8 Things You Can Substitute For Tarragon When Cooking
If you've experimented with tarragon, you probably know that it consists of long, light green leaves and is a bittersweet herb that can be used both fresh and dried.
If you're anything like me and you wait until the last minute to buy the ingredients for a recipe, you'll also learn that tarragon sells quickly and it's a perennial, meaning it's only sometimes in season.
This often leaves us experimenting cooks of the world looking for a tarragon substitute. Next time you're out of tarragon, consider using the following herbs instead.
#1 Dill: Perfect for Fish
Dill is part of the celery family and is an annual herb that substitutes for tarragon nicely. If you look for dill in the grocery store, it has longer, slender limbs and thin, divided leaves.
Because dill does not necessarily carry the same licorice flavor of our tarragon counterpart, make sure that you substitute the right amount so that the flavor is not over- or under-powering. GourmetSleuth has some charts that make this conversion task easy.
This herb has a slightly bitter taste, making it friendly with meats and fish. Small amounts bring out the flavor of the fish without creating an overpowering bitter bite.
Companies like the Great American Spice Company have been on this trend for years, making their own rubs for fish. However, you can make your own at home with a little experimentation.
Taste of Home has a recipe for salmon with a creamy dill sauce to try. This sauce is simple to make and can be experimented with to suit your needs.
If you aren't a fan of salmon, you can try this lemon and dill flounder recipe from Relish. I've found that the lemon and dill compliment the flounder really nicely, and this recipe is very simple for those on the go.
#2 Basil: Great with Italian Dishes
Chances are you're already familiar with basil. In fact, it might even be growing in your herb garden. What you might not know is that there are many different types of basil to experiment with: Thai basil, lemon basil, sweet basil, and holy basil, among others.
This herb can be used both fresh or dry but has a stronger flavor and scent when fresh. If you are a fan of pesto sauce, this might be the tarragon substitute for you.
Basil works wonderfully in Italian-American food. It fits right in with the flavors of sauce, cheese, and chicken. When baked in the oven, the leaves will dry out and flavor whatever they are cooked with. These crunchy leaves can also be eaten with the meal.
When sautéed, the leaves tend to be a little stringier and need to be removed but serve the same purpose. Use smaller amounts of basil so that you do not overpower what you're cooking.
The Food Network and Sandra Lee have created an easy basil chicken recipe that uses fresh basil leaves. I used this recipe with chicken tenderloins and found it to be savory and easy on the tongue.
If you like to use tarragon for sauces, try this recipe using basil. Lightly serve this over pasta, and you'll forget that you ever used tarragon in sauce before! If you have your own recipe, try substituting basil for tarragon for a bit of a different flavor.
#3 Marjoram: Substitute in Salad Dressings
Marjoram is a popular substitute for cooking with tarragon. This smooth and ovate-leaved herb has a sweet, citrus taste that rivals the licorice taste of tarragon.
This herb is sensitive to the cold, so you likely will not find it fresh in colder regions or during the winter time. It grows in short stalks at about 30 inches high and bears flowering leaves.
Due to its sweet nature, marjoram can be used to season soups, sauces, dressings, and stews. Its versatility is very similar to that of tarragon, allowing it to be used for anything from dressings to meat.
If you tend to use tarragon for soups, try this creamy mushroom marjoram soup substitution from Veggie Chick.
It's completely gluten free and vegan friendly, and it's packed with many different types of nutrients and proteins. After this soup, you may even start to prefer marjoram over tarragon!
Do you use tarragon to make your own salad dressing? Try this unique recipe from Kalyn's Kitchen to experiment before substituting marjoram for tarragon in your homemade concoction. This recipe of marinated tomato salad with a marjoram dressing is super simple and delicious.
#4 Chervil: A Well-Kept European Secret
Although fairly uncommon in America, chervil makes an excellent tarragon substitute.
The scent and aroma are very similar to those of tarragon and fennel but not quite as strong. Chervil's mild flavor is reminiscent of licorice and anise.
Chervil is most often used in England and France. You may have come across it in a classical béarnaise sauce. This herb complements many foods wonderfully, however. The leaves can be used to enhance the flavors of chicken, white fish, eggs, vegetables, salads, sauces, and soups.
As a matter of fact, chervil is not only a perfect replacement for tarragon in recipes but also for parsley and even chives. The leaves taste best when used fresh rather than dried and should be added to dishes near the end of the cooking process.
A great way to ease into experimenting with any new flavors is to make an herb butter. Simply chop up some fresh chervil leaves, mix them into softened butter, and chill until you're ready to spread the creation over some fresh bread.
Give this easy lemon-butter sauce with chervil recipe from Mother Earth Living a go when you're ready to try chervil with your favorite chicken, fish, or vegetable dish.
#5 Fennel Seed: It Can Even Flavor Ice Cream!
Fennel is a flowering plant that belongs to the carrot family. It's a hardy plant that grows with yellow flowers and feather-like leaves.
