By Barbara Beltrami
If there is one herb that is closely associated with the delicacy and sophistication of French cuisine, it is tarragon. Despite its exquisite flavor and haunting aromatic essence, it is a hardy little plant that once introduced into your garden will return year after year to give you myriad pleasures in a countless variety of uses. As the growing season wanes, now is a good time to harvest the last of it and freeze it for later use. Or it is usually available in the produce section of the supermarket.
Tarragon is certainly essential to a bearnaise sauce, which beautifully enhances not only beef but also chicken and fish. It gives a tangy kick to salad dressings and light creamy soups and is one of the essential ingredients in a bouquet of fine herbs. Try making your own tarragon vinegar by sticking a couple of sprigs into a bottle of cider vinegar or white wine vinegar and just leave it there until the vinegar is finished. Blend it with mayonnaise for chicken, shrimp, lobster or crabmeat salads or tartar sauce for fish.
There are various kinds of tarragon; the ones usually available around here are French, Russian and Texan. Go for the French as it has the truest, most pure flavor. And use the herb sparingly as a little goes a long way.
YIELD: Makes 4 servings
1 small roasting chicken (about 2½ to 3 pounds)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Leaves from 1 or 2 sprigs fresh tarragon
1 small garlic clove, minced
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup brandy
Wash chicken and pat dry with paper towels inside and outside. In a small bowl mash together the butter, tarragon leaves, garlic, salt and pepper. Rub inside of bird with mixture, then brush olive oil on outside. Place chicken, breast side up, on a rack in a shallow baking pan and roast one hour at 375 F or until done.
Remove from oven, pour brandy evenly over chicken; then return to oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven, place on a platter and stir and scrape drippings in pan. Spoon drippings over carved chicken and serve immediately with choice of potato and vegetable.
YIELD: Makes 4 servings
¼ cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
1½ tablespoons minced shallots
Freshly ground white pepper, to taste
Leaves from 2 sprigs fresh tarragon, minced
Leaves from 2 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced
3 egg yolks
2/3 cup melted unsalted butter
Salt, to taste
In the top of a double boiler combine wine, vinegar, shallots, pepper, tarragon and parsley and cook until mixture is reduced by half. Allow to cool, then, keeping the pot over very hot water, add the egg yolks and butter alternately and gradually while continuously whisking so that they are thoroughly combined. Add salt.
Serve immediately with beef tenderloin, shell or porterhouse steak and French fries