A brief guide to the herb tarragon including recipe ideas and health benefits.

Tarragon is probably most widely used and most popular in French cuisine. It is one of the main components of "fines herbes" and Béarnaise sauce and forms a perfect partnership with many chicken and fish dishes in particular.

There are two types of tarragon, French tarragon and Russian tarragon. French tarragon is the best type for cooking as it has a much stronger flavour, however it is harder to grow and must be cultivated from clippings and not from seed. Russian tarragon, on the other hand, has a milder and weaker flavour yet it is very easy to grow and can be grown from seed. As tarragon has quite a strong flavour, the Russian type may be better for salads, where an intense flavour is not necessarily required.

Tarragon is native to Eastern Europe and Asia, although nowadays it is primarily cultivated and produced in France.

History of tarragon

There are very few records of tarragon being used in ancient times, although it has been said that the Greeks used tarragon to treat toothache.

Recently studies proved that one of the components of tarragon is eugenol, which is in fact a strong anaesthetic and pain reliever.

Tarragon did not really become popular until the 16th century.

It was brought to Europe during the Middle Ages by the Crusaders who returned from the Middle East. There it was employed by the Arabs in medicine, who used it to treat anaemia, stimulate digestion and remedy bad breath.

The name "tarragon" is thought to have derived from the Arabic word "tarkhun", which means "little dragon". It was believed that tarragon could stave off snakes and dragons, as well as cure snake bites, which is where the name is thought to have derived.

The nutritional value of tarragon

Whilst fresh herbs are usually only used in small quantities, particularly when they are strong in flavour and only a little is needed to flavour certain dishes, tarragon is still an excellent source of iron, calcium and manganese.

In larger quantities, tarragon is an important source of potassium, magnesium and Vitamins A and C. It also contains trace amounts of copper, zinc and phosphorous.

Medicinal value of tarragon

Tarragon is mainly used to treat stomach disorders and also acts as a mild anaesthetic and sedative. Tarragon is also said to:
  • Stimulate the appetite and therefore can help treat eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.
  • Numb aches and pains due to its anaesthetic properties.
  • Act as a mild sedative and sleep inducement.
  • Treat hyperactivity and promote calmness, especially when taken as a tea.
  • Aid digestion, particularly the break down of meat fats and proteins.
  • Release and flush out toxins from the body.
  • Relieve stomach cramps, indigestion, wind and colic in babies.
  • Ease menstrual pains.
  • Alleviate rheumatoid and arthritic pain.
  • Act as a laxative and relieve constipation.
  • Help depression if taken with fennel.
  • Help people with heart problems and obesity if taken as a substitute for salt.

Buying and storing tarragon

Fresh tarragon is best for cooking, as dried tarragon is extremely weak in flavour. The French variety is more flavourful, although sometimes only the Russian variety is available.

Fresh tarragon should be stored in the refrigerator and wrapped in a barely damp paper towel placed in a plastic bag. This should keep the herb fresh for about five days.

Recipe ideas for cooking with tarragon

As mentioned before, tarragon is widely used in French cooking and is one of the ingredients that give the classic Béarnaise sauce its strong and aromatic flavour. It is also a particularly good match for chicken and fish dishes. Take care when adding fresh tarragon, as it has a very strong aniseed flavour and tends to dominate and drown out other flavours. Below are some ideas on how to use tarragon in other dishes:
  • Add freshly chopped tarragon to salads.
  • Use in pickles and relishes.
  • Add to white wine or cider vinegar to make a herby tarragon vinegar dressing for salads.
  • Stuff the inside of a chicken with fresh tarragon leaves before roasting.
  • Roast fish with tarragon leaves.
  • Add to any tomato, egg or cheese dishes.
  • Mix with butter, chives and lemon juice for a marinade for fish or chicken.
  • Add chopped tarragon as a garnish for mild soups.
  • Add to any mayonnaise, butter or cream-based sauces or dips.
  • Use to make tartare sauce.
  • Season boiled or steamed vegetables with a little chopped tarragon added to melted butter.
  • Chop up some fresh tarragon and add to your omelette mixture.

