Tarragon has a distinctive, but mild taste that complements the subtle flavors of poultry and fish. Tarragon’s savory licorice-like taste also contains a sweet eucalyptus note that distinguishes the herb from other anise and fennel flavors. French chefs use tarragon extensively in spice mixtures; herbes de Provence and fines herbes are two French spice blends that contain tarragon. This relative of the sunflower is at its best when fresh.
Along with chervil and parsley, tarragon and chives combine to make classic French fines herbes. Tarragon blends well with chives because the piquant onion taste of the chives offsets tarragon’s mildly sweet taste. A compound butter of chives and tarragon would work equally well for basting a chicken as it would for spreading on bread. Unlike stronger varieties of the allium family, chives will not overpower tarragon in a dish.
Parsley and Chervil
All varieties of parsley and chervil blend well with tarragon. Parsley’s cool, crisp flavor makes an exciting counterpoint to tarragon’s warm taste. Chervil, a relative of parsley, has its own anise-like overtones that meld with those in tarragon. Like tarragon, parsley tastes its best when fresh; chop both herbs together to use as a flavoring for tomato-based soups and stews. Tarragon has a bolder taste than parsley and chervil, so chefs typically add three parts chervil or parsley to one part tarragon in herb blends.
Coriander has a rich, nutty flavor with citrus overtones. Combining it with tarragon adds an element of sweet anise. Although a less traditional choice to blend with tarragon, coriander’s warm flavor blends well with tarragon in poultry stews and curry dishes. Coriander and tarragon also meet in some pre-packaged spice mixtures for boiled seafood. Both seasonings enhance the flavor of mild seafood without overpowering its subtle taste.
Thyme shares a family tree with marjoram, basil and spearmint. The small, aromatic leaves of this herb have their own distinct flavor, though, that French chefs frequently use with tarragon in the form of herbes de Provence. Adding thyme to tarragon brings out an astringent, almost bitter overtone to the latter herb’s taste. The combination of these two herbs goes especially well with roasted root vegetables such as potatoes and beets.
Adding anise to tarragon emphasizes both seasonings’ characteristic sweetness. Both anise and tarragon contain the compound estragol; this phytochemical gives these herbs their licorice flavor. Combining the two gives the mixture greater complexity than either herb would have alone. Although tarragon rarely migrates to the dessert menu alone, anise and tarragon together mix in sweets as well as in savory main dishes.
Pungent mustard and sweet tarragon are common prepackaged flavored mustard blends. Making a simple spice blend of tarragon and mustard at home can liven up anything from tuna to beef. Use tarragon-infused mustard preparations with sausages and hot dogs to give these familiar foods a novel flavor profile. The seasonings also combine well in compound butters to use on steak.
References and Resources"Saveur"; Herbes de Provence; Vanessa Marttinen; Jan. 2011
"The Spice Lover's Guide to Herbs and Spices"; Tony Hill; Sep. 2005
"Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen"; Paul Prudhomme; April 1984