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May 27, 2009

Tarragon vs. Cilantro: It’s the Battle of the Abrasive Herbs


In years past, the herb tarragon was widely considered to be an antidote to snake bites. It is unknown who may have started this, but it is widely believed to be someone who relied on tarragon to cure a snake bite.


Today, tarragon is used mostly in the kitchen where it is one of our strongest of herbs. It is not unlike cilantro, which has the reputation of being an herb shelf’s abrasive personality – people who like it really like it, people who do not hate it with a passion matched in heat only by the sun’s burning gases. Cilantro does have an advantage over tarragon in the politics in which ingredients of food engage. It has a fallback recipe. When things get tough for cilantro, it can still stake its place in the kitchen as an ingredient to salsa. Tarragon, the haute cuisine equivalent of cilantro, cannot make such a boast.


In fact, when mentioned at all, it is mostly as an ingredient in a sauce. Sauces, like gravy, are made almost as an afterthought; something to whip up if there just happens to be time. In fact, the word sauce imparts two values – time and effort – both of which frequently cause people to recoil in horror when it comes to food.


This need not be the case.


Mix a small amount of corn starch, pepper, garlic powder and dried tarragon leaves. Stir these into milk and begin to heat. Add some butter, which will melt as the corn starch thickens the milk and the heat releases the flavors of tarragon.


Turn off the heat just as the sauce is about to boil. If it were a person, it would look at you and say, “Hey, what gives?” Your answer to this very understandable query would be, “Sometimes you just walk away from the edge, man.” Be aware that when you say this out loud, you will inspire someone back in time – the ‘70s, specifically – to incorporate this into progressive rock music lyrics. If you are okay with having that on your conscience, speak freely. If not, bite your tongue.


Add some fresh squeezed lemon juice to the sauce, and also a bit of salt. Mix these together and you have yourself a lemon tarragon sauce.


Probably you’re now asking yourself what you should serve it over. This is something you should have thought about well before you got to this point. But our purpose here is not to lecture, only to guide. The first and easy answer would be over some kind of cooked whitefish filet (whitefish, as in fish that is delicate and easily flaked apart when cooked). Tarragon and lemon both have strong enough flavors to match that of fish.


Cooking fish requires forethought, however, which could explain why it is referred to as brain food. A good alternative to this would be a plate of freshly steamed asparagus, which itself has a strong flavor that is well complemented by both tarragon and lemon.


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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