Fresh Tarragon and Its 5 Best Uses

April 11, 2015

Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.

Today: All this month we'll be stocking up on fresh herbs to get our spring fix. Next up, tarragon.

Fresh Tarragon

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Label something as “King” (see especially: beers and burgers) and you're setting yourself up for disappointment—they rarely live up to their regal name. Luckily, when the French do something, it tends to be more promising. Tarragon is known as “the King of Herbs” in France, and in this case it’s a well-earned title. Tarragon is a mainstay in French cooking and an essential ingredient in both Béarnaise sauce and the combination of herbs known as fines herbes.

But its royal status hasn't carried over stateside—not yet anyway. When we add fresh herbs to a dish, we’re far more likely to reach for basil, chives, or even the polarizing cilantro, only procuring tarragon when a recipe calls for it. It's time for that to change. This spring, vow to start using this versatile anise-scented herb more often.

If you're a licorice-hater, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to hate tarragon, too—give it a shot. It doesn't have a harsh flavor; Kristen describes it “like licorice chilled out and went to the countryside.” Our beloved thirschfeld adds: “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.” 

More: If you can't get enough of tarragon's anise flavor, salty licorice might be the candy for you.

Fresh Tarragon

You’re most likely to find French tarragon at the grocery store—which is good because it's the one you want. If you end up with tarragon with a tamer flavor, you might have found Russian tarragon, which Jack Staub refers to as the "far-heartier-of-habit but infinitely less tasty surrogate.” If you’re wondering why anyone would bother with a less-tasty tarragon, the "far-heartier-of-habit" bit means it actually likes poor soil conditions and puts up with neglect and dry spells. So not only can Russian tarragon thrive in adverse conditions, but it can also be grown from seed—French tarragon rarely produces viable seeds, so new plants have to be propagated by root division or stem cuttings. 

A final type, Spanish tarragon, isn’t in the same genus as the first two, but it’s still a better substitute for French tarragon than Russian tarragon is (sorry Russian tarragon). It has wider leaves and is a little milder and sweeter in flavor.

Store tarragon in the fridge, either loosely rolled in a damp paper towel and then placed in a plastic bag or in a jar of water loosely covered in plastic. Tarragon is not well-suited for drying, as it loses a lot of its flavor. If you want to save some for later, follow Deborah Madison's suggestions: “Working tarragon into herb butter or steeping branches in oil or vinegar is perhaps a better way to preserve its flavor, at least for a limited time.” 

More: Here are 5 ways to flavor your butter with fresh herbs.

Fresh Tarragon

Once you're ready to starting using your fresh tarragon, strip the leaves (2, pictured far above) from the stalks (1, far above) and chop it up (3, above) as needed for your use. Remember to add it at the end of cooking; otherwise, its flavor will be diminished. Here are 5 foods that could use more tarragon: 

If you're not sure how you feel about tarragon, try it first in comforting potato dishes, like a potato salad or a springy one-pot meal with pork shoulder, new potatoes, and peas.

Add fresh tarragon to all sorts of egg dishes, from scrambled to deviled.

Tarragon plays well with a variety of fish, from salmon to tuna to snapper—and even works in a dipping sauce for fish sticks. Use fresh tarragon with bivalves like clams and scallops, too.

Try fresh tarragon in every type of chicken dish you can think of—chicken salad, chicken pot piechicken coated in a creamy tarragon sauce—and duck dishes, too.

Next, add tarragon to sauces—all of the sauces: pesto, aiolisauce gribiche, and green goddess dressing. Then go wild and add tarragon to a savory whipped cream with capers, a lemony dip with lima beans, a walnut and anchovy sauce, and this Semi-German Green Sauce.

Sauce Gribiche Artichokes

But don’t stop with those five suggestions! Hang onto the last of citrus season and pair tarragon with grapefruit in a gin and tonic, with tangerines in a citrusy sorbet, or with blood oranges in a roasted capon. Tarragon also pairs perfectly with fresh spring vegetables like radishes, asparagus, baby turnips, and scallions.

Bonus: While tarragon is one of the first herbs to appear come springtime, that doesn’t mean you have a limited amount of time to use it. As Deborah Madison says: “You might think of it as a stronger version of chervil, but unlike that delicate annual umbellifer, tarragon is a perennial and it is hearty, putting out its fragrant needle-shaped leaves all summer long and into the winter, though not necessarily through it.”  So keep tarragon in mind when the farmers market is overflowing with summer produce: Pair it with zucchini and summer squash, fava beans, watermelon, and carrots.

Tell us: How do you like to use tarragon?

Sauce gribiche photo by Eric Moran, all other photos by Mark Weinberg

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • FoodFanaticToo
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I like esoteric facts about vegetables and think ambling through a farmers market is a great way to start the day. My first cookbook, available now, is called Cooking with Scraps.


FoodFanaticToo April 16, 2016
Living in Zone 3a, my tarragon dies in early October, but it's one herb that I replant from seedlings every year. My favourite use is in a white wine and cream sauce, and in eggs and quiche. I actually detest liquorice and anise, but adore tarragon. I have grown both French and Russian tarragon, and I must say that the Russian is too firm and thick for my liking.
Shamarie H. April 18, 2015
One of our local cafes had a light clam chowder just barely seasoned with tarragon and I've been using it that way since then.
johnkovo April 14, 2015
We grow French tarragon next to asparagus in our perennial veggie garden. They come up the same time every year. In fact, both are emerging now.
We'll cut a handful of asparagus, a few tarragon sprigs, throw in a hot pan with butter for a few minutes and serve. Pure taste of Spring. It doesn't get much simpler or delicious.
David V. April 13, 2015
I grow a French variety in my window box, I rinse and dry stalks and submerge in a bottle of white Balsamic vinegar. It makes a great salad dressing
booglix April 12, 2015
I love Deborah Madison's pasta with tarragon, tomatoes and cream, from the Greens cookbook. It's simple, delicate, and incredible.
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. April 12, 2015
Tomatoes are another great pairing for tarragon -- that dish sounds fantastic.
Trena H. April 12, 2015
I really love the flavor of tarragon, although I'm an admitted licorice addict. My favorite way to use it is fresh in all sorts of dishes, but it makes a delicious vinegar which is my secret ingredient in coleslaw - try it!
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. April 12, 2015
Tarragon vinegar sounds like a great addition to coleslaw!
LeBec F. April 12, 2015
l-jean, nice job! I particularly like the suggested pairings . I am definitely going to plant it this year now that you have super inspired me.
One little thing- I greatly admire Deborah Madison, but her comment about chervil being a 'delicate annual' -mystifies me. We planted it in a N.H. Z.4 garden and it came back every year for a decade (and probably still.) If that isn't a definition of a perennial, i don't know what is! (at least in z.4 and south of there.) But maybe it doesn't like the heat of CA.......
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. April 12, 2015
Thanks LBF! I think I might add tarragon to my garden this year, too.

You're right, chervil is a perennial, but I think it's typically thought of and grown as an annual as it needs just-right conditions to be a perennial -- which it sounds like you had, how lucky!
Amy April 12, 2015
I love the flavour of tarragon - but I don't cook with it nearly enough! Will have to try adding some to my morning scrambled eggs :)
rosienc2000 April 11, 2015
Shrimp and tarragon in a shrimp 'patty' is delicious.
sexyLAMBCHOPx April 11, 2015
Last night I made chicken with a tarragon Dijon mustard cream sauce - so good and tasted of spring.
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. April 12, 2015
That sauce sounds divine.
JEsau April 11, 2015
Tame a horseradish-sour cream-lemon zest sauce with fresh tarragon to serve with rare prime rib of beef (the same sauce serves double duty with cold broccoli for dipping).