French herbs are used in most French cooking and French
cooks would never be without herbs in their kitchen. They are indispensible if
you want to capture the flavour of real French cooking.
The French cook is able to turn the most inexpensive piece
of meat into a meal sure to make your mouth water simply by using a selection
of herbs, a little wine or vinegars, some spices, or any other commodity in her
essential kitchen cupboard.
Dried herbs are of course invaluable but in France they are
only used when the fresh herbs are not available. You should buy dried herbs in
small quantities and keep in an air tight container, in a dark cupboard.
French herbs have that wonderful full fragrance when fresh
which is contained in the oils of the herb and released during the chopping or
pounding or when frying in oils. So they are much better for your cooking!
When fresh, French herbs can be hung to dry before storing
in airtight containers. You can see in the picture, fresh herbs have been left
to dry before storing.
The most famous or classic mixture of French herbs used in
French cooking is the Bouquet garni, the Fines Herbs and Herbes de Provence.
a list of herbs used in french cooking
The sweet bay or bay laurel is a perennial evergreen tree
which is the only form of laurel to be used in cooking.
Bay is grown from a small plant and needs protection during
the cold weather. They can be grown in tubs and make beautiful displays for
your garde and growing herbs is easy this way.
Bay leaves are shiny, smooth and dark with a strong aromatic
scent. They can be picked for use throughout the year.
Bay can be used either dried or fresh to flavour sauces,
stews or used in marinades.
It is indispensible in a bouquet garni, or ‘the broth posy’
as it is also known, when used to flavour good cooking. Bay adds its spicy
flavour to meat and vegetables, fish, soups and stews. You can store a leaf or
two in a jar of rice or add it to your rice pudding for a delicious flavour.
Chervil is a delicate herb almost fern-like with a
refreshing spicy flavour. It can be used generously so you could grow more than
one plant in your garden. It can grow to about 45cm/18ins tall and its leaves
resemble those of French parsley and it has clusters of small white flowers. It
is grown from seed in the spring or summer, and inside in winter.
The leaves have a delicate flavour and are used to enhance
chicken, fish, veal, salads, egg dishes and tomatoes. It is a favourite one of
the French herbs for giving flavour to soups, sauces and omelettes.
Chives are an important herb in the French kitchen and they
have the most delicate onion flavour which make it a wonderful seasoning for
Chives are a hardy perennial plant grown from a clump of
bulbs planted in autumn or spring. You can increase them by dividing them. They
can be grown from seeds but it is a slow process. It is easier to divide the
They can be grown in window boxes and tubs as well as the
garden. The flowers are very beautiful in a shade of lavender pink and can also
be used in salads. They make a really stunning display when in flower.
The grass-like leaves are used to garnish soups, egg dishes,
fish, chicken and veal. They are delicious with salads and most vegetables.
Fennel is a beautiful tall and graceful perennial herb with
fine feathery green leaves and bright yellow flowers. It looks very much like
dill but the flavour is a sweet anise which is very different.
It can be grown from seed in early spring and the main
plants divided every three to four years. Fennel is most well known with fish
and the seeds or leaves give an excellent flavour when added to the water for
poached or boiled fish. The leaves give a wonderful flavour to fish sauces or
will counteract the oiliness of rich fish.
The leaves can be added to salads or raw or cooked
vegetables. The seeds can also be used whole or ground to flavour bread,
savoury biscuits, soups and many sweet pickles.
The bulbous root used as a vegetable comes from Florentine
variety but this is much more difficult to cultivate.
All varieties of parsley are hardy biennials but mostly
treated as annuals. Of course no herb garden would be complete without its
parsley! The two most popular ones are the curly leaf parsley and the French or
the flat leaf parsley which undoubtedly has the better flavour.
It is rich in vitamin C, so it is valuable in your diet.
They can be grown from seeds but they take about three to
four weeks to germinate. It is a good edging plant in your herb garden and is
also suitable for containers inside or outside. The amount of parsley you use
to flavour dishes is very much a matter of taste but as a general rule you can
add it generously.
The chopped leaves can be added to green salads, soups,
sauces and cooked vegetables. It is beautiful when fried in oil until crisp and
added to accompany fish. Parsley added to dishes with garlic will soften the
Rosemary is a relative to the mint family and the name is
derived from its Latin origin to mean "dew of the sea." Rosemary is
very common in Mediterranean cuisine and has somewhat of a bitter astringent
taste to it.
