Friday, 29 September 2006
(click on image for more photos of tarragon cream sauce)
It’s very difficult to choose favourites. As I mentioned in a comment to Kalyn (Kalyn’s Kitchen) already, I seem to have many favourites. I’m a bit like that character in “Finian’s Rainbow”. To paraphrase his song:
if I’m not near the herb that I love, I love the herb I’m near!
But I do think tarragon may well be “my very favourite herb”*.
French tarragon, that is. Wonderful licoricy, tongue numbing tarragon. And what a tragedy that we don’t really have enough sun in our garden to grow it. Don’t get me wrong. I love how shady our garden is! Toronto summers are so disgustingly hot. But it would be nice to have a little patch of sun.
Happily, one of our friends does have a little patch of sun in her otherwise shady garden. And as I already mentioned, she has an embarrassment of tarragon growing in that little patch. Last Friday, she generously gave me a large bunch. (pictured in the previous post)
We were so excited to have so much fresh tarragon! What to make; what to make.
Chicken. Yes, chicken… and stock from the chicken carcass. And pasta with beets and tarragon. And even though dried tarragon isn’t nearly as wonderful as fresh tarragon, we’re drying some to put into stocks during the winter.
Allow me to rave about chicken with tarragon cream sauce. First, T butterflied and covered a chicken in our version of “Old Bay” spice rub. He then slow cooked it on the barbecue with smoking hickory chips.
Not the usual tarragon cream sauce. Guilt free tarragon cream sauce. This was the most supremely delicious tarragon cream sauce made with olive oil and skim milk!! Yes, you read that correctly.
Recently, I was instructed to cut back drastically on my butterfat intake (I can’t tell you how difficult this is for me!! I ADORE butter!) Here is what T did so we could have our cream sauce and eat it too:
Tarragon Cream Sauce
- olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped finely
- 2 small portobello dried mushrooms, chopped finely
- skim milk
- 1 tsp chicken stock powder
- splash of 10% cream
- fresh tarragon
- pepper, to taste
- Heat olive oil in a skillet.
- Sauté onions til soft and just beginning to turn golden.
- Stir in dried mushrooms and sauté for about a minute.
- Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon to get rid of lumps.
- Add milk (we use skim milk powder and water) and chicken stock powder (or salt) and cook til sauce is the right thickness. (This can be done a few hours before serving.) Cover.
- Just before serving, add a splash of 10% cream, plenty of fresh tarragon. Stir to heat through. Grind in some pepper and serve.
This had to be one of the best cream sauces I’ve ever had. It was already stellar before adding the tarragon. But when the tarragon went in, a lovely sweetness (not in a cloying way) pervaded – the almost caramelized onion and the licoricy taste of the tarragon was swoonworthy. It’s hard to believe but we didn’t miss the extra butterfat at all.
Yes, thinking back on that fabulous cream sauce, tarragon is indeed my favourite herb. I absolutely must figure out a way to get it established in our garden!
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With a sunny garden, French tarragon is very easy to grow. It must be propagated from a root division – French tarragon seed is sterile. (Please don’t be fooled into buying tarragon seeds. The resulting tarragon will be Russian tarragon, which has a very disappointing flavour.) Ironically, tarragon is a native of Siberia and has been used as a flavouring since the middle ages.
Fresh tarragon is best. It can be dried but while the flavour has a nice earthy taste, it is far less thrilling. Dried tarragon seems to lose all of its licorice qualities.
Two books on herbs in our shelves have slightly conflicting views on how to grow tarragon. Patrick Lima wrote the following in The Harrowsmith Illustrated Guide to Herbs:
Tarragon responds to sun, warmth, and ordinary garden soil that does not stay wet for too long periods. This herb has lived in our garden for many winters but others say its hardiness is not ironclad.
But Turid Forsyth and Merilyn Simonds Mohr wrote in The Harrowsmith Salad Garden:
[T]arragon grows in any light from full sun to deep shade, but it needs a generous supply of water and good, deeply dug soil enriched with a little lime and not too much nitrogen; soil that is too rich reduces the hardiness of the plant and the concentration of essential oils in the leaves. Once established, tarragon is virtually care-free, is almost never bothered by pests and rarely demands special attention.
Read more about tarragon: