Saturday, July 26, 2014

Herbes de Provence - The Herbs of Provence. Provencal Cuisine and the Herbes de Provence.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated January 2018

Herbes de Provence.
Photograph courtesy of Christopher Paquette
Until seventy years ago the term the Herbes of Provence indicated any herb that grew wild in the area. Herbes of Provence is now a particular herb group that indicates the herbs that are used together in modern Provencal cuisine. The commercialization of the herb group was so successful that tourist purchases of bottled and bagged preparations of dried Herbes de Provence are an important part of the grower's incomes.

The group of herbs used depends on the chef; they will include five or six from the following list:

Basilic, basil;  cerfeul, chervil; graines de Fenouil, fennel seeds; feuille de Laurier, bay leavesmarjolaine, marjoram; origan, oregano; romarin; rosemary;  farigoule, wild thyme; thym, thyme; sauge, sage; sarriette, summer savory; and estragon, tarragon.  Many chefs add Lavender for its aroma. Lavender is the flower and scent of Provence.

Herbes de Provence on French Menus:
Bar Entier Grillé aux Graines de Fenouil et aux Herbes de Provence – A whole grilled European sea bass flavored with fennel seeds and the Herbs of Provence. European sea bass will be on many Provencal menus as loup, which is the fish’s name in Occitan. Fennel has an aniseed taste and fennel seeds are stronger than the leaves.

Flowers at the top, seeds in the middle, and at the bottom the thin, spindly leaves.
Camembert Braisé aux Herbes de Provence – Braised Camembert cheese flavored with the herbs of Provence. Here a whole Camembert is braised and will be served with country bread and a spoon.
Civet de Porcelet et sa Polenta aux Herbes de Provence – A civet is a traditional stew that initially was made with small wild animals including rabbit, hare and young wild boar. Here it is made with suckling pig and served with polenta and flavored with the herbs of Provence.
Bay leaves.

Entrecôte Grillée aux Herbes de Provence – A US rib eye, a UK sirloin steak, an entrecote, grilled and flavored with the herbs of Provence.
Les Côtelettes d'Agneau Grillées aux Herbes de Provence – Grilled lamb chops flavored with the herbs of Provence.
When I am in Provence, and I see dishes like those noted above, I ask questions about the herbs used. Chefs demand fresh herbs and make changes when a particular fresh herb is not available. More importantly, the quantities of each herb used vary greatly between chef and chef and that will significantly affect the taste. The fresh herbs come from local market gardeners and that includes herbs like farigoule, wild thyme.

Lavender fields in Provence.

While chefs demand fresh herbs the tourists, including French tourists, are sold pre-packed dried herbs. Home cooks can create tastes close to the original by buying many of the fresh herbs in markets at home, at least four or five will be available all year round. The pre-packed dried Herbes de Provence mostly include only four or five of the original eleven or twelve; usually origan, oregano; romarin, rosemary; sarriette, summer savory; marjolaine, marjoram; and thym, thyme.  Many dried herb packages include lavender; lavender is only added for its scent as it does not affect the taste in any important way. From the label of contents, you will also see that each supplier uses a different percentage of each herb in their mix.

Bags of dried Herbes de Provence on sale in the market.
The origins of the Herbs de Provence.

The cultural influences that created Provence are as varied as the herbs within the group. Nevertheless, all of the herbs that make up the Provencal herb group originated in the Mediterranean, Middle East or Asia, and all predated the discovery of the New World.

Farigoule, serpolet, wild thyme.

I always double check the origins of herbs and spices on the web pages of Gernot Katzer and his Spice Pages: and Eric Schoenzetter and his Toil d'Épices:  These two websites are full of herbal knowledge. Eric Schoenzetter includes, as options, clous de girofle -cloves; macis and fleur de muscade, mace and nutmeg; and genièvre or baie de genièvre, juniper berries.
France’s most famous herb group is Les Fine Herbes, the fine herbs. For more information on Les Fine Herbes click here.  
Les Fine Herbes.

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Bryan G. Newman

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