Licorice flavor of tarragon heralds spring
Tarragon is the herb of spring, many experienced cooks say, the way basil is for summer and rosemary is for the later months of the year.
Of those three, though, tarragon is the least familiar to less-experienced cooks, and not as likely to be in the spice cabinet or growing in the garden.
So, a quick lesson:
The McCormick Spice Co.'s "EnSpicelopedia" says tarragon comes from an herb called Artemisia dracunculus. The English name of tarragon comes from the French word estragon, "little dragon," possibly because it was believed to cure bites of poisonous reptiles, or because it had serpent-like roots.
The herb's flavor is usually compared to licorice -- or anise, in culinary parlance. It has a deep, earthy scent and flavor, very strong, so not much is needed to make a point.
Tarragon pairs well with salmon, chicken, potatoes and many vegetables -- especially the spring favorites of artichokes and asparagus. It's frequently used to flavor vinegars and in salad dressings. Green Goddess is perhaps the most familiar tarragon-based dressing. Other classic uses include Bernaise sauce, Dijon mustard and the fines herbes used in French cooking.
Deb Di Bella was actually thinking about summer when she tried a tarragon dressing at the Halekulani recently. "I'm looking for a simple tarragon dressing recipe, similar to the one used at the Halekulani's House Without a Key restaurant at their brunch. It's light and refreshing and perfect for summer."
The dressing is a light vinaigrette that incorporates tarragon-flavored vinegar, mustard and mayonnaise. The recipe follows, courtesy of the Halekulani chefs.
1/2 cup tarragon vinegar
6 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, chopped
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cups water
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup vegetable oil
Combine all ingredients except salad oil, mixing for 1 minute. Gradually incorporate oil, while continuing to blend. Chill. Makes about 4 cups.
Approximate nutritional analysis, per 2 tablespoons (not including salt for taste): 80 calories, 9 g total fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 50 mg sodium, 1 g carbohydrate, no cholesterol, fiber, sugar or protein.
Some other easy uses for tarragon, from McCormick:
Tarragon butter: Combine 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon and 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley with 1/2 stick of softened butter. Spoon mixture onto a sheet of plastic wrap and roll into a log. Use a bit of butter to flavor boiled potatoes, grilled or broiled meats or seafoods, or steamed vegetables. The butter will keep refrigerated a week, or freeze it up to a month.
Herb-flavored mustard: Combine 8 ounces of Dijon mustard with 2 tablespoons honey and 1 teaspoon tarragon. Chill at least an hour, then use with pretzels, breadsticks or even wedges of cheese or salami.
Nutritional analysis by Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.
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