Thomas Jefferson (or “Tee-Jay”, his lesser known rapper name), from his travels in Europe, brought the Colonies the lovely flavor of tarragon. He was a Francophile in the largest sense; if it was French, it was good…and tarragon is very good, indeed.
When we say “tarragon” we’re talking about French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus sativa) or estragon. The French added the “e” at the beginning of the word, because…well, they just did. Who knows why? People do crazy things sometimes. But, it happened centuries ago, so we’ll just have to let it go. However, in some European cookbooks you will see tarragon referred to as estragon. Because of that “e” at the beginning of “estragon”, there are those among us who believe tarragon contains estrogen. I can find no clinical studies to indicate that it does.
Tarragon has a lovely slightly licorice flavor, with a bit of grassy-ness and just a hint of mint. It’s subtle and yet at the same time, extremely intense, so a little goes a long way. If you chew on the fresh leaves, you may experience a bit of numbing of your tongue. The best flavor will be attained when added nearer the end of cooking. Fresh tarragon is absolutely, hands-down the best form to use, but frozen (just throw the leaves in a plastic bag and freeze—or make tarragon pesto and freeze it) and dried can work well, too. When the snow drifts reach the eaves and you’re not about to go out to buy the nasty little supermarket packets that have been there since Christmas and have no flavor whatsoever, frozen is your best option, followed by dried. But, still add it within the last 15 minutes of cooking.
Tarragon is essential in French cuisine…think Bearnaise sauce, vinaigre d’estragon or tarragon vinegar, the herb mixture fine herbes, in fish and chicken dishes, pâtés, lamb, game, mustard, green beans, potatoes, mushrooms and asparagus, butter sauces, flavored mayonnaise and butters, and rice and barley.
KayJay, the love of The Eldest Son’s life, loves, loves, loves tarragon. She has spectacularly sensitive taste buds, “super taste buds” really; she tastes hints and nuanced flavors that most of use are completely oblivious to. I’m jealous. And she makes me absolutely stunning earrings, too. KayJay, TJ and James are all on the same page, without the cannibalism thing, of course (see the bottom of this post).
Perfectly Scrambled Eggs
2-3 eggs per person, well beaten
Place a medium skillet, preferably non-stick, over medium-high heat. Pour in the eggs and cook, stirring occasionally, scraping the sides of the pan (a heat-proof rubber spatula is a good tool here) for about 1 minute.
As the eggs begin to curdle, lower the heat; I prefer not to do too much stirring. Whenever you see that are drying out, remove the pan from the heat and slide the spatula under those sections. Then flip them over; return the pan to the heat and continue cooking. The eggs are done when creamy, soft, and still just a bit runny (they will continue to cook a bit more). Please don’t overcook them, but if softer eggs bother you, then cook them until YOU like their consistency. Serve immediately.
NOTE: Chives, cream, cream cheese, goat cheese, lavender, chervil, dill and parsley all go very well with tarragon. Make an omelet; add some peas and/or sautéed mushrooms, but this is a good starting point. For more servings, just multiply the number of servings you require by 2 (eggs) and add 1 extra egg for luck!
Tarragon and Mushroom Cream Sauce
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1 shallot, chopped or 2 teaspoons dried shallots reconstituted
- 2 cups mushrooms, thinly sliced (a wild mixture is terrific)
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 cup whipping cream, room temperature
- 2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped or 2 teaspoons dried tarragon
- 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground (or crushed) pink peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
- Salt and Pepper to taste
Heat a saucepan over medium heat. Add half the butter, the reconstituted shallots and the mushrooms; cook until the shallots are translucent, about 3 minutes.
Add the wine and lemon juice; cook for another 2 minutes until the wine is reduced by about half.
Add the cream, tarragon, pink peppercorns and lemon zest; simmer for another minute. Remove from the heat source; whisk in the last tablespoon of butter until it has melted into the sauce. Serve immediately.
NOTES AND VARIATIONS: Sometimes, I use orange, instead of lemon zest. This is excellent as a sauce for asparagus, green beans, chicken, pork (add 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard at the end), or fish. You may also add chopped kale or spinach and/or bacon bits to it as a pasta sauce.
This makes a terrific brunch pasta by adding:
4 eggs, beaten well in a bowl. Add a bit of the hot cream sauce to the eggs, whisk to combine and return the mixture to the pot; stir it in until well combined. Immediately drop 1 pound cooked pasta into the sauce, toss and serve topped with chopped, toasted walnuts, a drizzle of truffle oil and freshly grated parmesan.
Tarragon and Mushroom Cream Sauce Recipe©Marcia Lahens 2015. All rights reserved.
And just to give you further options, herbes de Provence is one of the most flexible and delicious blends around. You can purchase it at The Spice Mill, or make your own…it’s simple and fun to make your own blends. This is my version…
Goddess Herbes de Provence
- 3 tablespoons dried thyme
- 2 tablespoons dried savory
- 1 tablespoon dried chervil
- 1 tablespoon dried tarragon
- 1 tablespoon dried marjoram
- 2 teaspoons dried rosemary (crushed a bit between your fingers)
- 2 teaspoons dried lavender flowers
Place all the ingredients in a plastic bag. Seal the top with some air inside; shake the bag around until everything is evenly mixed. Store in a jar in a dark cupboard; will keep for 6 months, but you’ll use it up before that.
Excellent with chicken and eggs, lamb, fish, vegetables, cream sauces, flavored butters, béarnaise sauce, etc.
Goddess Herbes de Provence Recipe©Marcia Lahens 2015. All rights reserved.
The Goddess purchases her French tarragon plants from Woodland Gardens in Manchester, CT. They have a nice selection of herbs, as well as vegetable plants, annuals and perennials, shrubs, etc. They handle their plants well and they are just nice people. Check them out; you won’t be disappointed. If you don’t have access to Woodland Gardens, then by all means find a good nursery that handles its plants well and has French tarragon….true French tarragon needs to be propagated from root cuttings (divide an existing plant every 2 or 3 years). Many sub-standard nurseries sell Russian tarragon, which is a waste of garden space, as it has very little flavor or aroma. Make certain you ask and check the botanical moniker, too…information is our friend.
Another little tid-bit…before the time of enlightenment (you know, about 20 or 30 years ago), there was wide-spread belief that tarragon could heal snake bites; perhaps, because of the rather gnarled roots. It was also believed to ward off serpents and dragons and it’s my understanding that in French “esdragon”, which means “little dragon”, became “estragon”! Isn’t that just fun?
James was one of a kind….