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Today: An ode to spring's most versatile herb -- and a classic French chicken recipe fit for a Sunday dinner.
Spring always seems rushed. It's as if we spend months climbing a mountain called winter, and when we finally reach the peak, we're so grateful that we run as fast as we can down the other side -- past spring and directly into summer. It's even true for the vegetables we're attracted to -- the fleeting cool weather crops that are harvested and eaten before spring has truly begun.
Asparagus, fresh peas, and favas are a magic trick that Mother Nature pulls out of her hat. And, like any good parlor sleight of hand, they inspire awe and applause from our kitchens. These vegetables follow the law of diminishing returns: They vanish before we have time to tire of them -- which is probably why we clamor for them so.
More: Can't get enough of spring? Here are 10 more recipes to help you make the most of it.
These vegetables draw your attention away from the nuts and bolts of cooking so much that it’s easy to overlook some of the other real treasures of the spring garden: the first fresh herbs.
Take tarragon, the bellwether of my kitchen garden, tucked away in the corner of a raised bed just outside my door. Every day, starting in early April, I descend the back porch steps to that corner in hopes of spotting the first green tips of spring.
I then pinch off the first shoots with glee and crush the tender leaves between my thumb and forefinger, staining them with chlorophyll. The smell is a magical anise elixir, packed with the promise of the other herbs that will follow close behind: lovage, savory, chervil, and chives.
Maybe it's tarragon's longevity, but as the seasons progress, it is the quiet friend that is always there with a helping hand. It lifts Green Goddess dressing, carries Béarnaise, mellows white wine vinegar, and is the secret ingredient to French fines herbes. I like tarragon with my tomatoes just as much as I do basil. It's delicious with fish, and it elevates tender butter leaf lettuce when tossed with a simple, mustardy red wine vinaigrette. Without tarragon's balanced hand, many a seafood bisque would be nothing more than a briny shot of sherry.
In Poulet à l’ Estragon -- a classic French dish that at first glance looks heavy -- the herb actually makes way for lighter times (and taste). It is without question one of my favorite tarragon pairings, and it makes for a classic Sunday dinner fit for any dining room.
Serves 4 to 6
1 chicken, 3 1/2 to 4 pounds, cut into 8 pieces
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 cups chicken stock or water
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 shallots, trimmed, peeled, and julienned
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons tarragon, minced, plus 4 sprigs
1/2 cup dry white wine
Photos by Tom Hirschfeld