Sizzling summer temps call for easy cooking. My herb garden is bursting with flavor. But I admit I have a fave that stands out above the rest. My go-to summer herb is French tarragon. It’s easy to grow, flourishes in the summer garden and begs to be used right now. A few sprigs adds savory flavor to marinades, stove top meals, salad dressings and even desserts. While I love my oregano, sage and even basil, I know I can preserve them for later. 🙂 French tarragon doesn’t hold its flavor in the preserving process. It’s more of a use it or lose it, now or never herb.
French Tarragon’s Simple, Savory Goodness
French Tarragon** is considered one of the fines herbes of French cuisine alongside parsley, chervil and chives. While that sounds fancy, I love it for its simplicity. All the fines herbs grow easily in almost every herb garden. Once you grow French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa), you’ll probably join the club of French tarragon growers and never consider using store bought or dried tarragon again. It’s that good!
French tarragon is a perennial in warmer growing areas and the only common culinary herb in the daisy family. The only downside to growing French tarragon is that it doesn’t self-seed. That means if you live in a very cold zone (winter temps of -20° F) or very hot area (temps rarely drop lower than 34° F), you’ll need to search out a source each season and buy plants. Don’t be tempted by the seed packets that say tarragon, those are Russian tarragon …French imposters! They grow great, but taste lame. Very sad. Or even worse, be careful not to grab the wrong plant at the garden center. It will be a very sad day when you get home, taste it, and realize your error.
But assuming you do come home with the right herb, simply plant it in a the ground or container in full sun and watch it grow! As long as you plant it in well-draining soil. It needs very little babysitting. It’s a great herb for folks on the go because it appreciates drying out between waterings. While it needs more water than a cactus, you don’t need to water it daily. Tarragon can also assist the veggie gardener. Secretions from its roots can repel damaging nematodes. If you’re planting it in your garden, plant it near your sweet peppers or eggplants to invigorate both of them.
For those who love folklore, it’s said that tarragon is derived from the word little dragon, and the herb received its name due to its brown roots that look like tiny serpents. Other folks believe it got its name because Russian tarragon can have a fiery tang to it. I think it’s because it grows in every different directions. By summer’s end it can look a bit like a green snake/serpent peaking out between the other herbs. I trim it waayyyy back at that point!
However it got its name, French tarragon is a great culinary herb. It has such a distinct flavor that a few sprigs can enhance a whole dish. Tarragon is often used in French tartare, Bearnaise sauce and the infamous Green Goddess salad dressing. But, who has time to cook like that during the summer? I don’t. Here are some of the simplest and freshest uses I’ve found for French tarragon.
** A WORD OF CAUTION** ~ French tarragon can have mild menstruation-inducing properties. It is not recommended for pregnant women.
On The Grill – Marinades
Grilled tarragon chicken is amazing. I use chicken tenderloins. They not only make a great meal, but then can be chilled and diced for use in salads later. My family also eats them cold for lunch.
I place 7-8 tenderloins in a shallow dish, cover with 3/4 cup white wine, add the leaves of 3-4 tarragon sprigs and pepper to taste. (I use a spicy pepper mix I made from my garden grown peppers, but you can use whatever pepper you like the most.) Cover the dish with plastic wrap and chill a couple hours. Grill as usual. We grill ours on a gas grill, approximately 10 minutes per side.
French tarragon is also great on grilled pork chops.
On The StoveTop – Sprinkle Fresh
French tarragon is a wonderful addition to both halibut and scallops. Here I sauteed my scallops in butter, turning 3-4 minutes before each side got too brown. I then sprinkled freshly diced tarragon over the scallops before serving.
On Your Salad – Vinaigrette
As I mentioned before, tarragon isn’t the best herb to dry or freeze. It loses so much of its flavor. But, tarragon vinegar can be used in all kinds of salad dressings and sauces both now and later. I made the above batch with white wine vinegar, but use whatever vinegar you like. A good ratio is 2 cups (1 ounce) of tarragon sprigs to 1.5 cups of your favorite vinegar. Steep for 3-4 weeks, checking the flavor every week to your preferred intensity. Once steeped, strain the vinegar, then bottle it, add a fresh sprig of tarragon for show. It should keep at room temperature for six months.
At The Meal’s End — Refreshing Dessert
Surprise! French tarragon is amazing in combination with fresh fruit. It works very well with melons, berries, peaches, nectarines, and citrus fruit. This combination of fresh picked blueberries and market fresh cantaloupe is one of my all-time summer favorites. This is a fun way to play with herbs and find out what you like best.
A Few Last Tips
These were just a few ideas to get you thinking fresh. As you explore with the savory, citrusy goodness of French tarragon, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- It’s considered a delicate herb, so add it at the end of cooking. If you add it too early in the process, you’ll cook out most of its flavor.
- Tarragon’s flavor is distinct so you’re better using it will more mellow herbs such as chives, parsley, chervil and lemon grass. It doesn’t work as well with other savory herbs like rosemary, Greek oregano, sage or the herb savory. They tend to bully each other in the dish.
- Citrus foods like lemon and lime always bring out the best in French tarragon.
- Give it a go with tomatoes and see what you think.
- Add it to deviled eggs.
- It loves fresh vegetables such as carrots, beets, peas, asparagus and green beens.
- Try it with chocolate, you may be surprised how much you like it.
- The flavor will intensify during the growing season. You may find you have a specific time of year that you love your French tarragon the best. Mine is the best July-August. You might find yours reaches its peak at a different time of year.
I’d love to hear how you use tarragon! Please leave a comment below. It’s so fun to connect with others who love fresh herbs, too.