Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands
Tarragon (or Estragon), Artemisia dracunculus, is a native of western and northern Asia and a member of the lettuce family. There are two varieties of this herb – the wild one that’s often called Russian Tarragon and which has quite a harsh flavour; and French Tarragon, which is more delicate and has a distinct anise aroma. The French variety has more uses in the kitchen.
Tarragon combined with chervil, parsley and chives makes the French classic fines herbes mix. It has many uses in French cuisine, from flavouring sauces to adding to chicken, fish and egg dishes. A simple omelette aux fines herbes is a beautiful thing. Tarragon is the essential herb to create the classic béarnaise sauce. Tarragon compliments asparagus when paired with eggs and it brings a welcome bitter anise note to temper the sweetness of both peas and carrots. Try slow-cooking courgettes in olive oil and butter until soft and mushy, add chopped tarragon and season – delicious just with bread or served with lentils. Or soften a chopped shallot in butter, add sliced mushrooms and cook to brown, then finish with a little extra butter, a splash of cream and some chopped tarragon. Pile onto toast.
Fatty fish, particularly salmon, and sea trout, are good with a creamy tarragon sauce. Melted butter scented with tarragon poured over Lobster is a great simple way to serve a luxurious ingredient.
Georgian and Caucasian food is becoming more appreciated in London of late, thanks in large part to the work of food writer Olia Hercules. There is a distinct fondness for the herb tarragon, or tarkhuna which is also the name of a tarragon- flavoured soft drink of the region. Tarragon, onion and eggs (and sometimes greens) are combined as a filling for a leavened yogurt dough pie. There’s a stew of lamb or veal, punchy with tarragon, called Chakapuli; and there’s Kharcho, a stew made from chicken which is fragrant with tarragon. You can make a cordial from lemon, tarragon and cucumber too – maybe a bit more interesting than lemonade.
And don’t just think of tarragon for savoury dishes. The herb brings a wonderful anise flavour to nectarines, peaches and plums. Oven-bake the fruits, sliced in half and stone removed, in a little sugar syrup and a few leaves of tarragon, for an easy pudding. Or make a tarragon-infused custard for ice cream and fold through a puree of peach or nectarine.
You can preserve any leftover tarragon by hanging it up to dry, or you can preserve it as Tarragon butter. Simply chop the herb and add to creamed butter, roll into a log and freeze for using by the slice as you need it – maybe on a juicy steak or a fillet of fish.
As I write this in late spring you’ll find the best tarragon is coming through our arch right now – and, of course, we use it in our London Fermentary ferments.