Herbs play an important role in French cooking, and herb blends have always been a mainstay of the country's cuisine. There are three standard herb mixes: herbes de Provence, bouquet garni, and fines herbes. Fines herbes usually includes parsley, tarragon, chervil, and chives, and is traditionally made with fresh herbs.
What Is Fines Herbes?
This herb mixture is the most delicate of the three herb blends, contributing an elegance and subtlety to recipes, such as cooked egg and poultry dishes; it is also added to salads and enjoyed uncooked. Fresh herbs are preferred, and although dried are acceptable, they are only used when fresh are not available; dried parsley and chives do not have much flavor.
Fines Herbes vs. Herbes de Provence vs. Bouquet Garni
All three of these classic herb blends share similar ingredients, but each emphasizes a different herb and allows the others in the mixture to contribute to the background notes. While fines herbes is usually made with fresh herbs, herbes de Provence is made with dried; bouquet garni—a bundle often wrapped in cheesecloth—can be made with either. While fines herbes is more subdued, herbes de Provence includes herbs that pack a punch, like rosemary, thyme, and oregano, and bouquet garni falls somewhere in the middle calling for parsley, bay leaf, and thyme.
These three herb mixes are also used differently when cooking. Fines herbes is added toward the end of a recipe whereas herbes de Provence is added at the beginning. Bouquet garni is used to flavor soups and stocks and is removed before serving.
As early as 1903, fines herbes was identified in writing by famed French chef Auguste Escoffier. He noted that some dishes labeled as having fines herbes actually only featured parsley, and that "it is a mistake to serve, under the name Omelette aux fines herbes, an omelet in which chopped parsley furnishes the only aromatic note." The four-herb mixture was later mentioned in Larousse Gastronomique, the encyclopedia of gastronomy, and then confirmed to an American audience by Julia Child.
What Is It Made Of?
Fines herbes is defined as equal amounts of chopped fresh parsley, chives, tarragon, and chervil. Some chefs add other herbs such as marjoram, thyme, and watercress, which also fall into the subtle category. More robust herbs like basil, rosemary, and oregano would not be found in fines herbes.
Fresh vs. Dried
It's best to use fresh herbs for making the fines herbes mixture because the herbs in the blend lose a lot of their flavor when dried. Dried fines herbes can still be useful, but they're quite different from the fresh variety.
What Does It Taste Like?
Each of the four herbs in fines herbes has a distinct flavor, but when they are brought together they create an overall freshness while remaining delicate in approach. Parsley and chives contribute a familiar brightness to the herb mixture, while tarragon provides licorice notes; chervil tastes like a combination of parsley and tarragon.
Cooking With Fines Herbes
This herb blend is best used in dishes where the ingredients won't overpower the gentle taste of fines herbes. Since a long cooking time and excessive heat can diminish the subtle flavor and aroma, fines herbes is typically added at the end of a recipe. Mild dishes such as omelets and sauteed chicken with wine are ideal for enjoying the freshness of fines herbes, as is a tender salad.
Recipes With Fines Herbes
Where to Buy Fines Herbes
It is probably unlikely that fines herbes is sold in the local grocery store, but it is simple enough to purchase the individual fresh herbs from the produce section of the supermarket and make your own herb mixture. Make sure to choose herbs that are bright green and healthy-looking; avoid any that are wilted or browning.
If purchasing the herbs separately, only a small amount of each will be used to make fines herbes. Thus, it is important to store the herbs properly so they stay fresh. Soft herbs, such as parsley, tarragon, and chervil, can be placed stem-end down in a glass of water, covered with a plastic bag, and put in the refrigerator. Chives are considered a hard herb, which is best rolled inside a damp paper towel and placed in an unsealed plastic bag where they will last two to three weeks.
If using dried herbs, store in a cool, dry place in a tightly sealed container.