This sauce is ssssooooo good! If you like tarragon — that distinctive, kind of minty, kind of licorice-y leaf from the gods — it’s way beyond good. Most tarragon sauce recipes for fish — usually salmon, which is a great choice — aren’t like this one and are far inferior. Typically, they’ll involve mayo, cooking the herb or even using dried tarragon, a travesty. There’s none of that here, just an intense, brightly-colored mouthful of pure tarragon goodness helped along by some wine, shallots, butter and a few other things. This recipe is another winner from Northwest chef Jerry Traunfeld. I’ve only changed it a little.
The original recipe accompanied poached salmon and uses some of the poaching liquid in the sauce. I’ve included that recipe here. However, I usually serve the sauce with roasted fish (salmon, sturgeon, halibut, seabass and the like), having saved some of Jerry’s great poaching liquid in the freezer. A good fish stock would work fine instead. I’ve made a few small tweaks to Jerry’s sauce recipe, including a lightened-up iteration.
The recipe serves 4. You’ll wish you had doubled the sauce recipe after you try it the first time so you’d have some left. Or more to put on your fish and everything else in sight.
The fish: The recipe below calls for 2 lbs of skinless salmon filets. If poaching the fish, use an equivalent amount of whatever kind of fish you prefer, but choose richer fish like bass and salmon rather than cod and snapper. If using the sauce with roasted or grilled fish, use this amount of sauce with 4-5 servings of fish.
3 cups water
5 sprigs fresh parsley
4 4-inch sprigs fresh tarragon
1 celery stalk with leaves, coarsley chopped
1 bay leaf
3/4 cup dry white wine (I use Trader Joe’s $2 bottles and they work great)
1/2 teas salt
Bring the water to a boil, add the herbs, celery and bay leaf. Remove from heat, cover and let it steep for about 10 minutes. Add the wine and salt. Before poaching the fish, strain out the solid ingredients.
To poach the fish, bring the liquid to a simmer (make sure you’re using a pan that will allow the fish to be completely submerged) and slide in the filets. Turn the heat to low. It should be barely simmering. Cook uncovered for 8-10 minutes and remove fish with a slotted spoon or spatula. The remaining liquid should be strained and saved in the freezer. It can be reused to poach fish several times. Or saved to make lots of this great sauce!
The Tarragon Sauce
4 T unsalted butter, room temperature
1 shallot, choppped (at least 3 T)
1/4 cup (or a little more) dry white wine
1/3 cup (or more) fresh tarragon leaves
2-4 T coarsely shopped parsley leaves
2 teas (or more) fresh lemon juice
1/4 teas salt
freshly ground pepper (not much)
Melt 1 T of the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until softened but not browned – less than 1 minute. Add the wine and gently boil uncovered until all of the liquid is evaporated and the shallots make sizzling noises. If you’re poaching your fish, you can set the sauce aside now and begin the poaching.
Warm the container of a blender by filling it with hot water. You can also use a food processor but a blender produces better results. Meanwhile, ladle 1/4 cup of the poaching liquid into the saucepan with the shallot mixture and bring to a simmer.
NOTE: If you don’t have poaching liquid, use a homemade fish stock or if that isn’t an option, use More Than Gourmet Fumet de Poisson Gold (a very respectable pre-made stock available at better grocery stores and online) or their Glace de Fruits de Mer Gold (dilute it a bit) or some Swanson’s Natural Goodness chicken broth.
When the liquid simmers, over medium heat, whisk in 1 T of butter at a time, waiting until the previous one almost melts before adding another. Add the lemon juice and salt, continuing to whisk. Turn off the heat.
Dump the hot water out of the blender and add the tarragon and parsley. Pour in the sauce ingredients and process until the sauce is smooth and bright green. Adjust the sauce to taste by adding more lemon juice or salt.
Lower-calorie option: Substitute up to half the butter with a good fish demi glace (you can use More Than Gourmet Glace de Fruits de Mer Gold) or a good chicken demi glace.
You can return the sauce to the pan and gently warm it before serving with the fish. Don’t use high heat. The sauce refrigerates well and can be served with glorious results another day.