The craving: Give me lavish protein with a plush, silky sauce.
The palate: buttery and herby.
The dish: Filet Mignon with Tarragon Butter Sauce (try it with any cut of steak)
A compound butter comprises butter and other flavorings to enhance the impact of a dish, thereby posing as a sauce. But unlike sauces made on the spot before serving, a compound butter can be rolled into a log and refrigerated or frozen, then sliced into “pats” to top steaks, etc. at a later time.
Tarragon butter is a luscious but simpler version of a béarnaise sauce. The concoction is primarily butter, tarragon, salt and pepper, whereas the classic béarnaise also contains egg yolks, reduced vinegar, shallots and chervil, and is as awkward to make as a hollandaise.
Tarragon has only been cultivated for about 600 years, traveling from the Mongols, to Italy, then France and England by the 1500s. Although for centuries the herb was used homeopathically for afflictions such as poor digestion, toothaches and even as a breath freshener, it’s also famously known for being one of the fines herbes of French cooking. The flavor profile is similar to anise or licorice and slightly sweet.
As Chef Dave Beaulieu demonstrates how to cook Filet Mignon with Tarragon Butter, he notes “For the tarragon butter, I think you need to use fresh tarragon. The texture and flavor of dried just isn’t the same, and the compound butter really needs fresh”. Mr. Beaulieu deems tarragon butter and filet mignon a magnificent pair.
Tarragon Butter Sauce usually includes:
- consistently: butter, tarragon, salt, fresh ground pepper
- often: lemon juice and garlic or shallots
- occasionally: Dijon mustard
- rarely: red wine, Worcestershire sauce, sour cream
Variations for Tarragon Butter Sauce:
- salted or unsalted butter, although those who call for unsalted usually then add salt to the sauce anyway
- tarragon is fresh or dried across the recipes, but some cooks swear by fresh