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Tarragon is a lovely herb.  The French use it extensively.  We should use it more.  It has a delicate, grassy flavor with a distinct licorice kick.  Chicken with Tarragon-Shallot Cream Sauce…a match made in heaven.  Think of this as a little-black-dress of a sauce.  It just tastes special.  It’s a quick little minx of a sauce, too.  Remember, quite a while back, we talked about béchamel sauce?  This is a dressed-up béchamel, but a béchamel none the less.  It’s the process that’s important to remember.

For this sauce, I prefer to use dried tarragon.  I like to add it to the combined liquids, at least an hour before using, so the tarragon can infuse the liquid and fully bloom.  You can do this early in the day, cover the container with plastic and store it in the fridge until you’re planning on using it.  Then just nuke it and continue with the recipe.  This sauce is nice with some Dijon mustard stirred in at the the very end, after you’ve removed the pan from the heat source.  Mustard can become unpleasantly bitter, if it’s “cooked”.  And do remember that mustard has some thickening properties, so that may affect the consistency of your finished sauce.

You’re making a white roux.  You’ll sauté the shallots in the butter until tender, but not browned.

Whisk in the flour and cook for 1-2 minutes.  This is your white roux. Add the heated liquid, with the tarragon added, slowly.  Whisk constantly, or you may have lumps (this is all explained in more detail in the béchamel sauce post.)  If you’re using the lemon zest, toss it in now.  It is a lovely addition, but not necessary.  Simmer until the sauce is slightly thickened.  This is not a terribly thick sauce.  I add a little dry chicken (or vegetable) broth powder to boost the flavor and help correct the seasoning.

Remember to taste and adjust the seasoning.  I always find I need to add some lemon juice to brighten the flavor of the sauce, but I like the sauce to pop a bit, that’s why I gave a flexible amount.  If you want more punch, add more lemon juice, and add the grated zest…the flavor is in your very capable hands!  This is a perfect sauce for grilled or roasted chicken.

I served pan-seared, then roasted chicken breast on a bed of sautéed mushrooms and drizzled the sauce over and around the chicken, with Creamy-Crispy Potatoes and Brown Butter-Honey Glazed Carrots on the side.

Tarragon-Shallot Cream Sauce

  • Servings: Makes about 1 1/4 cups
  • Difficulty: Easy
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  • 2 tablespoon butter or margarine
  • 1 medium shallot, finely minced (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (see NOTE)
  • 1/2 cup warm milk
  • 1/2 cup warm chicken or vegetable broth, no-salt or low-sodium
  • 3 tablespoons dry white wine
  • 3/4-1 teaspoon dry tarragon leaves (or more if you wish)
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon dry chicken or vegetable base
  • 1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground white pepper, to taste
  • 1-2 teaspoons very finely minced parsley (optional)

Combine the milk, broth and white wine; add the tarragon and give it a stir.  Cover and set aside for at least an hour.  If you’re doing this early in the day, cover it and place it in the fridge until you’re ready to make the sauce.

To make the sauce:  Melt butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the shallot; sauté for 2-3 minutes, or until the shallot is limp, but not browned.  Stir in flour; cook over medium-low, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth and bubbly, about 1 to 2 minutes.  You’ve just made a white roux.

Heat the broth/tarragon mixture until warm (I do this in a glass measuring cup in the microwave).  Whisking constantly, add one-third of the liquid to the roux; this loosens the mixture.  When the mixture thickens, again whisking constantly, very slowly pour in the remaining liquid.  Keep whisking!  Lower the heat and simmer until the mixture is slightly reduced, about 4 minutes; whisking frequently.  Whisk in the heavy cream; simmer for 2-3 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper; add the zest, if using.  Add the lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon at a time; taste after each addition, until the sauce is to your liking.  If the sauce isn’t as thick as you want it, let it simmer until it reduces to the consistency your like.  Conversely, if the mixture is too thick, add milk, 1 teaspoon at a time until the sauce is as thick as you want.  The sauce can be made ahead and gently reheated.  Stir in the parsley to give the sauce a bright spark of color, if desired.

Excellent with chicken, white fish and pork, as well as some vegetables.

NOTE:  If gluten is an issue, omit the flour and stir one tablespoon cornstarch into the combined liquids; do not warm them.  Add the cornstarch/liquid mixture to the sautéed shallots; continue with the recipe.

Flavor Option—Mustard-Tarragon Sauce:  At the very end of cooking, after I remove the pan from the heat source, I whisk in 1-2 teaspoons good-quality Dijon mustard.  Be aware that mustard has thicken properties, so you may need to thin the sauce.  It is better to no boil the sauce after you add the mustard, or it may become unpleasantly bitter.

Bleu Cheese-Tarragon Sauce:  Crumble 2-5 tablespoons bleu cheese into the sauce, at the very end, after you’ve removed the pan from the heat source.  Whisk until smooth, or gently stir, if you want some of the pieces to remain whole.

Tarragon-Shallot Cream Sauce Recipe©Marcia Lahens 2020.  All rights reserved.

If you don’t already have some tarragon growing your garden, rush out a buy a plant.  But, and this is a big deal, BUT make certain to purchase French tarragon…there are other types, but none have the flavor of French tarragon.  So, make certain to purchase it from a reputable grower.