarragon dressing that takes it over the top.
What does tarragon taste like?
Tarragon has a distinctive anise or licorice flavor, with a hint of mint. But don’t worry if you aren’t a licorice fan, the flavor is delicate. I find it instantly elevates so many foods and gives them a Continental flair. If you’ve ever had Bérnaise sauce on steak or asparagus, you know the flavor.
Where to find tarragon
Like most herbs, you’ll find both the fresh and dried version in your supermarket, although it’s sometimes hard to find it fresh in smaller markets and grocery stores. Look for it with the packaged herbs in the produce section. I highly recommend using it fresh, that’s the way I almost always use it.
You can grow tarragon in a pot in the kitchen, or in your garden, in zones 4 and warmer. It’s a summer perennial that likes full sun. Look for seedlings at your local nursery, and you can also buy them online.
How to use tarragon
Hold the herb stem in one hand and run your fingers down the stem, starting at the top, to gently strip off the leaves. (Discard the stem.) The leaves can be chopped or used whole, added to soups, sauces, dressings, etc. just like you would use any fresh herb. Tarragon does best when you use it raw, or add it at the end of cooking a recipe to retain its flavor; it isn’t meant for long cooking because it can become bitter.
You might blend chopped tarragon into quiches, omelettes or frittatas, like my sheet pan frittata (below.) You can usually add or substitute tarragon for other herbs in recipes like this, even if they don’t call for it specifically.
What foods pair well with tarragon?
Tarragon has a unique but a delicate flavor, so keep that in mind when you’re pairing it with other ingredients that might overwhelm it. The lightly anise-y aroma is goes particularly well with chicken and cream sauces, and I love it in salad dressings and in simple pastas. You can pair tarragon with other mild herbs like parsley, too, for a fresh green flavor. It’s commonly used in egg dishes, I use it in my eggs Florentine (below.)
The French adore tarragon, so many of the recipes that feature it have a French connection. Tarragon pairs well with chicken, and I use it to great advantage in my roasted chicken breasts in creamy tarragon and mustard sauce (below) ~ it has such an elegant vibe because of that luscious tarragon sauce. But try it in chicken salad, as well, I think it would work great in these chicken salad summer rolls.
What’s the best way to store fresh tarragon? ~
Like most fresh herbs, tarragon will keep well wrapped in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag in the fridge until you’re ready to use it. But, also like most other herbs, the flavor will be best the fresher it is, so snip it from your garden or buy it at the store as close to when you need it as possible.
If you blitz it up in a dressing like I did for my classic French salad Niçoise, below, it will last a week or longer. This type of dressing can be used in all kinds of mediterranean salads, even beans salads!
To preserve tarragon
When you find fresh tarragon, don’t waste a bit of it. If you can’t use it all, preserve it!
- For short term storage, wrap fresh tarragon in a damp paper towel and place in a plastic bag in the fridge. It will last about a week or so.
- You can also dry tarragon by hanging it in a cool spot out of sunlight. When it’s dried, remove the leaves and package them in an airtight jar or plastic bag. Use a dehydrator if you’ve got one.
- Tarragon freezes well, just remove the leaves and lay them out on a baking sheet. Put it in the freezer until the leaves are frozen solid, then transfer to a heavy duty zip lock bag.
I make an easy tarragon vinegar with a few sprigs every summer. It gives my salads an instant upgrade, and makes a nice gift, too.
The next time you reach for a bunch of basil, consider grabbing some tarragon instead.