Tarragon is known for its unique and really aromatic flavors. Chicken, pork, game, veal and even fish lovers out there often use it to complement and to bring out the taste of the meat. If you are fond of using this herb, you may already know that this can get a little scarce to find grocery stores. This leaves you with zero ideas on what to use as substitute for tarragon.
Tarragon is a perineal herb, which means that there will be times of the year where you won’t find any at our local supermarkets and herb shops. And since I do not recommend using dried ones – they have an awful aftertaste, finding a substitute is the best way to go.
I am one of those who likes to experiment on flavors. But since tarragon has a really strong aroma and taste, I found it hard to find the best herb to replace this herb in my dishes.
#1. Marjoram: For Meats, Fish and Salads
Marjoram or sweet marjoram belongs to the oregano family. It’s profile boasts of a sweeter and a lot milder flavor which work well with fish, pork, and chicken.
To use this as a substitute for tarragon, make sure that you add the herbs towards the end of the cooking process. Otherwise, the flavors will just get lost in the sauce or stew that you are cooking. To get the most out of this herb, make sure that you use fresh ones. The dried or frozen marjoram leaves also work, but the flavors are more muted compared to the fresh herbs.
There are so many recipes that you can do using marjoram, but you can start with making some Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Fresh Marjoram. This vegetarian dish is definitely something you can try if you want to get used to incorporating this herb in your dishes.
#2 Thyme: The Queen of All Tarragon Substitutes
We are all familiar with thyme and its ability to turn bland dishes into something with more zing and pizzazz. Packed with sweet, earthy flavors, it adds more dimension to your cream sauces, cheese dips, stews and grilled dishes.
Another relative of the mint and oregano, I consider this as one of the most versatile of all the herbs in your pantry or local grocery. While I highly suggest that you use fresh ones, of course, you can use dried thyme as well, but the flavor is not as intense. Tarragon flavored bread, sauces and stews may taste different, but using thyme in this recipe will convince you that this is true flavor hero. All Recipes also has the perfect meaty thyme dish you can try out.
#3 Angelica: The Archangel for Jams, Jellies, Candies and Desserts
You might be hearing angelica for the very first time, but chefs from all over the world use this herb. Its stems have the perfect sweet and savory flavor just like the celery. They are also candied and often added to jams and jellies.
To find them at your groceries or farmer’s markets, look for a plant that has white, starburst flowers and bipinnate leaves. The roots and the stems closest to it are what you should go for when using it for your dishes. Food.com has a really easy angelica recipe that you can try out For a more complex yet delectable dessert dish, try out BBC Good Food’s Dad’s Banana Custard Trifle!
#4. Italian Basil: The Mediterranean Wonder Herb
This is probably one herb that we all know so well. You may already have a few growing in your small garden or backyard. This herb is perfect for cooked and raw food preparations, making it another versatile staple in your pantry. One of the most common uses for basil is for meaty stews, fish, and our favorite pasta. If you want to make the best tomato sauce from scratch, try All Recipe’s Fresh Tomato and Basil Sauce.
Basil is a great substitute for tarragon; this “royal herb” offers an herby and fresh taste to your dishes. Here is a great recipe from All Recipes, that calls for tarragon, but you can sub basil with. To use it in your dishes, do not cook it for a very long time. Otherwise, it will taste muddy and grassy.
#5 Dill: For that Perfect Fish Dish
Dill is a kind of herb that has really long, thin and divided leaves. It is often used to enhance and add more flavor to fish and seafood dishes. Because it is an annual type of herb, you can easily plant one in your garden or buy a bunch at your local grocers.
Its subtle bitter flavor offers a blank canvass for different fish and meats. You only need to use a few leaves to bring out its flavors. Here is a great fish dish from Cooking.NYTimes.com, that goes well with dill and/or tarragon. For a meatier take, try Epicurious’ meatloaf for tonight’s dinner.
#6 Chervil: Not Your Regular Parsley
A lot of us are unfamiliar with what a chervil is. In fact, we haven’t used it in so many dishes at all. The chervil shares almost the same flavor profiles as parsley and chives. This is why it often times mistaken for parsley, not just in taste but also in its leaves.
Chervil is definitely a great substitute for tarragon because of its licorice and aniseed-like flavors. Use this to make herbed-butter, salads and even complex creamy sauces. Do not cook this herb for a long time, or it will taste bitter. You can try out this recipe for Asparagus Ragout with Cherry Tomatoes and Chervil Beurre Blanc from SAVEUR.com.
#7 Chives: For A Mild Oniony Taste
Chives are not just for garnish and for adding color to our dishes. It also gives dishes its mild onion taste. While it’s flavors are not similar to tarragon, it is a great sub for greenery and for some sweet, earthy flavor. You can also use garlic chives and green onion stalks in place of this herb. One reminder, though, never use dried or frozen ones because those do not have any flavor at all!
To sample the flavors of chives, try Cooking Light’s Crispy Herbed Shrimps with Chive Aioli or Bon Appetit’s Creamy Chive Potatoes. If you ever find tarragon available, use them in place of the chives and it will work just as great.
