home cooking

It’s Spring, So Tarragon It Is!


Yuck… powdered bearnaise

This isn’t the way to make Sauce Bearnaise, although it is an easy way to go. 


I don’t know how many of you have ever been to Au Bon Pain, but when I lived in New York, I would go there daily.  They had a Chicken Bearnaise sandwich that was absolutely delicious.  The key was the Bearnaise, and it started me on a tarragon obsessed path.  It’s an acquired taste, but it’s delicious and a a cross between an anise/fennel flavor and tender marjoram.  The French love it, they have tarragon vinegar, the aforementioned sauce, tarragon chicken, and many other tarragon uses.  I was further intrigued by an article by Molly O’Neil in the New York Times (1998):

At first, it will taste strangely cooling, as if your palate were anesthetized. This numbing effect is followed by an intensely pungent taste that gradually mellows, like a Pernod sipped in a Marseilles cafe. These varied sensations progress slowly, each demanding interpretation and reconciliation. Tarragon can make you feel dreamy and romantic. Or its elegance can make you feel like an awkward American: tarragon is very French.

Personally, I have two favorites, Sauce Bearnaise, and an oddly American thing called Green Goddess dressing.  They’re both heavily laden with tarragon, and can both be used as a sauce.  The Green Goddess is a ludicrously green and very flavorful version of ranch, without the buttermilk, and with much more tarragon and parsley.  It was a staple at many 1960’s and 1970’s fancy restaurants, paired with the dreadful iceberg lettuce.

So, in honor of spring, and Easter, I am giving you two versions of tarragon deliciousness, both the classic Sauce Bearnaise and the Green Goddess.

Green Goddess Dressing

Let me preface this by saying, you can make this with fat free dairy, so it can be amended to low fat diets too.

  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise (if you have homemade, better!)
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 shallot chopped into wedges, or 2 spring onions peeled and whole
  • 1/2 cup parsley (preferably flat leaf)
  • 1/4 cup tarragon leaves
  • 1 fat garlic clove, peeled
  • 1 tsp salt
  • cracked pepper to taste
  • juice of a lemon, or 1 tablespoon tarragon vinegar

This is very easy to do.  Place all ingredients into the bowl of a food processor or blender.  Process the heck out of it, until the hers are tiny and the whole thing has taken on a green hue.  You can put this, covered into the fridge for a week and it will keep, but it’s best a few hours after you make it, so allow the flavors to merge, and the onion option to lose it’s bite a bit.  Can be a veggie dip, or as I do, a salad dressing.


Sauce Bearnaise is slightly more complicated, but also goes fairly quickly.  Start the reduction about 30 minutes before everything else, so it cools completely.  As you progress, I suggest you keep a bowl with ice water nearby, in the event the sauce starts to separate.  If it looks like it’s curdling, take the bowl and submerge it’s base in the ice water and whisk until the sauce cools.  Then you can go back to adding in the butter.

Sauce Bearnaise

  • 1/2 cup tarragon, white wine or champagne vinegar
  • 1/2 cup white wine (pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc, not anything sweet)
  • 1 small shallot, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves, separated into 1/4 cup halves
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon of cold water
  • 2 cups butter, fridge cold, in cubes or slices
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • plenty of cracked pepper (white if you have it)


in a small non-reactive saucepan, combine the vinegar, wine, shallot and 1/4 cup of the tarragon.  On high heat bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat so the mixture continues to bubble.  Reduce the mixture to about a tablespoon of liquid.  Don’t step away during this time, it reduces fairly quickly and you don’t want this to burn, it smells awful.  As it reduces, swirl the pan a little to aid in evaporation.  Don’t put your face right above this, you’ll get a sinus clearing facial of vinegar.   Once the mixture is reduced, take it off the heat and cool it completely before proceeding.  Some recipe’s call for straining this mixture into the eggs, but I like the chunky quality it gives the sauce.

The next step get’s people nervous, but it’s very simple really.  You can either use a double boiler (which I do not own, so I use an 8 cup Pyrex measuring cup and a saucepan that the measuring cup will fit into but not touch the bottom) or a heavy bottomed saucepan, and very, very low heat.  Both are very effective, and I find the saucepan actually allows the sauce to be a bit thicker than the double boiler method. If you’re suing the double boiler method, just be sure the water is simmering well and not touching the bottom if the vessel you’re cooking in.

In your cooking vessel, whisk together then yolks and the water, until they’re loose and frothy.  On a low heat, start whisking in the butter cubes, being careful to fully incorporate the cube before adding another.  As you go along, the sauce will emulsify, getting creamier and smooth.  About half way through, add in the remaining fresh tarragon and the vinegar reduction.  Allow the sauce to come back up to heat, all the while whisking.  As the butter starts to emulsify, you can step up the pace on adding it, until it’s all gone.  Once that happens, continue to whisk, until the desired thickness is achieved.  Most people like it the consistency of mayonnaise, but it can be thinner, your choice.

I serve this with thinly sliced very rare beef or lamb, and lost of bread to dip.

So, that is my spring tarragon suggestions.  I am in the process of setting up a summer garden, which includes parsley, tarragon and basil, so perhaps we can get a fresh ranch recipe in there soon!

Happy Easter, and finally, Happy Spring all!



One thought on “It’s Spring, So Tarragon It Is!

  1. Pingback: Memorial Day Cooking Ideas | Confessions of a Detroit Foodist

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