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I Spice: Tarragon


Grilled Leeks With Dijon Cream, whose sauce can do double duty; see the recipe below. (Monica Bhide)

A couple of months ago, I had the great pleasure of meeting Trish Magwood, a James Beard Award winner and host of Food Network Canada’s “Party Dish,” at a cooking school in the District. Trish was in town promoting Stouffer’s Anytime Gourmet. We got to talking about her love of cooking with herbs and spices. It turns out she's a big fan of tarragon.

Me, too. This strong-tasting herb with slim, dark-green leaves reminds me of anise (which, by the way, I'll feature next week). Though it has roots in Greek and Arabic cuisine, it's probably most commonly associated with French food.

Tarragon comes in two different varieties: one is French and the other Russian (not as flavorful as the French version, but more widely available). True tarragon lovers prefer the French herb, but it is hard to propagate: It grows only from plant cuttings and not from seeds.

Trish suggests buying the herbs fresh, loosely wrapping them in a towel and storing them in a crisper in the fridge, away from the fan. Freshness is key; tarragon loses its flavor as it dries out.

Trish describes tarragon as “intense, powerful, unique. It's kind of a dress-up herb for special occasions and not everyday, like, say, basil or parsley.” I found a great example of that in this week's Food section, in this unusual recipe for Dark Chocolate Sorbet With Tarragon and Grapefruit.

Tarragon is found in traditional French sauces, such as bearnaise (a variation of hollandaise sauce), to accompany steak. It's also popular as a flavoring in vinegars. Trish told me she likes to use it in vinaigrettes and creamy salad dressings. Toward the end of cooking, she’ll add some to a cream sauce to serve with seafood or shellfish; or she'll match it with mustard in a cream sauce for vegetables such as leeks or green beans.

Recipe Included

I cook with tarragon occasionally; I'm more likely to use it to flavor vinegars and cooking oils. Making tarragon vinegar is a snap: Rinse and dry some fresh tarragon sprigs and place them in a jar with white wine vinegar. Cover the mouth of the jar and store it in a cool, dark place. I like to let it sit for a week, but you can give it more or less time, depending on how strong you want the flavor to be.

Tarragon works well in chicken, egg and fish dishes, and in cream or mustard sauces. I've even used it in soups with some success (it does tend to be a bit strong for very delicate soups). While the weather is still hot, try it in this cold Creamy Spinach and Tarragon Soup. Adventurous cooks should try it in a sorbet, like the one I mentioned above, or in this lovely, refreshing Tarragon-Spiked Lady Grey Iced Tea from Gourmet magazine.

Here's one of Trish's favorites.
-- Monica Bhide


Grilled Leeks With Dijon Cream

8-10 servings

This is an ideal side dish for a simple grilled chicken. The inspiration for the recipe came from the "Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook," by Alice Waters, a champion of celebrating food straight from the earth.
The dish yields lots of sauce, which can double up as a sauce for the chicken. Or try searing chicken breasts, finishing them in this sauce and serving over angel-hair pasta as a one-dish midweek main course. Adapted from “Dish Entertains,” by Trish Magwood (HarperCollins Canada, September 2007).

For the leeks

10 medium leeks

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

For the sauce

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 shallots, minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup white wine

1 cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

For the leeks: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Have ready a large bowl of ice water.

Trim off the root ends of the leeks and cut off the dark green part of the leaves, leaving the white and some of the light green part. Transfer the leeks to the boiling water and cook for 2 minutes or until they are just softened.

Drain the leeks and transfer to the ice water. Pat dry; cut the leeks half lengthwise.
Heat a grill pan over high heat. Use a pastry brush to brush the cut sides of the leeks with 1 tablespoon oil. Place the leeks cut side down in the pan, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes without moving them. Turn the leeks over and grill the other side for another 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the leeks to a serving platter.

For the sauce: Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes or until they are golden brown. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so, until the garlic softens. Add the wine and cook until the liquid has reduced by half. Add the cream and cook until the liquid is reduced by half and is thickened. Stir in the mustard and tarragon. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Pour the sauce over the leeks and top with the cheese. Serve immediately or keep warm for up to 30 minutes.

Per serving (based on 10): 176 calories, 3 g protein, 16 g carbohydrates, 10 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 35 mg cholesterol, 191 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar

By Jane Touzalin  |  August 28, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  I Spice , Recipes  | Tags: I Spice, Monica Bhide, tarragon  
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Comments

any suggestions on using dried tarragon? I bought a jar, thinking I had none at home, and now I have too much.

Posted by: patriciawsf | August 28, 2009 11:06 AM | Report abuse

Apologies for the delay in responding. Trish says - Bulk up and make tarragon vinaigrette- put in small mason jars and give as gifts to friends!

Posted by: mbhide | September 3, 2009 9:27 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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