Finally! It’s tarragon time

Tarragon, my second favorite herb after thyme, is easy to overlook, here in the land of Cal-Ital cuisine where we’re all about basil (nothing against basil—when the weather’s hot, there’s no flavor that preoccupies me more). But tarragon, one of the four components of the traditional fines herbes of French cuisine along with chervil, chives, and parsley, is probably most familiar as the signature note in classic Béarnaise sauce.

My garden tarragon finally flourished, late, like most everything else this year, and over the weekend, I was able to put up enough tarragon vinegar to last a few years. Yes, years. The best herb vinegar I’ve used at home was a decade old. Kept in a dark cupboard, vinegar quietly waits, ever improving—making it very rewarding to crack open a nearly-forgotten bottle to douse salad potatoes with a fragrant, mellow, tarragon infusion. Making herb vinegar is also one of those super-easy, big-return jobs. It’s just a matter of sterilizing your bottles and stoppers with a 10-minute boiling-water bath. Then rinse and spin-dry the herbs, add generously to sterilized bottles, and cover with your vinegar of choice (I used Champagne vinegar). Cap off and store in a dark place at least 2 months before using.

A word on growing tarragon, which even an enthusiastic but untalented gardener (like me) can master: Make sure you get real French tarragon starts (tarragon can’t be sprouted from seed, so I’ve always read). Beware of Russian or false tarragon, which is of no use cooking-wise. It’s a different plant and resembles a coarse, oversize version of the feathery French culinary herb. False tarragon is an extremely vigorous grower, which may explain why so many plant-sellers offer it as culinary tarragon. My suggestion is to discreetly taste a leaf before you buy; true French tarragon’s soft, pointy leaves have a highly aromatic, lemon-anise tang. Anything else will taste like the blade of grass you ate as a child.

But you don’t have to grow your own. Tarragon is one of many herbs favored in Persian cuisine, and Persian markets are dependable places to find big, fresh bunches of it at surprisingly low prices. But false tarragon can lurk there, too; again, the taste-test is in order.

Tarragon is a classic herb for eggs. With the leftovers from my vinegar project, I made tarragon deviled eggs that were just right for cocktail hour.

Deviled Eggs with Tarragon

6 hard-boiled eggs

3 to 4 tablespoons mayonnaise

1-1/2 teaspoons finely minced fresh tarragon leaves (or more to taste, up to 1 tablespoon)

1 teaspoon dry mustard

½ teaspoon salt

Several grinds black pepper

Dash cayenne

Tarragon leaves, for garnish, optional

Cut eggs in half lengthwise and put yolks into bowl; reserve whites.

Mash yolks until smooth. Add tarragon, 3 tablespoons mayonnaise, dry mustard, salt, pepper, and cayenne and mix thoroughly. Add additional mayonnaise to lighten if necessary. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.

Distribute yolk mixture among egg whites. (I like to use a small scoop.) Garnish with tarragon leaves, if desired.

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