Growing herbs is easy with Rosemary as it is one of the
French herbs that can be grown from cuttings or from a small plant in spring.
The leaves are short, narrow and tough rather like pine needles. It grows
quite bushy and needs some cutting back once established. It makes a wonderful
shrub with a strong aromatic smell and is the perfect addition to your herb
Rosemary added to lamb is a classic favourite but is equally
good with other meat dishes and with fish such as halibut. Try it with eggs and
cheese , in biscuits/cookies, jams and jellies. It can also be added to fruit
salads, wine and fruit cups for an unusual flavour.
Marjoram is a relative to the mint family. You get the most
flavour from Marjoram if you use the fresh leaves rather than dried marjoram.
There are three types of marjoram but it is the sweet
marjoram that has the best flavour for cooking. It is a compact and bushy plant
with small flowers which look like little green knots. Sweet marjoram is grown
from seed in the spring and the seedlings planted out in early summer.
Although Marjoram is sweet and mild, it is also at the same
time minty and has a hint of citrus. Marjoram blends very well with Bay Leaves,
pepper, and Juniper.
Excellent with meat especially meat loaf and vegetables such
as marrow and potatoes. Some added to the rice in stuffed green peppers makes a
wonderful tasty dish. Often included with other herbs in a bouquet garni.
The true French variety of sorrel is the best to use for
your cooking as it has the best flavour. Sorrel has lovely fleshy green leaves
and has an astringent flavour.
It is grown from seed sown in early spring and it prefers a
moist humid rich soil. It is a slender plant about 60 cm high, with edible,
oblong leaves. It has whorled spikes of reddish-green flowers, which bloom in
This is one of the French herbs often served as a purée or
to give a good flavour to sauces, omelettes or soups.
Tarragon is a herb with a distinctive flavour and one of the
best culinary French herbs for savoury cooking . No French cook would be without
it! Tarragon is a perennial herb and is grown in a sunny
position in well drained soil. It is best grown from rooted cuttings in the
spring. The leaves are shiny and narrow and it has tiny greenish white flowers
that only open in a very warm climate. Tarragon leaves give a good flavour to green salads and raw
vegetable salads. Steep the herb in white wine vinegar and you have a
wonderfully flavoured tarragon vinegar.Tarragon can be added to roast meats, poultry dishes and
fish dishes. Use it in a light buttery sauce to accompany mild vegetables such
as marrow or artichokes.
Thyme is one of the essential herbs when making a bouquet
garni. It is a spreading evergreen plant and grows up to 45 cm high. It has
lots of little mauve flowers in the summer for about a month.
It is grown from seed in the spring and can also be grown
from the division of an old plant or from cuttings.
It’s a great plant for the
rockery where it needs little care! It can also be grown in window boxes and
used throughout the winter.
Thyme has a strong flavour so should be used sparingly. It
is added to meats, fish, soups, stews, and of course herb sauces.
BOUQUET GARNI: This is a small bunch of French herbs tied together and used
in French cooking. It usually consists of three stalks of parsley, a sprig of
thyme and one bay-leaf. The thread which ties them helps facilitate the removal
of the herbs at the end of the cooking.
Other additions to the Bouquet Garni are a small stick of
celery, a sprig of marjoram, and in Provençal cooking a piece of dried orange
peel is often used too.
FINES HERBES: Fines herbes is often seen in French recipes and it consists
of equal amounts of French herbs such as chopped fresh parsley, chives, chervil
and quite often, when available, some tarragon.
HERBES DE PROVENCE: Used in a wide range of Provençal dishes, Herbes de Provence
are easy enough to make if you have a supply of dried herbs. Simply put 2 tbsps
each of rosemary, thyme, basil, marjoram and parsley, and 1 tbsp each of fennel
seed, oregano and tarragon, together in a mixing bowl; mix thoroughly and store
in an air-tight container.
There are many more wonderful French herbs to use in your
cooking, but I hope that these have given you a sample of some of the most
popular ones used in French cooking.
You will now be able to recognise them from the photos as
they look so different when dried and packaged.
If you are lucky enough to have a garden to grow your own
French herbs that is great, but for those of you who do not have the room for
this you can grow them very well in containers both inside and outside. A few
pots on the windowsill will give you a selection of herbs for a few months. And
as you pick them they will grow again!