Of the many herbs that we use to cook with, tarragon is one that tends to be underused at times. However, it is certainly worth looking into, since it lends a wonderful flavor and fragrance to food. One of the best ways to use tarragon more confidently is to know more about it. Read on to find out all about this amazing plant, and how to grow and cook with it.
What is Tarragon?
Also known as dragon’s wort, tarragon is a perennial that is typically found within the Northern Hemisphere. Areas where tarragon naturally grows include a large part of eastern and central Europe, central Asia, including India, and the western part of North America. Tarragon has an aroma that is similar to anise. It is used heavily in French cuisine, especially in sauces and for flavoring poultry and seafood. Some eastern and northern European countries even use tarragon as a flavor in a sweet, carbonated beverage. Fresh leaves can be kept by wrapping them in a slightly wet paper towel and sealing it in a plastic bag in the fridge. Alternatively, the leaves can also be frozen or dried and stored in the freezer or in a cool, dry area respectively.
Since tarragon can be somewhat difficult to grow from germinated seeds, many gardeners opt to use root division as a propagation method. In general, the best type of tarragon for use in cooking is French tarragon. It requires plenty of sun and relatively dry soil. Since the plant is a perennial, it will not flower over the winter months but instead will stay dormant. Another variety of tarragon is Russian tarragon. While it is much hardier and grows even in poor conditions, its flavor and aroma is noticeably weaker compared to French tarragon. If you do decide to grow the plant from seeds, allow them to germinate and sprout safely indoors, and then transplant them outdoors during the warm summer months.
How to Cook With Tarragon
In general, it is better to use fresh tarragon leaves instead of dried to make the most of the plant’s flavorful oils. When using the fresh leaves, keep in mind that they have quite a strong taste, so use them in moderation. The flavor from tarragon can be brought to the forefront of any dish by quickly frying or heating the leaves before mixing them into the food. If they are left unheated, chop or hit the leaves roughly with the blunt side of a kitchen knife in order to release the volatile oils. Fresh or dried leaves can be used in conjunction with other herbs and spices to make a marinade for meats. A different way to flavor meat dishes is by infusing olive oil with fresh tarragon leaves. The oil will keep for a long time and is an excellent way to add a burst of flavor. To increase the taste, garnish your dish with a few springs of fresh tarragon before serving it. Tarragon also lends a unique taste to salads. To do this, make vinaigrette using fresh tarragon leaves and drizzle it over the salad. Although Western culture normally does not combine tarragon in sweet dishes, there are several eastern European recipes that use tarragon in fruity desserts.
Why is Tarragon So Expensive?
Unlike its Russian counterpart, French tarragon tends not to produce seeds very often. This means that one of the main ways to propagate it is through stem cuttings or root division. Compared to seed germination, this method results in plants that grow very slowly. Despite this, it is more cost effective to simply grow your own tarragon at home instead of purchasing the pricier bunches from grocery stores. The major benefit is that the leaves are readily available and fresh at all times without the need to keep repurchasing. As long as the plant is well cared for and receives the correct amounts of warmth, light, water and soil, it should grow quite well.
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