Tarragon is France’s secret ingredient. Adding it to any dish is like wrapping your food in the tricolore, as I discovered when I made peach and tarragon ice cream this week.
Mixing herbs with sweet foods is rather fashionable right now, and it’s possible to make some great taste combinations. I’ve been trying out a number of different ice cream recipes recently and adding tarragon to peach was a twist on a recipe in Claire Kelsey’s wonderful book Melt (available on Amazon and elsewhere).
Tarragon is a small herb that has slim vertical stems and long, narrow leaves. It is very aromatic and is somewhat reminiscent of aniseed.
“The prospect of using the herb to flavour the milk for my peach ice cream excited me”
For culinary purposes, there are 2 varieties used – French and Russian. The French one is darker and has smooth, deep green leaves, while the Russian one is paler in colour and coarser.
No prizes for guessing which one is preferred in the kitchen.
The important thing when cooking with tarragon is to use it in moderation. It can easily overpower a dish.
Some say that the reason it is commonly associated with French cuisine is because it is one of 4 herbs included in the French blend known as fine herbes. (The other 3 are parsley, chives and chervil.)
For many, though, the association is probably due to tarragon’s place at the heart of one of France’s best-known sauces, béarnaise. It also works beautifully with eggs – for me, an omelette really only becomes enticing once tarragon or truffles are added.
Roast chicken flavoured with a tarragon butter is one of my standby dishes – but the prospect of using the herb instead to flavour the milk for my peach ice cream excited me.
The result was delicious and unusual. I’ll definitely experiment further with tarragon in future.