Thursday, August 16, 2012

Les Fine Herbes; the Most Important Herb Group in French Cuisine. Les Fine Herbes on French Menus.

Les Fine Herbes – The Fine Herbs.
The history of the fine herbs.
Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman

      Herbs in the history of  English cuisine.

A garden of all sorts of pleasant flowers which our English ayre will permitt to be noursed vp: with a kitchen garden of all manner of herbes, rootes, & fruites, for meate or sause vsed with vs.
London, Humfrey Lownes and Robert Young 1629
Photograph courtesy of imago.

Les Fine Herbes.

Originally a blend of four herbs, the fine herb group today, with thyme added along the way, is more often seen in the French kitchen as a blend of five herbs:
Cerfeuil, Chervil; Ciboulette, Chives; Estragon, Tarragon;
 Persil, Parsley; Thym, Thyme;

The first question usually asked is how to use these herbs?   If you ask a French chef he or she will begin by saying use only use fresh herbs; no French chef will use one of these herbs dried, ever!
I have asked a number of French chefs about the correct proportions, and I have received, more or less, the same answer from all. For dishes that require a delicate touch keep the quantities of chives and tarragon low, to highlight the herbs use more chives and thyme, but with tarragon always use with caution.  French chefs may use another herb when one of the originals in not in season.

I am not a professional cook, nor even particularly adept amateur cook. This post is for those who want to know what they are tasting; there recipes using the fine herbs on the web and in many excellent cook books.  Any dish you order as a diner, and make as a cook aux fine herbes, should have a distinctive, but gentle, herb taste; the same dish without the herbs would be bland. To test the effectiveness of these herbs very lightly sprinkle them on one part of dish, two simply fried eggs  will do for this test, one egg with and one without,  then enjoy the difference.  That was a test suggested to me by a very good chef and I have never forgotten it.
 Les Fine Herbes
Cerfeuil – Chervil.
(German – kerbel), (Italian – cerfoglio), (Spanish – perifollo).
Photograph courtesy of Edsel L
Ciboulette – Chives.
(German schnittlauch), (Italian  - erba cipollina),  (Spanish – cebollino).
Photograph courtesy of isaccgriberg

Estragon – Tarragon.
German  französischer estragon), (Italian – estragone Francese, dragoncello),
(Spanish –estragon).
Photograph courtesy of Jasmine&Roses
Persil, Persil Frisé  - Curley Parsley
Persil, Persil Frisé or Persil Double - Curly Parsley: (German – petersilie, petersil), (Italian – prezzemolo),  (Spanish - perejil, perejil común).
Photograph courtesy of gr8kayte
Two types of parsley may be used in les fine herbes; some chefs say that flat parsley has a stronger taste, however,  the difference is virtually undetectable . What is certain, that for decoration, not especially for les fine herbes, curly parsley is preferred  

Flat Parsley.
Persil Plat, Persil Commun, Persil de Naples – Flat parsley or Italian Parsley. – (German - Italienische petersilie), (Italian – prezzemolo, prezzemolo romano, petrosemolo), (Spanish – perejil).   
Photograph courtesy of  TonalLuminsoity

Thym– Thyme.
Thym, thime: (German – tymian), (Italian timo),  (Spanish – tomillo),
Photograph courtesy of richard_north
When a chef begins to plant his, or her, herb garden it is the fine herbs that he or she will start with, and they will always take pride of place. 

Your menu in France may offer:
Assiette de 12 Escargots Farcis Ail et Fines Herbes A portion of 12 snails stuffed with garlic and the fine herbs. When garlic is used in a dish that also has the fine herbs group for flavor the chef must be very careful as the two flavors may compete; often the garlic used  for a balanced flavoring will be garlic shoots, wild garlic, always the lightest taste of garlic, all carefully balanced.
Mussels with white wine and fine herbs.
Photograph courtesy of .snow.
Ballottine de Saumon Poché, Mayonnaise aux Fines Herbes -  A roll of poached salmon served with a fresh mayonnaise flavored with the fine herb group.
Carré d'Agneau Coupé en Côtelettes à l'Ail et Fines Herbes -  Saddle of lamb divided into chops and flavored with garlic and the fine herbs.  As with the dish of snails above the garlic in this dish will be a very light touch.
Entrecôte Grillée aux Fines Herbes An entrecote, a rib-eye steak, grilled with the fine herbs. 
A grilled entrecote served with a fine herbs flavored butter.
The butter thickened with herbs and bone marrow is placed on the steak just before serving. Like a  Beurre Maitre D’Hotel or Beurre Bercy, each with their own flavors, the butter will slowly melt and flavor the steak.
Photograph courtesy of 46317
Salade Verte aux Fines Herbes et Pignons de Pin Grillés, Vinaigrette de Betterave Rouge -  A green salad with fine herbs and grilled pine nuts, served with a vinaigrette dressing over red beetroot.
Saumon Fumé au Fromage Blanc et Fines HerbesSmoked salmon served with white cheese flavored with the fine herbs.
On a road trip in France en-route to a long-awaited dinner at a famous temple of French cuisine,  we stopped at  1pm at road-side restaurant for a light lunch; while waiting we sat under large umbrellas and enjoyed the noise of the cars, scenery and our friendship.
We knew that if we ate too much we would not be able to appreciate the unique dishes promised that evening. The first of our group to choose, chose an omelet aux fine herbes, an omelet prepared with the fine herbs group.  The serveur, the server, who took our order, went back to the kitchen and returned one minute later with an empty plate, and  then from a previously unnoticed herb garden picked a mixture of parsley, basil, chives, thyme and tarragon, to which I noticed  she added savory. The herbs she brought back to the chef in the kitchen and, of course the omelet, was delicious as were everyone else's choices;  we ended our light lunch only at 15:30 and,  unfortunately that still left us a two-hour drive.
With travel time pressure, it is virtually impossible to schedule a settle a sumptuous dinner without pressure after a two-hundred-plus mile drive; you lose more than you gain.  I recommend planning culinary trips for the day or evening  after a long road trip..
Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
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For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman