Meet Herb

My herb dictionary says about tarragon: Tarragon is a perennial plant which dies back completely in winter and which can be picked from late spring until early fall.

It's a bushy green shrub which grows two and a half to three feet high and has narrow green leaves. In July and August, the plant also has spiky greenish-yellow flowers. It wants a well sheltered sunny spot to grow in and does well in containers indoors. Its flavour is warming, spicy and slightly sweet.

Penzey's -- and by now you all know I rely on their expertise -- says that tarragon is the most popular of all the French herbs, because its robust flavour allows it to meld beautifully with the wine and shallots found at the heart of many French recipes.

If you're experimenting with tarragon for the first time, start with small amounts. It’s a strongly flavoured herb and can take some getting used to. The best place to start, I think, is in marinades and salad dressings. A small amount of good French tarragon makes a great addition to your basic vinaigrette for salad. It's also wonderful in baked chicken dishes, Cornish hen and fish. Tarragon is part of the classic fines herbes mixture and is also good as an addition to egg dishes, sauces and hot or cold soups.

Strangely enough, tarragon is one herb that doesn't translate well in the dried version. Since most of its essential oil is lost in the drying process, you'll find that dry tarragon is a poor substitute for the fresh herb. When fresh, the herb can be cooked with no loss of flavour or added raw at the last moment before serving.

Tarragon makes great flavoured vinegar and oil. Try making it into a butter and tossing it with lightly steamed vegetables. Truly an amazing taste experience!

For a basic tarragon vinaigrette do the following: In a jar with a tight fitting lid pour 1/3 cup of white wine vinegar. Add 1 tsp salt, 3/4 tsp pepper and 2 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon leaves. Close lid and shake well to combine. Add 1 tbsp Dijon mustard and shake again. Now add 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil in two or three stages shaking well between additions. Use this dressing over mixed greens for a wonderful taste experience. For a variation, use only 1 tbsp tarragon, add 1 tbsp thyme and 1 tbsp chervil and increase the Dijon to 2 tbsp. Pour this over a salad of Belgian endive and radicchio. Serve with a crusty bread.

And now for the recipes!

Herb Coated Chicken

First marinating and then sautéing result in a spicy, crispy texture. Yummmmm!
  • 4 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp whole grain mustard
  • 2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
  • 3 tbsp cream
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
  • flour for dusting
  • oil for cooking

Mix the mustards, egg yolks and cream into a bowl, and season with salt and pepper. Combine the bread crumbs and tarragon in a separate bowl. Dust each breast with flour, then dip in egg mixture and coat with crumbs. Cover and let coated chicken rest in refrigerator at least four hours.

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet. Cook the chicken approximately 10 minutes on each side, until nicely golden brown.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 45 minutes, not including resting time

Herb Sauce

Great over steamed fish or to jazz up plain broiled chicken.
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • salt
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup 10% cream
  • 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh chervil
  • 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh chives
  • 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup chicken or fish stock

Melt the butter in a small saucepan and stir in the flour. Cook for one minute, stirring, then remove from heat and gradually stir in stock. Return to heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly, then lower the heat and simmer for three minutes. Stir in cream and allow to heat through gently without coming to a boil. Taste and adjust seasoning and stir in herbs.

  • Yields: One cup of sauce
  • Preparation Time: 15 - 20 minutes

Pepper and Mushroom Saute

Pepper and Mushroom Sauté
  • 3 yellow peppers cut into strips
  • 3 red peppers cut into strips
  • 6 oz oyster mushrooms, cut larger ones in half
  • 6 oz baby Portobello mushrooms, sliced 1/4" thick
  • 6 oz shitake mushrooms, cut in half
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
  • 5 oz pepper coated goat cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Before slicing mushrooms, remove the stems and reserve for use in stock.

Sauté peppers in butter and oil mixture until just done, set aside. In same pan, sauté mushrooms until slightly golden, add peppers back to skillet. Add tarragon and salt and pepper to taste, continue to cook for 3 minutes more. Remove from heat and stir in goat cheese until melted.

Serve as a side dish or over pasta for a great main course!

  • Yields: Serves 8 as a side dish, 4 - 6 as a pasta course
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Pan Fried Red Snapper

These fillets are great as a main course all on their own or, try them as a brunch by placing a poached egg on top of a fillet and coating the whole with Hollandaise Sauce.
  • 6 fillets of red snapper
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup 10% cream
  • fine dry bread crumbs for coating, seasoned
  • corn meal for coating, seasoned
  • salt and pepper for seasoning
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
  • oil for frying

Season the fillets with salt and pepper. Combine eggs, cream and tarragon. Dip the fillets in the egg mixture, coat lightly with bread crumbs, dip back into the egg mixture and dredge in cornmeal making sure to coat each fillet well.

Set aside for 1 - 2 hours.

When you're ready to serve them, fry the fillets in oil until golden, drain on paper towel, and serve with lemon wedges on the side.

I'm not sure where I first saw the idea for the brunch dish, but over the years, I've made it with various kinds of fillet and it's always been wonderful. We especially like to use it at the cottage in summer with all the perch and bass the boys pull out of the lake. And, it makes a nice change of pace from the usual Eggs Benedict.

  • Yields: Serves 4 - 6, depending on their appetites!
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes plus 2 hours

Well, that does it for another month! Remember to keep experimenting with various fresh herbs. There's nothing like it!

BTW: While we will be covering most of the more widely known herbs, and some lesser known ones, over the next few months, we are always open to suggestion. I'd be glad to hear from anyone with a request for a specific herb column.