#8. Fennel: Big Flavors from Fronds to Seeds!
Fennel is not your ordinary herb. It’s because you can use it not just for cooking but also for its healing properties. Part of the carrot family, this is a perennial, flowering herb. You can distinguish it with its large while bulbous body and its feathery leaves. It is very aromatic, sweet (licorice) and herbaceous in flavor. Using it in moderation is highly recommended because too much can overpower any dish.
The seeds are often used for savory stews and dressings. Its fronds and crunchy flesh work well with soups, stews, salads, and sauces. You can often see fennel seeds used in Indian and Mediterranean curries just like this from Healthful Pursuit. This recipe from Serious Eats reflects the bold flavors of fennel too.
#9 Aniseed: The Star of Bold Flavors
Also known as star anise or simply anise, it represents the wonderful marriage of fennel seeds and tarragon. Just like fennel, its fragrant, licorice flavor often used in Asian cooking. It is also used in making candies and teas. Aside from its culinary properties, anise is medicinal as well.
Because it is sweet, you can use this for jams, jellies, alcoholic drinks and even pastries just like tarragon! Try this sweet treat from Epicurious and you will start looking for more dessert recipes using aniseed. For a more savory take, make this spicy chicken recipe from All Recipes.
#10 Wild Celery: Perfect for Asian Cooking
While it may taste similar to the regular celery, lovage, also known as wild celery is more pungent and aromatic. This is why Asians love to add them in their quick stir-fries. You can use this to replace tarragon, chervil, celery and parsley in your dishes. It cannot stand a very intense heat or long cooking time, so best add the leaves and stalks seconds before serving. Also because it’s taste is more prominent, use careful amounts so as not to overpower your dishes.
Want to try cooking with lovage? Here is a great fish recipe from SAVEUR that you can quickly put together.
#11 Oregano: The More Intense Brother of Marjoram
Oregano is known for its medicinal properties. Fresh and dried oregano can treat coughs, colds, and inflammations. Aside from these uses, you can also make flavorful dishes with it. When a recipe calls for tarragon and you cannot find any, you can easily substitute small amounts of oregano. Surely, it will be as flavor-packed and tasty.
Also known as wild marjoram, it’s used to add more flavor to tomato based sauces, fish, and meaty dishes. One great oregano recipe is this one from Vegetarian Times, which makes use of your favorite vegetables. For meat lovers, All Recipe’s Chicken Oreganato recipe is the perfect one to try.
#12 Rosemary: Stems and Leaves for Meats and Fish
This is another popular herb that could replace tarragon in your dishes. Rosemary is a perineal herb with spiny or needle-like leaves. You’d find that the fresh ones can get scarce during certain months. Of course, you can use dried ones to get its same, intense flavor. It is the perfect combination of bitter, woodsy and mustard-like taste and aroma, often used in Italian meaty preparations.
If you cannot find tarragon anywhere, use rosemary leaves for this delicious steak recipe. You can also use rosemary to flavor your olive oil for your Italian bread dips.
#13 Sage: Flavor Enhances for Your Meaty Dishes
The sage leaves that we buy at the grocery offers a strong woodsy aroma and flavor. This is perfect for your brown butter sauces, lamb, beef, pork and even chicken. You can also use the leaves to make cream sauces, gnocchi, risotto and even bread.
Sage leaves can withstand long cooking time, so do not hesitate to add them to your stews, grills, and baked dishes. Eating Well has a great sage recipe using beef cuts. You can also try this easy pasta dish from Epicurious.
#14 Savory: Versatile Like Thyme, Flavorful Like Rosemary
This is far off from the classic, milder tarragon, but savory gives an herby and peppery taste that you will often find complementary to tarragon flavored dishes. Savory has 2 types: the summer and the winter savory.
Summer savory offers a milder taste, perfect for fish, chicken and fresh summer salads. This is also used raw. Totally opposite of the winter savory, which requires slow cooking to release its flavors. TheKitchn.Com’s summer savory infused herbed mushrooms is a great place to start experimenting. For your meats, use these herbed rub recipes to make great stews, barbecues and roasts.
#15 Bay Leaf: One is Enough, 2 is Intense
Unlike tarragon, this bold and intense substitute is the perfect example of the saying, “less is more.” You need one or two leaves and your soups, stocks, stews and roasts will have the most aromatic and delicious flavors. Remember this formula: 1 fresh bay leaf is equal to 2 dried ones in flavor and smell.
Bay leaves come from the laurel tree. Often used by the Romans and Greeks for garlands and decorative purposes, this herb can also be used for its flowery and spicy profiles.
This recipe from Taste of Home is so easy to prepare, that you just have to put everything together, set the timer and walk away
I am a regular tarragon user. I can say that I love its flavors so much, I always try to incorporate it to most of my dishes. But when it gets harder to find, at least I have all these other herbs which I use as great, worry free substitutes for my favorite herb.