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TarragonBy: ChefTalk.comPosted 2/16/10 • Last updated 2/16/10 • 386 views
Tarragon is an herb which had many aliases in days of old. Just to name a few:
Wormwood (one of the "bitter herbs" of the Bible)
Dracunculus (Latin, means a little dragon)
Dragon Mugwort (English)
Herbe au Dragon (French)
Tarkhun (Arabic, closest to Tarragon)
Like many herbs, tarragon has an interesting history, or histories, due to the fact that tarragon seems to have been put to use in many different cultures.
The Germans used the root of tarragon to cure toothache.
The Romans believed tarragon prevented fatigue.
The Persians ate Russian tarragon, which is an almost tasteless variety, to induce appetite.
The English believed tarragon to be "highly cordial and friend to the head, heart and liver." In medieval times, they also used tarragon to relieve aching feet, although today there is little to substantiate this use with the exception of the herb having mild antifungal properties. Another legend told by the English was that the seed of flax, when put into a radish root or a sea onion and planted in the ground, would produce this herb.
Naturally, the French seemed to have devised the most uses for the herb. Besides being one of the essential herbs of French cookery, it was once used as a flavoring in absinthe, the notorious French liqueur whose constant use caused permanent damage to the brain. They also used tarragon to treat insomnia, hyperactivity, an aid to digestion, and ascribed to it the faculty of curing the bites and stings of venomous beasts and mad dogs.
In its fresh state, also its most pungent, tarragon possesses an essential volatile oil, chemically identical with that of Anise, which becomes lost in the dried herb. It therefore has a taste and smell similar to licorice, but with a “fresh-smelling” quality. You can identify tarragon by its narrow, pointed, dark green leaves, and fibrous root system, spreading by runners. Tarragon is a perennial herb, which means that the root system regenerates the plant at each growing season. This may be the reason why, when the plant flowers, the tiny flowers rarely open. Fresh tarragon is used primarily in salads, tartar sauce and French dressing, but is an excellent match with garlic, chives and onion when a combination of herbs is necessary. Its more unusual uses include seasoning for lemons, oranges and mangos.
Tarragon may be purchased in its fresh herb form in almost any grocery store for approximately $2.00 per half-ounce. In the home, it should be stored in the refrigerator, preferably wrapped in a damp paper towel and placed in an unsealed plastic bag. The fresh form can also be chopped into ice cube trays and frozen with a bit of water.
If the intent is to dry the herb for winter use, tarragon’ s green leaves should be picked between summer and fall, but only the leaves of the plant, since the stems are somewhat woody, similar to the stems of thyme. It should be placed on wire racks for quick drying and stored in airtight containers. Dried tarragon is most often seen in a crumbled state similar to that of dried parsley, but it retains a brighter green color than parsley in this form. Tarragon may also be found in a powder form, but seems to be less available in this state. In its dried form, tarragon retains much of its anise-like flavor but lacks the strong qualities which the fresh herb imparts. Dried tarragon is used to flavor vinegars, herbal butter, shellfish, pork, beef, poultry, leeks, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, onions, asparagus, mushrooms, broccoli, peas, and rice. It can also be stirred into sour cream or yogurt and used to top soups or baked potatoes. When purchased in a grocery store, dried tarragon is approximately $4.25 for a .37-oz. jar.
RECIPES Tarragon Butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh or dried tarragon leaves ½ cup butter, softened
Mix the tarragon leaves and the butter together. Spread the tarragon butter on the food to be grilled before, during and after grilling.
Orange Dragon Chicken
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts 4 cloves peeled garlic 1 cup loosely packed fresh tarragon leaves or ¼ cup dried ½ tablespoon olive oil ¼ teaspoon salt zest from 2 medium oranges
Chop the garlic and tarragon together finely, then stir in the oil, salt and orange zest to make a coarse paste. Rub about a tablespoon of the paste under the chicken skin and on the underside of each breast and pull the skin back over the meat. Let the flavor soak in for several hours or overnight. Bake covered at 375 degrees for 30 minutes before uncovering and baking another fifteen minutes to brown. You can use the now-flavored pan drippings to make a simple sauce or just spoon over rice or vegetables.
2 cups white wine vinegar ½ cup fresh tarragon
Bring mixture to a boil; steep for two weeks, strain, and enjoy.
1 quart of vodka ½ cup fresh tarragon 5 black peppercorns 2 teaspoons sugar
Allow mixture to stand refrigerated for one week. Strain and serve ice cold (small glasses!)
Monica’s Unconventional Potato Salad
The potato salad recipe which was the basis for the one below was made by my mother since before I can remember, albeit somewhat more conservative than this one. I felt it needed some additions such as the celery and tarragon, and now it is a tradition on virtually all holidays, whether potato salad is "in season" or not. It seems to be the correct accompaniment to many holiday foods. It is, of course, made for the summer Fourth of July picnic, an absolute necessity with the Easter ham, and, strangely enough, I have to make it every Thanksgiving to be eaten alongside the turkey; yes, with gravy on it! Don't knock it until you've tried it. However, if you're looking for a lo-cal potato salad recipe, this one ain't it!
5 lbs. Idaho potatoes, boiled in skins until fork-tender, drained, cooled and peeled 4 hard-boiled eggs, sliced 5 scallions, chopped (w/most of green portion) 2 ribs celery, chopped (1/4" dice) 1 ½ cups mayonnaise 1 ½ cups sour cream 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon salt pepper
Combine scallions, celery and tarragon in large mixing bowl and salt and pepper fairly well; cover and set aside. Whisk together in a separate bowl mayonnaise, sour cream and olive oil until a creamy consistency is obtained. If potatoes are large, quarter lengthwise and slice into ½" slices. Combine sliced potatoes and 3 sliced eggs with scallion mixture and toss lightly to combine, being careful not to break or mash the potatoes. Add mayonnaise mixture and mix well to coat. Load into serving dish and arrange remaining egg slices on top.
Note: You may ask why this recipe uses Idaho potatoes rather than the customary red potatoes. This is the unconventional part of it. The high starch content of the Idaho potatoes causes a mealy texture to be formed when the mayonnaise mixture is added to them. This mealy texture seems to balance the flavors in the salad and cut the extreme richness of the dressing, allowing you to eat more of it!
Warning: Highly gas-producing.
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