I believe that if ever I had to practice cannibalism, I might manage if there were enough tarragon around.
~James Beard

Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is a small, shrubby perennial herb in the family Asteraceae native to a broad area of the northern hemisphere. It has a slightly bittersweet flavor and an aroma vaguely similar to anise.

Tarragon is closely related to wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) which is the primary herb used to create the potent and infamous anise flavored liqueur, absinthe. Fearmongers portrayed absinthe as a dangerously addictive psychoactive drug due to the finding of slight traces of the chemical thujone—misleading evidence which led to absinthe’s ban in several countries. The paranoia was stoked by social conservatives and religious zealots who disapproved of the bohemian lives led by absinthe loving artists such as Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Modigliani, Wilde, and Verlaine…some of the enfants terribles of their time. It must be the mysterious absinthe, they reasoned, that led them to live unconventional (God forbid!) existences and openly discuss such lofty artistic and metaphysical ideals. In a narrow cosmos, anti-absinthe fanaticism was a remainder of prejudices past, and proved a grim precusor to the unfounded intolerances of Prohibition and Reefer Madness. Such a streak of bigotry that has run through the Anglo-Saxon collective psyche over the ages…even up to the pervasive “we” vs. “they” and “good” vs. “evil” neocon chauvinisms of this century.

Fortunately, real science and clearer heads prevailed which has led to a revival of absinthe and the resumption of commercial production in the European Union and United States.

Tarragon, unlike many other herbs, was not used by ancient civilizations. While it was mentioned briefly in medieval texts as a pharmaceutical, it did not come into culinary use until the 16th century.

French tarragon, whose leaves are glossy and pungent, is considered the most prized variety in kitchens. It marries well with salad greens, chilled vegetables, fish, poultry, meats, soups, and is commonly used in tomato and egg dishes…and adds distinctive flavor to sauces, such as Bearnaise.

SHERRY TARRAGON VINAIGRETTE

2 T good quality Sherry vinegar
3 t shallots, peeled and minced
1/2 t Dijon mustard
Generous pinch sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6-8 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T fresh tarragon, finely chopped

Whisk together vinegar, shallot, mustard, salt, and pepper in a small bowl and add oil in a slow stream, whisking until emulsified. Finally, whisk in tarragon.

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