French Tarragon

French TarragonAt The Chef’s Garden @ Epicurean we grow French or true tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus). This spring herb should not be confused with Russian or false tarragon (Artemisia dracunculoides), as while both belong to the same family and even have similar botanical names the difference in flavour is considerable.

French tarragon has a delicate aniseed flavour and smell which is completing lacking in its less refined cousin, Russian tarragon.

The leaves of French tarragon are glossy, narrow and spear-shaped with smooth edges, while Russian tarragon has coarser leaves and is much bitterer in flavour.

Another characteristic of French tarragon, which is lacking in the Russian variety, is the slight tongue numbing effect it has when a leaf is nibbled raw.

A traditional French remedy for treating insomnia is to drink a tarragon tea before retiring – for best results the tea should steep for 40 minutes and be drunk tepid

Availability: At The Chef’s Garden @ Epicurean, tarragon is usually available from mid-spring to early autumn.

Goes with: beef; chicken; cream; eggs; fish; leeks; mayonnaise; potatoes; tomatoes; and vinegar.

SELECTNG, PREPARING, STORING & USING

Selecting: Unfortunately Russian tarragon is sometimes sold as French tarragon or just tarragon which can be confusing and disappointing! To ensure you are buying French tarragon, if possible, rub a leaf between your fingers and look for the delicate aniseed aroma. The leaves should look green and fresh, not blackened, limp or yellow.

Preparing: French tarragon leaves can be used whole, shredded or chopped and sprigs add great flavour to sauces and stocks. Intensify the flavour by adding additional chopped fresh tarragon just prior to serving.

Storing: Do not wash before storing as this causes the leaves to blacken. If wrapped in paper towels and placed in a plastic bag, tarragon should keep for 6-7 days in the refrigerator. Whole sprigs can be frozen in a sealed bag – just pick off leaves when you want to use them

Using: Béarnaise and tarragon vinegar are two of the best known ways to use tarragon.

  • Easy Béarnaise Sauce: Place 2 tbsp tarragon vinegar, 3tbsp white wine, 1 finely chopped shallot and 1 tsp white peppercorns in to a small saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer until reduced by half. Remove peppercorns and pour mixture into a heatproof bowl. Whisk in 4 free-range egg yolks and whisk well to combine. Place bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and cook, whisk until egg mixture is thickened and pale yellow in colour. Slowly whisk in 200g cooled, melted butter until combined – slow and steady is the trick here to avoid the sauce splitting. Season to taste with freshly ground sea salt and black pepper and finally stir in 2 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon leaves. Steak and chips with Béarnaise Sauce is a classic bistro meal.
  • Tarragon Butter: Work a good quantity of finely chopped tarragon, a squeeze of lemon juice and freshly ground sea salt and black pepper into unsalted butter until well blended and evenly distributed. Roll into a log and wrap in baking paper, then in a double layer of aluminium foil and store in the freezer.
  • Tarragon Vinegar: In the Cook’s Companion (Penguin Lantern), Stephanie Alexander gives this method for making tarragon vinegar. Fill a wide-necked jar with as much tarragon as you can stuff in it, then pour in a good quality vinegar – sherry, white or red wine – to fill jar and cover the tarragon. Seal with a non-reactive lid, set aside in a cool place and steep for up to three months. Strain vinegar and discard tarragon. Transfer vinegar to sterilised jars.
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