This first full week of May is National Herb Week, May 4-10, which is always the week before Mother’s Day. As designated by the International Herb Association, the Herb of the Year 2014 is the Artemisias – the what? You say. In laymen’s language the species, Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa, is commonly known in our kitchens as French Tarragon, a perennial herb that is the aromatic taste in Béarnaise sauce and frequently used to flavor chicken, fish and eggs.
In researching this flavorful herb, it seems there is a copycat version of French tarragon, Russian tarragon. The hitch is that Russian tarragon has no flavor, so here’s the caveat. When buying your tarragon plants, taste a leaf to make sure you are getting the French plant as the herbs do look similar. Who would have thought? Use fresh tarragon whenever possible as it more flavorful than dried. To retain its flavor, seal whole sprigs in an airtight baggie and freeze for up to five months.
Favorite uses in this kitchen are: roasting or barbecuing chicken with a tarragon-based marinade; taking sprigs of tarragon leaves and putting them in a champagne or white wine vinegar for a week to steep and make a delicious tarragon vinegar that can be used in making salad dressings or marinades, and tearing up bits of tarragon leaves for salads e.g. tossed greens, tuna or potato salad. It is a marvelous flavor to accent any dish, but use sparingly as the flavor is strong.
It’s time to start planting your herbs in pots inside since the weather is still so unsettled outside and, until May 15, there is a slight chance of frost. Take the plunge, the trowel and dig up some dirt to start your herbal season off with tarragon, the Herb of 2014, along with other fresh herbs like basil, oregano and sage. The fragrance in your kitchen and wafting through the house will be sweetly aromatic and savory.
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