French women will regularly pick up several different types of herbs when food shopping, either in bunches or in small flower pots for their kitchens. Fresh herbs have a natural spot on their grocery list when buying produce.
They also use dried herbs, especially mixes of dried herbs typical to French cuisine. They know how to use them in modern as well as traditional recipes. This is one of the French “secrets” to make simple home-cooked meals taste restaurant quality.
One combination of herbs which is used either dried or fresh is called “Bouquet Garni.”
How “Bouquet Garni” is Made
The term “Bouquet Garni” (or roughly “Garnished Bouquet”) is a blend of dried or fresh herbs. They are either fresh and still on the stem and tied together by a piece of butcher’s string, or they’re dried and wrapped in a tiny piece of cheesecloth which usually has a bit of string dangling from it.
The exact recipe of Bouquet Garni can vary according to who is producing it, but it’s mainly a combination of thyme, parsley, and bay leaf. Sage, rosemary, savory (“sarriette”), fennel, celery, and tarragon might also be included. It’s quite an art to create your own blend: the goal is to have a balance between the aromas of the various herbs so that one doesn’t dominate the other, but together they add great flavor to any dish.
How the French Use “Bouquet Garni”
This blend of herbs is used dried or fresh in mainly savory cooking, and in dishes requiring a long cooking time. The recipes which call for Bouquet Garni most often have a sauce. They are the grand classics of French cuisine, like the traditional “Coq au Vin” and “Beef Bourguignon” recipes.
The herbs are not meant to be eaten, so the string or cheesecloth wrapping makes it easier to remove the herbs once the dish is ready to serve.
Two French Recipes with Bouquet Garni (one classic and one modern):
1. Navarin d’Agneau (Lamb Stew)
(This is a traditional French recipe for Spring)
• 1kg/2.2lbs of lamb for stewing
• 8 small potatoes
• 8 small turnips
• 8 small carrots
• 440g/ 15 oz greens peas
• (or half green peas and half string beans)
• 6 small spring onions
• 20g/ 1 1/2 Tb oil for frying
• 1 clove of garlic
• 1 Tb of all-purpose flour
• 1 Tb of tomato paste
• 1 Bouquet Garni
• 1 tsp of sugar
• 1 pinch of baking soda
• 10 cl/3.5 oz of dry white wine
• salt & pepper to taste
-cut the lamb in medium size chunks
-peel the garlic and the spring onions and chop off their stems
-heat the cooking oil in a deep cooking dish (large enough to hold all the meat and vegetables together) and brown the chunks of lamb on all sides
-set the meat aside and remove the oil from the cooking pot
-place the lamb and onions in the cooking pan and sprinkle with the flour and mix together well
-add the dry white wine and enough water to cover the meat.
-Add the garlic, bouquet garni and the tomato paste, salt & pepper. Stir together
-simmer for 1 hour on low heat
-while the stew is cooking, peel and wash the potatoes, turnips, and carrots, and steam cook them for around 15 minutes
-put the green peas and/or string beans covered in cold water; Add the salt, sugar, baking soda (this will conserve the green color of the peas after cooking). Bring to a boil and cook for 10-15 minutes
-once the lamb has cooked for 1 hour, rinse and drain the cooked vegetables and add them to the stewed meat and sauce in the pot. Stir together carefully and cook together for around another 15 minutes.
-serve the meat and vegetables covered with the sauce
2. Lentil, Kale and Butternut Salad with Apples and Pecans
• 250g/9 oz of yellow lentils
• 2 shallots
• 1 bunch of “Bouquet Garni” herbs (thyme, parsley & bay leaf)
• 1 small Butternut squash
• 3-4 kale leaves
• 1 red apple
• several pecans, chopped
• 2 Tb of lemon juice
• 1 Tb or olive oil
• 5 Tb of olive oil
• 3 Tb of lemon juice
• 1 Tb of Dijon mustard
• 1 Tb of honey
• salt & pepper
-peel and chop the shallots
-remove a few stalks of thyme from the “Bouquet Garni” and set aside
-cook the lentils in 3 times their volume of water for 30 minutes with the “Bouquet Garni” herbs and the shallots
-Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/350°F
-Peel the butternut and cut in very thin strips/ slices using a vegetable peeler
-place the thyme on the butternut slices in an oven-safe dish in the oven, drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper and cook for 20 minutes
-remove the center stem from the kale leaves, chop the kale and let macerate a few minutes in 2 Tb of lemon juice and 1 Tb of olive oil
-cut thin slices of the red apple without peeling it
-Remove the Bouquet Garni herbs from the lentils and drain if necessary. Mix carefully together with the lentils, the slices of butternut and the chopped kale.
-decorate the top with the thin slices of apple and chopped pecans
-whisk the vinaigrette ingredients and drizzle over the salad before serving.
“Bouquet Garni” herbs are a great introduction to traditional French cuisine as they’re used in many of the classic French dishes to give sauces a wonderful flavor.
As they are dried herbs, they’re easy to keep for a long time if they’re stored away from light and heat. So if you want to add some classic French recipes to your cooking, or another flavor dimension to easier and lighter soups and sauces, they’ll be a delicious addition to your kitchen that you’ll use often.
Another example of a typically French dried herb mix is “Herbes de Provence” or Herbs from Provence. I use them for barbecued meats and with roasted vegetables.
And now you: Have you tasted “Bouquet Garni” herbs or used them in cooking? If so, leave a comment below and let me know!