Saturday, October 17, 2009

French Tarragon little dragon

French Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) kitchen window herb

Tarragon is one herb I can't live without. Being a herbaceous perennial plant it disappears underground during the cold months and makes a welcome return at this time of year. One could almost call it seasonal, as the dried herb is no substitute. Most of the unique quality of its flavour escapes when it is dried, though freezing some in late summer is a way to keep a supply going. In history it was called the ;dragon herb', herbe au dragon, because of its supposed ability to combat venomous stings in a time when a botanical aspect of a plant held some medical association. The roots were thought to resemble a serpent coiled to strike. The botanical species name dracunculus is derived from the Greek drakontion meaning adderwort.
The name tarragon may have come from the Arabic word tarkhum also meaning dragon as it was described as such in the13th Century by Arabian botanist Iban Baither.
When it comes to using tarragon in cooking it is important to remember the term 'less is more' as one leaf if often sufficient to impart a subtle flavour to a dish. It is too individual to do its best when subdued to the qualities of other herbs, though it is combined to form the quartet of fine herbes in french cooking to make the perfect omelette. The other three being chervil, chives and parsley. Tarragon lends 'glitter' to many recipes and is often associated with haute cuisine ,though it works its magic on simple dishes such as a roast chicken, mushrooms fried in butter or a tomato pizza where it substituted for basil . Avoid recipes which have it being used by the handful such a one I read recently where it was used instead of basil to make a pesto. This would have enough of a kick to anaesthetize the tongue.It is indispensable in making sauces ;a tartare sauce for fish; a sauce vinaigrette for an asparagus salad,a bearnaise or even a simple white roux. Tarragon imparts a subtle flavour to the velvety richness of sweetbreads cooked in a plain roux.
French Tarragon does not set seed and must be propagated by division.  It is readily available at most Nurseries and Garden Centres during the warm months.

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