Thoroughly wash the tarragon and pat dry with kitchen paper. Place in a suitably sized sterilized jar and using the back of a wooden spoon, gently bruise the tarragon leaves and stems. Heat the vinegar to just under the boil and pour into the jar. Leave to cool for a few minutes then seal the jar. Store in a cool dark place for at least two weeks to allow the flavours to develop. Strain the vinegar through some fine muslin and transfer to a suitable sterilised bottle and add a further couple of washed tarragon sprigs. Seal and store for up to six months.
Mignonette is a traditional accompaniment to chilled, raw oysters containing a mix of pepper, shallots, and vinegar the name is thought to come from a traditional spice mix of peppercorns, cloves, and other spices.
75 ml quality White Wine Vinegar or Champagne Vinegar
1 medium Shallot, peeled and very, very finely diced
¼ teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
Stir together all ingredients and allow the flavours to infuse for thirty minutes before serving.
If you like things a little fierier, add one teaspoon of Sriracha sauce.
Fines herbes is a mix of parsley, chives, tarragon, and chervil used to flavour chicken, fish, and egg dishes, in sauces and in herb salads. Perhaps the most famous dish is ‘Omelette aux fines herbes’ a classic of French cuisine. Dishes using Fines herbes should always be cooked quickly as not to spoil the herbs flavour and appearance.
Fines herbes is one of three classic herb blends used in classic French cuisine alongside the more strongly flavoured mix of herbs in ‘Bouquet Garni’ and ‘Herbes de Provence’.
“I believe that if ever I had to practice cannibalism, I might manage if there were enough tarragon around”
Gently crushing the leaves of tarragon releases a sweet aroma of liquorice, and anise is the predominant flavour with lemon, basil and a sweet aftertaste. Tarragon is a popular ingredient in French cooking as a key flavour Béarnaise sauce and one of the ingredients of ‘fines herbes’, along with chives, parsley and chervil. Tarragon marries well with fish dishes, chicken and eggs, as well as being perfect with mushrooms and tomatoes. Tarragon can be used both fresh or dried however the flavour and aroma often disappear when dried so it’s better to preserve fresh leaves in oil or vinegar.
Tarragon is a perennial herb it grows best in a sunny spot with rich, dry soil. It grows better in colder climates, however, it does need protection from sharp frosts. Tarragon is said to be an appetite stimulant and to assist with stomach upsets, heartburn, insomnia and headaches, the Romans chewed tarragon leaves to ease toothaches.
There is a long history of sauce in French cooking, dating back to the Middle Ages. In classic French cuisine or ‘cuisine classique’ through to ‘nouvelle cuisine’ in the nineteen seventies and eighties sauces were a major component of most savoury dishes and many of these sauces are derived from what we call the five Master Sauces. In a traditional kitchen brigade, a ‘saucier’ or sauce cook is the most senior chef after the Head Chef and Sous or second chef. The saucier prepares all of the sauces, and casseroles as well cooking dishes to order.
In the early nineteenth century, the chef Marie-Antoine Carême created a list of sauces, many which were his own recipes. Carême made many of these recipes using four base Master Sauces, Espagnole, Velouté, Allemande, and Béchamel. The chef Auguste Escoffier developed the list of sauces in his book ‘Le Guide Culinaire’ or A Guide to Modern Cookery, he removed Allemande because of its similarity to Velouté and added Hollandaise, the emulsion of eggs and butter and Tomato Sauce. This list became the five Master Sauces with the substitution of Demi-glace for the heavier Espangole.
Tomato concassé is the flesh from fresh tomatoes that have been peeled, de-seeded and chopped into a dice. It is a staple of many professional kitchens used in sauces, omelettes, with olive oil, garlic, and basil as a topping for bruschetta and when added to Béarnaise sauce to make Choron sauce, served with fish and seafood. We remove tomato seeds and skin from Tomato concassé asin large quantities they can be tough, do not soften during cooking and leave a bitter flavour. If you can get hold of a moderate amount of ice it is very useful when cooling off the blanched tomatoes. Use fully ripe but firm tomatoes for the best results. The process may seem to be quite an effort but the end results for Tomato concassé are very pleasing and worthwhile.
To make tomato concassé
Bring a large pot of water, deep enough to generously cover your tomatoes, to a rolling boil.Take each tomato and using the tip of a small sharp knife or paring knife ( see picture ) remove the pith or tough part of the tomato where the stem used to be cutting out a circular hole.
Turn the tomato over and on the other end mark a small cross in the skin with the knife.
When all your tomatoes are prepared, place a four or five at a time into the pan the boiling water. As soon as the water returns to a boil cook for one-minute longer and then remove them using a slotted spoon or spider.
Immediately plunge the blanched tomatoes into a large bowl of very cold water to arrest the cooking process. If you have ice, use iced water. The cooking process depends on the size of tomatoes you are using, small tomatoes may only require thirty seconds simmering. A good rule of thumb is if you see the tomato skin beginning to peel off then take out and cool.
The next step will take a little practice. Drain the blanched tomatoes then using the sharp knife again gentle tease and peel off the skin. Start by slowly sliding the tip of the knife under the cross you made in the skin earlier and work down. When peeled quarter the tomatoes and remove the seed with a small spoon or the back of the knife. Chop the quartered tomatoes into large or small dice as required.
The vermouth that we now drink and cook with now was first produced in the 18th century in Italy. It was originally used as a treatment for stomach disorders, then became popular aperitif in the cafes of Turin. It then became a key ingredient in cocktails such as the Negroni, the Manhattan and perhaps most famously the Martini. There two main types are sweet and dry vermouth which are made from a base wine flavoured with amongst other ingredients cloves, cinnamon, citrus peel, cardamom, chamomile, coriander, hyssop, juniper, and ginger, fortified with a spirit, such as grape brandy and sweetened with cane sugar. The exact recipe for each vermouth is kept secret by the individual manufacturers.
Vermouth can be substituted for white wine in cooking but because of the aromatic flavours it can overpower more delicate ingredients. It is most often used in recipes for oysters, scallops, and fish, but also compliments fennel, pork, and chicken. Perhaps the most famous dish with vermouth is Sole Veronique, poached fillets of sole in a vermouth cream sauce garnished with skinned, deseeded green grapes.