Most commonly available Russian tarragon is a perennial that is easy to grow and overwinter in the herb garden. It can be germinated by seed and also grown from a root cutting. However the aroma and flavour is not very strong and seems to lessen with age.
However if you discover a French tarragon plant in your local nursery or garden centre, don’t let the opportunity pass you by. As soon as you get it home, re-pot and nurture in a sheltered place in your garden during the summer months. It will reward you with fresh stems to flavour your favourite egg, fish and chicken dishes.
As autumn approaches move the pot into a greenhouse or porch, cut back the stems and water sparingly during the winter but do not let it dry out completely. As soon as the daylight hours lengthen, growth should begin to reappear and you should consider repotting.
French Tarragon plants will become weak and deteriorate during its third year of growth. So to make sure that you have a fresh, aromatic supply of leaves, we suggest that you take root cuttings before the herb reaches its second autumn.
Care of French Tarragon.
Protected plants will show starts of re-growth, re-pot and keep compost moist but do not move outside until after the frosts have passed. Established plants can be divided in spring. Fresh growth is ideal for flavouring oils and vinegar.
Transfer the pots to a warm and dry position, ideally close to the back door so that you can easily snip a few stems for the kitchen. Or transplant into the herb garden to flourish during the summer months.
During the summer months, harvest fresh stems to chop and combine with soft butter and lemon zest. Roll into ‘sausage shapes’, wrap in silicon paper and freeze.
Early autumn dig up a root or two and re-pot in compost. Keep protected in the greenhouse and any remaining plants in the border will need to be generously mulched for protection.
Water protected plants very sparingly.
Tarragon partners really well with …
Chicken and turkey
Flaky white fish and scallops
Butter and cream
Grapes and white wine
Salad dressing – oil and vinegar
Other soft herbs in a classic combination – chervil, chives and parsley
Cooking with French Tarragon…
How to make Tarragon Vinegar for making salad dressings, sauces, gravies and marinades:
You will need ten tablespoons chopped tarragon leaves for every 500 ml white wine or cider vinegar. Add to a Pestle & Mortar and gentle grind the leaves whilst 250 ml of vinegar is gently warming over a low heat or in the AGA simmering oven. Pour the warmed vinegar over the herbs and continuing grinding. Leave the mixture to cool and then mix with the remaining 250 ml of vinegar. Pour everything into a sterilised bottle and seal.
Leave on the kitchen window sill for two weeks and shake each day. Strain and rebottle. Label or add sprigs of fresh tarragon to the flavoured vinegar.
Other recipe ideas:
Add freshly picked and chopped French tarragon, chervil and parsley to Hollandaise sauce to make a a Bernaise sauce which can be served alongside steak, fish or asparagus.
Poach chicken breasts in a vegetable stock flavoured with soft herbs such as tarragon and lovage and a little white wine. Make a simple French dressing with mustard, white wine vinegar and grapeseed oil. Add roughly chopped French tarragon and a little chervil to the dressing. Slice the cooled chicken breasts and mix with the dressing which can have a little of the cooking liquid to it. Lightly toast flaked almonds to scatter over and serve with green salad or Jersey Royals.