Tarragon Recipes

Three varied recipes using the fresh herb tarragon as a main ingredient. Recipes include chicken breast with tarragon sauce, lamb noisettes with a creamy tarragon sauce and goat's cheese and broccoli frittata.

Chicken Breasts with Tarragon Sauce

This chicken dish combines orange, tarragon and ginger to make a tangy and zesty sauce. Serve with your choice of potatoes, pasta or rice.

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • ½ pint (300 ml) of orange juice
  • 5 fl oz (140 ml) of soured cream
  • 1½ oz (40 g) of butter
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 crushed cloves of garlic
  • zest of one orange
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • 2 tbsp of freshly chopped tarragon
  • 1 vegetable stock cube
  • 1 tsp of cornflour
  • 1-inch piece of root ginger, chopped
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
  2. In a large frying pan melt the butter together with the olive oil over a medium - high heat.
  3. Add the chicken breasts and cook on both sides until they are brown all over.
  4. Remove from the frying pan and transfer to a casserole dish.
  5. Add the chopped onion to the frying pan and cook until soft and translucent.
  6. Add the crushed garlic and stir. Take the stock cube and crumble it into the frying pan also.
  7. Pour in all of the orange juice except for 2 tbsp. Stir all of the ingredients well.
  8. Then add the chopped tarragon, ginger and 2/3 of the orange zest. Mix well.
  9. Pour the sauce over the chicken breasts in the casserole dish and place into the centre of the oven. Bake for 45 minutes.
  10. In a small bowl or cup, mix together the cornflour and the remaining orange juice until you have a smooth paste. Add to the casserole dish and blend together.
  11. Place the casserole dish onto the stove and bring the sauce to the boil. Cook until it thickens to the desired consistency.
  12. Remove from the heat and stir in the soured cream.
  13. Serve hot with your choice of accompaniment.

Lamb Noisettes with Tarragon Sauce

This tarragon sauce that is partnered with lamb is delicious, creamy and easy to prepare.

  • 8 lamb noisettes, each 4 oz (115 g)
  • 6 oz (170 g) of chopped onion
  • ½ pint (300 ml) of chicken or lamb stock
  • ¼ pint (150 ml) of white wine
  • ¼ pint (150 ml) of double cream
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 tbsp of tarragon vinegar
  • 1 tbsp of freshly chopped tarragon
  • salt and pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
  2. Heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil in a large frying pan.
  3. Add the lamb noisettes and cook on each side until they are brown and the fat is crispy.
  4. Transfer to a roasting tin and place into the preheated oven. Roast for 10 -15 minutes.
  5. Add the remaining tbsp of olive oil to the same frying pan. Once hot, add the chopped onion and cook gently until the onions have slightly softened.
  6. Add the tarragon vinegar and the white wine and bring to the boil. Cook for 3 minutes.
  7. Reduce the heat slightly and add the cream and the meat stock. Stir frequently and cook for 10 minutes.
  8. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Remove the lamb from the oven and cut the string from the noisettes.
  10. Add the chopped tarragon to the sauce in the frying pan and also pour in the roasting juices from the roasting tin. Stir well.
  11. Serve the lamb onto warmed plates with the tarragon sauce.

Goat's Cheese and Broccoli Frittata

This Italian-style omelette is a good way to use up eggs and it turns a plain omelette into an exciting dish.

  • 8 eggs
  • 12 oz (340 g) of broccoli
  • 5 oz (140 g) of soft goat's cheese
  • 1 small red or green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 1 crushed garlic clove
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • 2 tbsp of freshly chopped parsley
  • 1 tbsp of freshly chopped tarragon
  • salt and pepper
  1. In a mixing bowl beat together the eggs, parsley, tarragon and salt and pepper. Set aside.
  2. Cut the broccoli florets into small pieces.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and add the broccoli, chilli and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes and then cover and cook for a further 5 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  4. Crumble the goat's cheese into the frying pan and mix well.
  5. Pour in the egg mixture so that it is evenly spread.
  6. Cook the frittata over a medium heat for about 8 minutes or until the bottom has browned.
  7. Place a plate over the frying pan and flip the frittata onto it. Slide it back in with the uncooked side face down and cook for a further 3 - 4 minutes.
  8. Once the frittata is fully cooked through and brown on both sides, divide into portions and serve with a salad.

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