Interestingly enough, this plant is one of the main ingredients in absinthe. It also can be used for medicinal purposes. Its taste is similar to anise seed, but it has a different bit of flavor that is indescribable.
Besides being used for medicines, natural health care products (like toothpaste), and absinthe, fennel can be used in sweet dishes like desserts and soups. The leaves of this plant are also very tender and can be used to add garnish or flavor salads, soups, puddings, and fish sauces. Like tarragon, this herb is very versatile when it comes to cooking.
This recipe from allrecipes.com uses fennel as a garnish to flavor pork chops. Using fennel seed, garlic, and a white wine sauce to flavor the pork, this recipe is a slam dunk.
As an added bonus, this particular recipe only takes 35 minutes and has three steps, making fennel an interesting and easy substitute to tarragon.
If you are really looking to experiment, try this recipe for fennel ice cream. This unique concoction uses a very small amount of ingredients mixed with crushed fennel seed to create a sweet homemade ice cream.
#6 Aniseed: Try as a Breading for Extra Flavor
Aniseed, or anise, is a flavorful mixture between tarragon and fennel; it has a similar licorice flavor. This herbaceous plant can grow more than 3 feet tall and bears both fruit (the part we eat) and white flowers.
Western culture has long favored this herb for the flavoring of entrees, drinks, and candies. While this herb does have a distinguished flavor (kind of like a black jelly bean), it can be used for other purposes, including in liquor, as an antiseptic or digestive in herbal medicines, and for flavoring tea.
Interestingly enough, the medicinal value of this herb is one of its main functions, besides cooking of course! Many cultures use this seed to treat women's menstrual cramps, colic in children, and pain from bloating.
Aniseeds are used commonly in desserts like cookies due to their sweet flavor. This aniseed cookie recipe is simple and only takes about 35 minutes. If you have your own cookie recipe, try substituting aniseed for tarragon.
If you're looking to liven up a recipe you already have, consider aniseed. This Food Network video will show you how to use aniseed as breading for tilapia and then create a fish taco dish right over your stove top.
As an added tip, do not use large amounts of aniseed in food. This can make an otherwise sweet dish bitter. If you are unsure of the ratio you need, use less than you think is required. You can always add more later.
#7 Angelica: Great for Candies and Jams
Usually found in pastures, angelica can grow over 3 to 4 feet tall. You'll recognize this plant from its bipinnate leaves growing umbrals of white or greenish white flowers.
The edible parts of this plant are found in the roots. This plant has a multitude of uses and is culturally used in Asia, namely Japan and China, to treat certain ailments and speed up the healing process. It is also used as a flavoring agent for many different culinary products.
The roots and seeds of angelica can be used to flavor liquors like gin and chartreuse. It has interesting flavor qualities that are very distinct in alcohol. Angelica also has a characteristic flavor in food. Like tarragon, it possesses a licorice flavor that can be used to sweeten dishes.
This recipe for candy from the Apothecary Garden uses nearly a pound of the herb. Because of its sweet flavor, it's perfect for candy flavoring.
Try this rhubarb and angelica jam recipe that uses full angelica stalks and chartreuse. While it takes nearly two hours to complete this jam, there are only three steps, and you can use this jam for up to two weeks after you make it.
Angelica is a great and sweet substitute for cooking with tarragon, but it may be more difficult to find unless you grow it yourself. This may be something to keep in mind as you experiment with different flavors.
#8 Thyme: The Most Versatile Substitute of All
Like basil, thyme is a more popular herb in Western culture. Although, it originated far before that. The ancient Egyptians used thyme for embalming.
The Romans also used this herb for purifying rooms and giving aromatic flavor to cheese and liquors. Interestingly enough, the leaves of this herb were also used in the Middle Ages to ward off nightmares, give courage to warriors, and assure safe passage into the afterlife. It also tastes really good!
Thyme is a relative of both the oregano and mint families, giving it an interesting look and texture. It can be used both fresh and dried, but it's more flavorful when fresh.
You'll probably find it cut in sprigs in your grocery store in the herbal section of the produce aisle. When it grows, it has paired leaves with white flowers growing from woody stems. Once harvested, this herb has small leaves that resemble that of oregano.
While this herb is slightly different from tarragon, it can substitute well, especially in bread. This recipe from Cooking Light shows you how to make thyme corn bread using fresh thyme leaves. It takes only three easy steps and 25 minutes to bake.
Thyme can also be used with vegetables and meats and retains its savory flavor throughout any method of cooking, including barbecuing. This recipe for thyme lamb chops proves this while using few ingredients, including fresh thyme, and three easy steps to cook on the grill.
I use tarragon regularly; it's become my staple herb when cooking. I've used tarragon in breads, desserts, omelets, chicken, fish, and even as a seasoning while grilling vegetables.
However, there have been times when I've run out of tarragon and I can't get to the store. I've also gone to the market many times to find out that the store is sold out of tarragon completely. Thankfully, there are so many substitutes that contain similar flavors to tarragon and have just as much versatility.
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