French tarragon, with its weed-like, leafy green appearance is one of the fines herbes in French cooking, and is the main ingredient in the fancy sounding and tasting Béarnaise sauce.
Tarragon’s Latin name, dracunculus, means “little dragon.” Possibly because of its serpentine root system, tarragon was thought to cure bites from snakes and rabid dogs in medieval times. Tarragon was used by the Greeks to treat toothaches because of its strange ability to numb the mouth when chewed raw.
French tarragon is the sweeter, milder version of the more bitter Russian tarragon, and is used more often in cooking than the Russian variety for its flavor and aroma, which is reminiscent of anise and pepper.
Tarragon pairs well with fish, shellfish, pork, beef, lamb, game, poultry, potatoes, tomatoes, asparagus, mushrooms, carrots, eggs, cheese, yogurt, broccoli, beets, citrus, white wines, and grains, to name a few.
To prepare for culinary use, hold the stem at the tip firmly. Pinch the stem at the tip between the thumb and forefinger of your other hand, then run your thumb and finger down the length of the stem to remove the leaves. You can toss out the stem and use the leaves in your recipes.
Use tarragon lightly in your cooking, as it can easily overpower other flavors. Fresh leaves can be used in salads or as a garnish. Add it to long cooking soups and stews in the last fifteen minutes of cooking for the best flavor.
Tarragon looses much of its flavor and aroma when dried, so drying the herb is generally not recommended. Better modes of preservation are chopping the leaves and suspending them in water, then freezing in ice cube trays, freezing whole sprigs in zip top plastic bags (no need to defrost before using), or making a tarragon vinegar.