This is the third recipe from my French Tarragon Cooking Class. If you’re interested in the other two recipes, here they are:
- Poached Salmon with Tarragon-Chive Aioli and Lemon Asparagus (French Tarragon Class, Part 1)
- Herbed Goat Cheese Spread! (French Tarragon Class, Part 2)
Not far from our house in Colorado Springs are three yummy “French” restaurants whose names each contain the words, “La Baguette.” It may be that when we first moved to the city they were owned by the same person, though I think they no longer are. We have plain old La Baguette, in Old Colorado City, which is not only the cafe but also a top-notch bakery — still for all 3 locations, I think — and is closest to me. Then there’s La Baguette and Espresso Bar downtown on Pike’s Peak, but only a stone’s throw away. Last, but certainly not least, is La Baguette French Bistro a few miles to the north and east on Chestnut, which is all decked out with Parisian memorabilia and is a favorite “girls” lunch spot, though husband Dave and I have been known to hit them up for dinner occasionally. While the très tasty menus are these days varied from place to place, in my memory at least, they all still serve up a fresh-fresh side salad — just greens — that comes with a lovely tarragon vinaigrette. Tarragon vinaigrette is nothing more than a basic vinaigrette with fresh tarragon added.Jump to Recipe
Americans are generally used to naming the salad dressing they’d like for for their green salad (as in Ranch, Blue Cheese, Caesar, etc.), but a French salad simply comes dressed with whatever the cook thinks that particular salad deserves from on-hand ingredients. That’s my approach as well, but I can clearly remember a friend or family member or two who might mildly object to greens being served according to the cook’s lights — or just as easily thrilled with it. “Where are the dressings for this salad? Did you forget to bring them to the table?” is one response, but the other is,”I’ve never had a salad this good. I’d eat more salads if they tasted like this.” Ok, then.
To make the jump from the American to the French approach to salad-making isn’t difficult, but it requires a bit of a cooking or food paradigm shift. There are many moving parts to examine, but to make it trés facile (very easy), let’s just say we must first focus on local, seasonal ingredients (as always), which here in the spring include perky young greens and perhaps other just pickable foodstuffs like spring (green) onions, fresh herbs, and so on — depending on where you live and what’s available. To make those small tender greens taste like they should, we’re not glopping them all up with heavy mayonnaise or cheese-based dressings, but rather drizzling them with a teensy bit of fragrant acid like lemon juice or white wine vinegar, seasoning them with a good dose of salt and pepper, and then gently adding the best oil we can afford. (Then toss, toss, toss.) In that way, the salad tastes of the earth with the best of earth’s enhancements added. And let’s talk healthy!
More Than Just a Sour Taste: How acidic ingredients can change the color and texture of fruits and vegetables/FINE COOKING
Where I live, and perhaps where many people live and garden, French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa) is among the things that are first up and edible. After a long, cold winter full of root vegetable stews cooked with dried herbs, yummy as they’ve been, I’m more than ready for anything fresh from the back yard. It arrives in my garden right along with the greening thyme and chives, but long before the rhubarb —which the deer like to nibble down to the ground anyway.
And whatever I can do with it, I do. Chicken is French tarragon’s favorite protein, but it also calls out to shrimp and more than one fish. I can hardly think of any vegetable that doesn’t like French tarragon —which has a faint anise (licorice) flavor — but I totally adore it on buttered green beans later in the summer or grilled asparagus early on. My long- suffering basic winter vinaigrette quickly becomes a harbinger of spring as it morphs into Tarragon Vinaigrette.
How do you grow tarragon? Easily. Read up here:
French Tarragon — FINEGARDENING (includes information on Russian and Mexican tarragon, too.)
So what does fresh French Tarragon look like?
And while I can’t promise my salad tastes as good as one from any of the “La Baguette” cafes, I can guarantee you’ll be happy you made the attempt when you try the last recipe from this spring’s French Tarragon Class:
Alyce’s Tarragon Vinaigrette
Heads up: Make sure you’re buying French Tarragon if you’re shopping for garden herbs. Russian tarragon has no culinary merit and Mexican tarragon, while more flavorful than Russian, still isn’t nearly as tasty as French.
CHANGE IT UP:
- Swap in red or green onion for the shallot. Use any mustard in place of Dijon-style. Add a 1/2 teaspoon honey if the vinaigrette tastes bitter. Try it with a different soft herb — or a mixture — (parsley, mint, basil, chives, cilantro, etc.), but do also change the name!
- Use whatever fresh and or cooked vegetables you have for your salad. Greens are not necessary to make a salad. Salads need not even be made of all raw ingredients. Think spinach and cooked green beans with sliced red onions. Or maybe grilled asparagus and mushrooms with sautéed garlic. Sliced celery and cucumbers with roasted red peppers. There are no limits.
- Swap in sherry vinegar for the white wine vinegar or use a combination of lemon juice and white wine vinegar.
- You needn’t make every salad dressing with olive oil. You can use a vegetable oil (regular vegetable oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, etc.), a combination of any vegetable oil and olive oil, or read up here for other ideas.
- Add a little crushed red pepper or hot sauce to the vinaigrette for some zing.
REDUCING FOOD WASTE WITH THIS RECIPE:
- Don’t let the vinaigrette go bad in the fridge. Plan ahead to have a couple of salads that week or drizzle it on grilled chicken or fish. Share with a friend.
- If you’ve purchased French Tarragon and have some left, make Nigella’s Tarragon Chicken!
- If you’ve purchased French Tarragon and have some left, make my Herbed Goat Cheese Spread! (French Tarragon Class, Part 2–see photo above at right) or my Poached Salmon with Tarragon-Chive Aioli and Lemon Asparagus (French Tarragon Class, Part 1–see photo above at left.)
- Just a sprig or two extra? Store it in a glass of water on the counter until you need it. Snip it into your scrambled eggs or omelet in the morning.
- If you grow the tarragon and have a big bush left come fall, cut the large sprigs off and freeze them whole in a gallon freezer bag. Toss them in the chicken stock pot or even into a pot of soup. You can also hang the whole plant to dry from a curtain rod or hook in the ceiling and use the dried leaves in cooking over the winter.
If you liked this, you might also like my GARLICKY TWO-POTATO SALAD WITH TARRAGON VINAIGRETTE:
LIFE GOES ON:
What are you soon doing with tarragon?!