Tarragon is a culinary herb from the sunflower family that has an aromatic quality of anise. French tarragon is a prime ingredient in Bérnaise sauce and the favorite French herb mixture, fines herbes. It is often used in French cooking for egg, chicken, and fish dishes.
Tarragon Cooking Tips
You will find both fresh sprigs of tarragon and dried tarragon in the grocery store. You may find fresh tarragon at specialty markets and farmers markets.
- When tarragon is dried, the oils dissipate. Thus, fresh tarragon has a much more intense flavor than dried and should be used sparingly.
- To retain the most flavor of fresh tarragon during storage, freeze whole sprigs in an airtight baggie and use within three to five months. There is no need to defrost it before using.
- Dried tarragon should be kept in a sealed container in a cool, dark place and used within one year.
- Heat greatly intensifies the flavor of tarragon, both fresh and dried.
- Tarragon vinegar is easy to make. Put fresh tarragon sprigs into a sterilized bottle of distilled white vinegar. Taste it after a few days. Continue steeping until it suits your taste. Once the desired strength is achieved, remove the sprigs.
- Vinegar can also be used to preserve fresh tarragon sprigs. Store them in the refrigerator. Rinse the sprigs and pat dry before use. Use the preserved tarragon in sauces, butters, or any recipe where fresh tarragon is not required.
- Tarragon is also a good herb to use in infused oils.
- While the French call tarragon the "king of herbs," Americans have not cottoned to its flavor as they have with basil or chives. You might ease into using it on a baked potato, in potato salad, or on egg dishes as an introduction.
- Tarragon's anise aroma works well with tomatoes and carrots. You might use it on grilled summer vegetables or a green salad that could also include watermelon.
Substitutes for Tarragon
Use these measurements and substitutions:
- If you run out of tarragon, you can substitute chervil or a dash of fennel seed or anise seed in a pinch, but the flavor will not be as intended.
- 1/2 ounce fresh tarragon = 1/3 cup.
- 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon = 1 teaspoon dried.
- Fines Herbes Seasoning Mix: Learn how to make this mixture with fresh or dried herbs.
- Classic Bearnaise Sauce: Take tenderloin steak, fish, or vegetables from great to sublime with this classic sauce made from a reduction of vinegar and wine mixed with shallots and tarragon and thickened with egg yolks and butter.
- Creamy Tarragon Salad Dressing: Dijon mustard, fresh tarragon, and tarragon vinegar go into this dressing that has a truly French flavor.
- Creamy Tarragon Sauce: This sauce made with dried tarragon, chervil, and basil mixed with sour cream can be a great dipping sauce for shrimp as an appetizer, or served with meat, fish, or vegetables as a condiment.
- Herbed Mustard Aioli Sauce: This quick cold sauce is put together with mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, tarragon, and garlic.
- Chicken Breast with Quick Pan Sauce: The pan sauce includes not only tarragon, but also rosemary, curry, and chutney for an international twist.
- Lobster a l'Americaine: This recipe from James Beard is lobster simmered in a tomato sauce that includes tarragon, then flamed with cognac.
- Lobster Thermidor: Another James Beard classic recipe combines lobster with a bechamel sauce that includes shallots, tarragon, and mustard.