Tarragon: the Herb you Didn’t Know you Liked


Tarragon is one of my favorite herbs to use in the kitchen, not only for its flavor but also because it’s not one commonly used. I love sharing it with others and surprising them with how much they enjoy this herb they thought they didn’t like. The famous American cookbook author, James Beard, is quoted as saying, “I believe that if I ever had to practice cannibalism, I might manage if there were enough tarragon around.” While I wouldn’t go that far in singing tarragon’s praises, clearly it has some very dedicated fans.

What is Tarragon?

Tarragon is in the sunflower family, and has both culinary and medicinal uses. For this article, we’re just going to focus on using it in food. While there are several varieties grown around the world, French tarragon is the one most often used for cooking purposes. Its flavor is reminiscent of anise seed, somewhat licorice-y in flavor but not overwhelmingly so. The leaves are long and soft, making them easy to fold into sauces.

How to use Tarragon

Tarragon is one of the main flavors in Bearnaise sauce, and is also one of the four fines herbes in French cooking. You might also try tarragon vinegar if you’re feeling especially apprehensive about trying this herb.

In some of the South Caucasus countries of Eurasia, tarragon is the main flavoring in a popular soft drink, called Tarhun. Iranian kitchens use it as a side dish and in stews and pickles. Tarragon is used in sweets in Slovenia, and in chicken soup in Hungary.

Fresh tarragon is wonderful, but can be hard to find. Since the leaves are so soft, it makes a great dried herb which is easy to substitute for fresh. Use about one-third the amount of dried herb as fresh.

I love pairing tarragon with chicken. One of my favorite recipes comes from Laura Calder, which I like to serve with in-season asparagus.

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 chicken (about 3 pounds), cut into 8 pieces
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh tarragon or 3 T dried
  • Lemon juice

Melt the butter with the oil in a large skillet over quite high heat. Sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and fry in batches until well browned, about 5 minutes per side.

Put all the chicken back in the pan, add the chicken stock and reduce the heat to medium. Cover and cook until tender, about 30 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate and keep warm. Reduce any leftover juices until sticky. Add the wine and the shallots and reduce to a thickish sauce, about 5 minutes. Add the creme fraiche and half the tarragon. Boil down again to sauce consistency, 3 to 5 minutes.

Season the sauce with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Put back the chicken pieces, turning to coat, then transfer to a platter. Pour the sauce over, scatter over the remaining tarragon and serve.

In the summer, I make a Tarragon Chicken Salad Slaw from Tastykitchen (modified slightly).

  • 2 whole chicken breasts cooked, or an equal amount of whole shredded chicken
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 2 tsp mustard, dijon is better
  • 2 T fresh tarragon or 2 tsp dried
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 4 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 cups coleslaw mix or shredded cabbage
  • salt and pepper

Stir all ingredients together and chill. Best served al fresco with a glass of lemonade or white wine.

Don’t be shy, and give this fantastic herb a whirl around your kitchen. She’s sure to surprise you.


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