Not into Spicy Foods? Try French Herb Blends


It’s fun to experiment with combining different herbs and spices, but there are a few combinations that have withstood the test of time. These classic seasoning blends have been used for centuries to flavor meat, fish, poultry, soups, stews and vegetables. Discover what gives each its unique flavor and how they are best used so that you can make your own at home.

When you make your own blends you will find brighter, fresher flavors. It also allows you to make adjustments to the flavor combinations to suit your own personal taste. Making small batches is your best bet. Unless you plan to use a lot for canning or preserving or you plan to give them as gifts. Herbs and spices, especially when ground, tend to lose their flavor and potency over time, so make only what you can use up within 4-6 months on average.

Additionally, the blends you buy in the stores are not always the optimum varieties of herbs and spices you can buy. They are also full of fillers and anti-caking chemicals that you really don’t need in your food. Making your own seasoning Blends and mixes is very easy. Instead of buying expensive seasoning blends in the store with fillers and who knows what else, make your own.There are a myriad of blends for seasoning different cuisines. To learn how to put together herb blends, just follow these easy steps.

French Herb Blends, Classic Favorites for All Cuisines

Herbs, more so than spices, are used widely in French cooking.  French recipes often call for herb blends to add subtle flavor to dishes. These carefully crafted blends can be used in a variety of dishes, from quick sauteed summer vegetables to slow roasted meats. Basil, Bay, Marjoram, Parsley, Sage, Tarragon and Thyme are the dominant herbs. The Alliums (family of bulbs) including Chives, Garlic, Leeks, Onions, and Shallots are widely used too.

When visiting France you’ll want to savor the rich brew of an authentic Bouillabaisse stocked with Mediterranean fish, the simmering deliciousness of a cassoulet, the puffy airiness of quenelle de brochet, and the buttery goodness of crisp crepes, kouign amann, and cannellé.

Food travels through France should be all about the local and provincial fares of its twenty-two regions, with all of their individual nuances and specialties,  wherein the roots of French cuisine are based.

Dried herb blends of Bouquet Garni, Fines Herbes and Herbes de Provence feature herbs grown traditionally in France’s southern region.  Today, many commercial varieties of these blends are using herbs cultivated and grown in other parts of the world.

Recipes for French Herb Blends

Herbes de Provence Herb Blend

Makes 2/3 cupHerbes de Provence

Herbes de Provence is a blend of common herbs from the Provence region in France using fresh or dried herbs. Provence is the southeast tip of France, bordering on Italy and encompassing the French Riviera.

These traditional herbs were first combined by spice retailers in the 1970’s, and like curries there is no set formula for blending herbes de Provence. Herbes de Provence can include any of the following herbs, or not: rosemary, lavender, basil, thyme, marjoram, bay leaf, chervil, sage, savory, fennel, oregano, dill, tarragon; pretty much anything you might find in your pantry.

Lavender flowers are common in the blends of herbes de Provence you’ll find in the U.S., but traditional herbes de Provence does not typically include them. They were added to appease the tourists who identify Provence with the many fields of lavender there. Traditional herbes de Provence begins with rosemary, thyme and bay leaf, and then other available herbs are added to taste.

In Provence where these herbs grow easily the blend can be made from fresh herbs, and used by the handful. Dried herbs are equally effective and are more common in the herbs de Provence blends you’ll find in the U.S. In the fancier markets herbs de Provence is sold in clay crocks, but today, for convenience, it is usually sold in the spice rack right next to other common herbs.

2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons dried, crushed rosemary
2 tablespoons dried savory
2 tablespoons dried marjoram
2 tablespoons dried, crushed lavender buds (optional)
2 teaspoons dried, crushed bay leaves (optional)
1 teaspoon dried sage (optional)

  1. In a small bowl, add together all ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  2. Pour into an airtight container to store. If you keep this blend out of heat, light, and away from dampness, and it will last for 6 months.

Note: If using a mixture of FRESH thyme, rosemary, savory, and marjoram, throw it into the pot one handful at a time. It is best added to cooking at the end to preserve the fresh flavors.

Suggested uses: Herbes de Provence is used as a rub or to season meats, vegetables and fish or can be thrown on coals when grilling to release the essential oils into the food as a smokey flavor.

