Tarragon has to be one of the great culinary herbs though people who grow Russian tarragon never understand the love that growers of the true French tarragon have for this herb. No wonder, as they are two very different plants. Tarragon is really a French spice but often used in Scandinavia. Learn more about tarragon in Scandinavia.
The Russian variety (Artemisia dracunculoides) is a tall bullying perennial, totally hardy, with a sometimes brutish, bitterness and none of the aromatic elegance or tenderness of its less hardy, French cousin (Artemisia dracunculus). Tarragon is mostly named estragon in Scandinavia.
How it grows
Unfortunately, French tarragon cannot be grown from seed and is much trickier to grow than the Russian version. If buying plants to grow at home, make sure you buy the right kind as few commercial growers sell the French type. Plant tarragon in a hot, sunny and dry spot and don’t overwater.
Appearance and taste
Tarragon has slim, tender leaves on a tough stalk. French tarragon has a powerful but glorious and elegant aniseed taste.
Tarragon is well worth growing as the soft tips are magical in every dish with eggs, tomatoes, chicken, shellfish, and also in pickles and marinades. Its complex anise flavor is related to the anise in dill, chervil and basil, and you can both mix and replace them all with each other. Try it instead of dill in gravad fish, chervil cream is also lovely made with tarragon.
Slow-roast chicken with tarragon and peas
Tarragon has a very special affinity with chicken. The following is a spring/summer recipe and a new take on an old theme, and is well loved by all. New potatoes are the only side needed.
1 chicken, weighing at least 1.5kg
1 large bunch of French tarragon, leaves separated from stalks
Salt and pepper
Knob of salted butter
200ml whipping cream
200 ml water
for the peas
150g bacon, diced
150g shallots, peeled but left whole
300ml hard cider
400g fresh shelled peas (frozen if necessary)
4 little Gem lettuces, quartered
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 160C/gas mark 3.
Cut the lemon in half. Pare the zest and extract the juice from one half (reserving both the zest and the juice) and put the other half in the cavity of the chicken. Put the tarragon stalks inside the chicken with the lemon and salt and pepper.
Rub the surface of the chicken with the butter, salt and pepper. Put it in a tight-fitting ovenproof pot, preferably clay, and scatter over the tarragon leaves and lemon zest. Pour on cream and water, and put the lid on.
Put the chicken in the oven and let it roast for 1¼ hours. The cooking time can vary, so keep an eye on it when a thigh is easily yanked off it is done. The sauce should be reduced to a thick glaze in the pot, if it has separated take out the chicken and add a little cold water. Season with the reserved lemon juice and more salt and pepper.
While the chicken roasts, prepare the peas. Fry the bacon in a heavy-based pan at a low heat so that the fat runs off. Add the shallots and let them fry slowly until soft and lightly golden. Pour in the cider and let it reduce to half.
When the chicken is done, and while you are fiddling with the sauce, add the peas and lettuce to the bacon and shallots, put a lid on and leave the vegetables to heat through, until the lettuces have wilted – this should take about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve the vegetables in the pan with the chicken, nicely carved on top. The sauce should be served separately.
Tarragon in Scandinavia, written by Tor Kjolberg
Feature image (on top): Store norske leksikon