Terrific Tarragon

STORY AND PHOTOS BY SYLVIA FOUNTAINE

Tarragon surprises even the most experienced palates. Its slightly bitter, herbaceous flavor is complex and nuanced, with notes of anise, grass, fennel, and pepper — giving many somber dishes an unexpected, yet very welcome, aliveness. It hasn’t been until recently that we’ve begun to see this underused herb pop up so prolifically on local restaurant menus.

In France, tarragon is considered one of the “four fine herbs” — along with parsley, chives, and chervil — essential in French cooking, and it is most often paired with eggs, chicken, fish, legumes, or tender salad greens.

One of the easiest ways to use fresh tarragon is simply to add it to meals you are already making. Next time you find yourself in the herb aisle of the grocery store, pick up a package of fresh tarragon and begin experimenting with this often-overlooked herb. Let tarragon help take your soups and salads to another level, elevating them into something new and different.

With its vermouth-like flavor, tarragon adds a sophisticated twist to cocktails and sauces. Like many delicious things, tarragon may be, to some, an acquired taste, but I assure you, it’s a taste that is very much worth acquiring. Make an effort to get to know this tender herb, and you will be rewarded with its uniqueness and originality. It will absolutely make you a better cook.

Avocado Boats with Shrimp and Tarragon

A simple starter or light lunch, this fresh and healthy meal is refreshing on warm spring days. Feel free to make the flavorful tarragon shrimp filling up to one day ahead and refrigerate. When ready to serve, cut the avocado in half and spoon in the filling.

Serves 2 | 20 minutes

  • 4–5 ounces cooked shrimp, shelled, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 scallion, sliced thinly at a diagonal
  • 2 radishes, diced
  • 2 tablespoons celery, small diced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves, chopped, more for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon whole-grain mustard
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, more for sprinkling
  • 1/8 teaspoon cracked pepper
  • 1 large, ripe avocado, cut in half, seed removed.
  • Garnish: sprouts or tarragon leaves

 

Recipe

In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the avocado. Stir well and let stand 5 minutes. Mix again and taste then adjust the salt and lemon juice. You will most likely need more. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Cut the avocado in half, remove the seed, sprinkle with salt, and divide the shrimp mixture between the two halves. Top with sprouts or tarragon leaves. Enjoy immediately.

Spring Nettle Soup with Tarragon

Luxurious and vibrant green, this can be made with nutritious nettles or baby spinach. Keep it vegan and add a drizzle of truffle oil, or swirl in yogurt for extra richness.

Serves 2–4 | 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 fat shallot (or 1 leek, white parts), rough chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, rough chopped
  • 1 pound white or yellow potatoes, sliced ½ inch thick
  • 4 cups veggie or chicken stock
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper (optional)
  • 8 ounces wild mushrooms, sautéed for garnish (optional)
  • 2 ounces fresh nettle leaves (about 2 cups packed tight) or baby spinach leaves
  • 2–3 tablespoons fresh tarragon
  • 1 lemon
  • Sour cream or yogurt for swirling (optional)
  • Truffle oil (optional)

 

Recipe

In a medium pot, sauté shallot and garlic in olive oil 3–4 minutes, over medium heat, until fragrant and golden. Add potatoes, stock, salt, and pepper and bring to a simmer, covered. Simmer until potatoes are very tender, about 10–15 minutes.

Sauté mushrooms for the garnish, seasoning with salt and pepper.

When potatoes are tender, add nettles, and stir, letting them wilt, about 1 minute. Do not boil. Turn off the  heat and let the pot cool.

Once cooled, blend until very smooth. Add the fresh tarragon and a squeeze of lemon and blend again. Taste and adjust salt and lemon.

Divide among bowls, top with sautéed mushrooms and a swirl of yogurt or sour cream. Sprinkle with fresh tarragon leaves or edible flower petals. Add a drizzle of truffle oil, if you like.

Fennel Crusted White Fish with Asparagus Tarragon Sauce

A simple, elegant dinner, pairing fresh tarragon with spring asparagus.

Serves 2 | 35 minutes

Asparagus Tarragon Sauce

  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 shallot, rough diced
  • 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
  • 1 cup chicken or veggie stock
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt, more to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon white pepper (optional)
  • 2–3 tablespoons fresh tarragon
  • Squeeze of lemon

 

Fennel-Crusted White Fish

  • 2 thick sea bass filets (or black cod or halibut)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Light sprinkling of fennel seeds
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or butter (or a mix is nice)
  • 4 radishes, sliced
  • 1 lemon
  • Garnish: fresh tarragon leaves or sprouts

 

Make the sauce: Cut the top 2 inches off the asparagus and set the tips aside. Trim off the tough ends. Slice the remaining stalks into very thin, 1/4-inch-thick disks, until you have about 1 1/2 cups. Add any remaining stalks to the asparagus tips, cutting them to roughly the same size.
In a small saucepan, saute the shallot in olive oil over medium heat until fragrant and golden, about 3 minutes. Add the asparagus disks and sauté 1–2 minutes, stirring, then add the stock. Cover and simmer gently 4–5 minutes or until asparagus is tender. Don’t overcook, or you will lose the lovely color. Let this cool, then pour into a blender along with salt, pepper, tarragon, and a squeeze of lemon. Blend until silky smooth. Taste and adjust lemon and salt.

Place in a small saucepan and set aside until ready to serve.

Cook the fish: Pat the fish dry and sprinkle all sides with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the tops with fennel seeds and gently press down into the flesh. In a large skillet, heat the butter or oil over medium heat. Place fish, fennel-side down, and sear until golden, about 4 minutes. Turn the fish over and add the asparagus tips and sliced radishes to the same pan. Season with salt and pepper and lightly sauté them alongside the fish. When the fish is done to your liking, squeeze lemon over it and the veggies and gently warm the tarragon asparagus sauce, stirring often. Do not cover or simmer the sauce, just warm it up, or you may lose the vibrant green color.

Divide the sauce generously between two plates, top with the seared fish, and divide the asparagus and radishes. Top with sprouts or fresh tarragon leaves. Serve with lemon.

Green Goddess Bowl

Tarragon is the secret ingredient to the best Green Goddess dressing, giving it a unique and complex flavor. Here, it’s served with the best of early summer produce.

Serves 2 | 30 minutes

Summer Produce

  • 4–6 small purple or red potatoes
  • 1 cup shelled edamame
  • 8–10 asparagus spears
  • 8–10 green beans
  • 1 Turkish cucumber, sliced into ribbons
  • 1 carrot, sliced into ribbons
  • 4 radishes, sliced
  • 1 avocado, sliced in half, pixilated (or cross-hatched)
  • Optional additions: butter lettuce or little gems, cooked grains, sunflower sprouts, pickled onions, hemp, or sunflower seeds.

 

Goddess Dressing

  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 scallion
  • 1 fat garlic clove
  • 1/4 cup fresh tarragon
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon cracked pepper
  • 1 tablespoon lemon, more to taste
  • 1/2 cup thick, plain yogurt or mayo

 

Recipe

Bring a medium pot of water to boil on the stove and add the potatoes, whole. Cover, lower heat and simmer gently until fork tender, about 15 minutes. During the last 2–3 minutes of simmering, add the edamame, green beans and asparagus to the pot to lightly blanch. Drain and set aside.

While the potatoes are simmering, prep the cucumber, carrot ribbons, radishes and avocado.

Make the dressing, placing everything but the yogurt in a food processor. Pulse repeatedly until well-combined, but not too smooth. (Do not process continuously, or your dressing will break down and get runny.) Place in a bowl and stir in the yogurt. Taste, adjust lemon and salt. If using fat-free dairy, you may need to add a tablespoon of olive oil.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the potatoes and set aside, saving the warm water. Drop the edamame, asparagus, and green beans into the hot water and simmer for just a few minutes until everything is tender and bright green. Strain.

You can either chill everything and serve it over a bed of tender spring greens, or you can serve warm or at room temperature, on its own or over grains.

Divide between two bowls and serve with dressing.


Pacific Northwest chef, Sylvia Fountaine is the author and photographer of Feasting at Home, a food blog with healthy seasonal recipes.

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