  • Herbes de Provence can also be used for roasting or in soups, gravies or stews.
  • It is rarely used as a seasoning after cooking, like salt or pepper. Cooking brings out the flavors of the herbs.
  • When combined, the herbs blend perfectly with fish and lamb.
  • They are an integral part of ratatouille, the Provençal signature dish, and can be added to your own tomato sauce or used to perk up prepared sauces.

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Bonnes Herbes Herb Blend

Parisian Bonnes HerbesMakes about 1/3 cup

This salt-free blend of French herbs comes from one of the world’s culinary capitals, Paris. As a delightful fresh mix of the summer (mostly annual herbs), bonnes herbes is a French herb mix that is often used as a fresh garnish or added shortly before serving. This Parisian blend is neglected as a seasoning in the United States, which is a shame because it is a delight added to dishes.

1 tablespoon minced tarragon leaves
1 tablespoon minced chervil leaves
1 tablespoon minced basil leaves
1 tablespoon minced dill sprigs
1 tablespoon snipped chives
Fresh ground white pepper

  1. To mince the herbs, gather the leaves or sprigs together and chop finely with a sharp chef’s knife.
  2. Throw the chopped herbs into your dish after pulling it from the heat. Stir and allow to sit for a few minutes so the flavors have a chance to combine.
  3. Alternatively, you can use dried herbs in the same ratios. It will store up to 6 months.

Note: This recipe is prepared with equal proportions of the herbs, but you can adjust it to suit your taste.

Suggested uses: Bonnes Herbes is a light, delicate blend that’s great for fish, seafood, vegetables, or salad dressings.

  • Sauté shrimp or scallops in butter, white wine, fresh garlic and a large pinch of these herbs. Serve it over a bed of rice or pasta.
  • Add it to lighter soups and sauces, steamed vegetables, garnish salads, baked chicken or fish.
  • Use it in sour cream, or yogurt, for dip or potato topping
  • Adds appeal to any salad, from potato and egg to pasta and rice, and is delicious in salad dressing.
  • It enlivens chicken or fish—in salads, oven-roasted, pan-seared or from the gril
  • Enjoy it as a garnish on steamed or grilled eggplant, summer squash, green beans and tomato
  • Try it on a soft scrambled egg with fines herbes,

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Pot Herbs Soup Blend

Bonnes HerbesMakes about 1/2 cup

This spice blend for soup stock is named for the large soup cauldron into which this combination of herbs was added for flavorful stocks and stews.

3 tablespoons Thyme
1 tablespoon Parsley
1 tablespoon Chives
1 tablespoon Chervil
1 tablespoon Marjoram
1/2 tablespoon crushed Bay Leaves

  1. To mince the herbs, gather the leaves or sprigs together and chop finely with a sharp chef’s knife.
  2. Throw the chopped herbs into your dish midway through cooking.
  3. Alternatively, you can use dried herbs in the same ratios. It will store up to 6 months.

Note: This recipe can be adjusted it to suit your taste.

Suggested uses: Pot herbs is a traditional French soup herb mixture. This herb blend is also a very nice salt-free herb seasoning to add to baked chicken or fish and steamed vegetables.

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Sel de Provence, French Herb Sea Salt

Makes about 1/2 cup

This blend uses fine, high-grade fleur-de-sel sea salt and blends in a mix of Herbs de Provence to create a subtly flavored, aromatic salt. The delicate flavor of the lavender in the classic French herb blend is a perfect compliment for the hint of floral scent in the fluer-de-sel.

5 tablespoons fleur-de-sel sea salt
1/2 tablespoon dried thyme
1/2 tablespoon dried marjoram
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried celery leaves
1 teaspoon savory
1-1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried lavender buds
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon

Combine ingredients and grind in a blender or coffee mill. I use my spice mill to turn it into a more delicate salt. Less pretty, but the flavors seem to come out even better.

You can also combine the salt and herbs, put it in a salt or pepper mill, and grind it as needed giving you the perfect finishing touch to whatever you like.

Suggested uses: Use as a substitute for ordinary salt anywhere you’d like a bit more flavor, or use as a rub on pork roast, beef tenderloin, seared tuna, or roast vegetables. I love this on French bread, buttered and sprinkled with this blend, heated in the oven, and served with a meal.

