The French have great cooking style, as everyone knows, and one of their secrets is the effective use of herbs to bring out subtleties of flavor.
You might be wondering what the difference is in the three famous French herb mixes: fines herbes, bouquet garni, and herbes de Provence. Translation: fine herbs, herb bouquet, and herbs of Provence, meaning herbs of southern France.
Fines herbes -- a classic French herb seasoning mix -- is a blend of fresh parsley, chives, chervil, and tarragon. Many French cooks now add thyme to the classic four ingredients, and marjoram, savory, and watercress are sometimes also included. Fines herbs are mild and subtle and are generally used in egg dishes, on poultry, and in salads.
Bouquet garni is traditionally a mix of dried bay leaves, thyme, and parsley, but it sometimes also includes garlic and pepper. It's most often used in stews, soups, and braises and usually comes wrapped in tiny cloth bags so it can be easily removed from the pot when it's done.
Herbes de Provence are more intense than the other two mixes and are similar to Italian herb mixes, which makes sense considering the geographical proximity of Provence to Italy. The mix usually includes dried rosemary, marjoram, thyme and savory, and often also includes sage, fennel seeds, and tarragon. These herbs are often used as a dry rub to season grilled and roasted meats and as a seasoning in seafood and vegetable dishes. Herbes de Provence can also be used in a pinch as a substitute for Italian herb seasoning mix since it contains many of those same ingredients. Just add in a bit of oregano and maybe a dash of basil and you'll have the right flavor.
For the French, fresh herbs are de rigueur for the fines herbes mix, but if you can't find all the components in their fresh state, you can use dried. Fresh chervil is especially hard to find.
This recipe is easily multiplied, but it is best to make only as much of the dried version as you will use within a month so it stays as fresh as possible.
- 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
- 1 tablespoon chopped chervil
- 1 tablespoon chopped chives
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- Combine the tarragon, chervil, chives and parsley.
- Add this fresh fines herbes mixture at the end of the cooking process to preserve the flavor of the herbs.
- Combine the dried tarragon, chervil, chives, and parsley.
- Place the mixture in a glass jar and seal tightly.
- Store in a cool, dark place up to 4 months.