Tarragon is a plant that has liquorice-like flavour: sometimes it seems to have a mild aroma of fennel, sometimes it is more like an intense aniseed with a hint of vanilla. It is a versatile ingredient in Russian, Mexican, French cuisines that is used in sauce making, fish and poultry cooking, drinks brewing. More often than not it’s added fresh but sometimes it’s sold dried. As a spice, its flavour is concentrated because the water is removed during the drying process. This, of course, is great in terms of shelf life. However, even dried spice can become old enough and lose its strength. So, ironically, you’d want as fresh dried tarragon as possible. To sustain its potency, it’s better to store dried tarragon in an airtight container away from heat sources. But even if preserved well, it’s still somewhat inferior to the fresh plant that has unique complexity.
So, you laid hands on green tarragon, what’s next? How to create a dish that unlocks the potential of the herb? Try to make compound butter. Basically, it’s just butter mixed with a bunch of herbs along with sulphurous aromatics, like onion, garlic, shallots or milder leeks. But you can omit them entirely and focus simply on tarragon. Take 3 Tbsp of herb and 1 Tbsp of soft room temperature butter (you can vary the proportions and a measuring method to your liking). Finely chop the tarragon and mix it with the butter. Then place everything on a piece of plastic wrap, fold it and roll into a log, twisting both ends and tying them in knots. Place the butter in a fridge to harden. Then sear yourself a steak, fry some chicken breast or a whole fish. Slice a piece of tarragon butter and mount it right on top of the cooked protein. Butter will melt and, despite being a super easy preparation, will certainly add the desired complexity to the dish.
This idea (of adding something creamy and delicious to your cooked meat and fish) can easily be extended to a tarragon sauce. It’s so simple that it can be made by eye. But of course, we will provide all the measurements for consistency. Melt 60 g / 1/4 cup of butter in a pan over medium heat and stir 1 Tbsp of flour to create a basic roux. Cook it for 2 minutes, then pour 250 g / 1 cup of milk and stir until flour dissolves. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens, then add 2-3 Tbsp of finely chopped tarragon (or 1 Tbsp of dried spice), 1 tsp of garlic powder, salt and pepper. Take this as a starting point: add any fresh/dried herbs of your choice to this sauce. Basil, sage, chervil – all works well together with tarragon. Consider Greek yoghurt and a splash of white wine vinegar for a sourish kick. This creamy sauce makes great company with fried scallops or chicken. But no one can stop you from smothering a pizza slice with it or your morning baguette.