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Bouquet Garni Herb Blend

Bouquet GarniThe bouquet garni, French for “garnished bouquet”, is a bundle of herbs usually tied together with string and mainly used to prepare soup, stock, and various stews. The bouquet is cooked with the other ingredients, but is removed prior to consumption.

This bouquet garni recipe makes a neat bundle of aromatic seasoning for a fairly large dish. If you’re preparing a small dish, the ingredients can easily be halved for a smaller bouquet garni that will not overwhelm your recipe.

2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 dried bay leaves
Leafy greens from 2 celery stalks
6 sprigs fresh parsley

  1. Arrange the herbs in a neat stack, one on top of the other, and tie the ingredients into a tight bundle with string.
  2. Place it into broth, sauces, braising liquids, etc.
  3. Remove the bouquet garni from the cooking liquid once it is done cooking and discard it.
  4. This bouquet garni recipe seasons one large recipe.

Suggested uses: Used to flavor soup, stock, and various stews.

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Fines Herbes Herb Blend

Fines HerbesIn the culinary arts, the term “Fines Herbes” refers to a blend of herbs traditionally used in French cooking. While there is no exact recipe for fines herbes, it usually includes parsley, tarragon, chervil and chives. Marjoram is occasionally included in fines herbes as well. “Aux Fine Herbes” translated literally from French, means “with fine herbs.” For culinary purposes, meaning a blend of fresh herbs, one of which is always chervil.

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.

1 tablespoon Chervil
1 tablespoon Chives
1 tablespoon Tarragon
1 tablespoon Parsley
1 tablespoon Marjoram (optional)

  1. Combine equal proportions of each herb and mince them as fine as possible.
  2. In cooking, add the fresh herbs toward the end so they are just barely heated and the flavor is still fresh and bright.
  3. All of these herbs can be combined in a dried form also, but your blend will not be as bright.

Suggested uses: Fines herbes can be used in all sort of recipes, especially foods with delicate or subtle flavors like roasted or baked fish dishes, omelets, potatoes, or soups.

This combination of herbs is often used in vinaigrettes for simple summer salads or in herb butter for sandwiches. The tarragon, in particular, adds an unexpected licorice flavor that is delicious.

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Quatre Epices Spice Blend

Makes about 2 tablespoons

Whether or not you cook French food, the classic quatre épices (four spices) is an excellent blend to have in your spice cabinet.

Despite its name, quatre épices may contain four or five (or more) spices, most often white and/or black peppercorns, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Allspice or cinnamon may be included. The spice blend, in medieval times, used the cubeb berry. The combination is reminiscent of gingerbread spices, but with a tingly kick from the pepper, making it perfect for savory dishes and quite interesting in desserts.

1 tablespoon whole cubeb berries OR
3/4 tablespoon whole white peppercorns AND 1/4 tablespoon whole allspice berries
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves, rounded
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg

  1. In a small bowl, add together all ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  2. Pour into an airtight container to store. If you keep this blend out of heat, light, and away from dampness, and it will last for 6 months.

Note: I keep my spices whole and grind when I add to the dish. This is the best, most aromatic way to use this blend.

Suggested uses: Quatre épices is one of the staple blends in France, where it’s traditionally used to season dishes like terrines, pâtés, ragoûts, and pain d’épices (spice bread).

  • It goes well with roasted or braised meats, hearty stews, and vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes.
  • For sweets, it can add a warm peppery note to gingerbread cakes and cookies, gingersnaps, and more.
  • Traditionally used to season pâtés and terrines, this French spice mixture also adds an earthy depth to the duck confit.

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Melange Classique Spice Blend

Melange ClassiqueMore recent French mixtures are now combining aromatic herbs and spices.

5 dried bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons cloves
1-1/2 teaspoons white peppercorns
1-1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon cayenne

  1. Crumble the bay leaves. Grind the ingredients to a fine powder.
  2. Pour into an airtight container to store. If you keep this blend out of heat, light, and away from dampness, and it will last for up to 6 months.

Suggested uses: Melange Classique is an all purpose seasoning for stews and roasts, pate, stuffing and bean dishes. Melange Classique will work well as a rub on any meat, particularly lamb, duck and pork.

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Mirepoix

MirepoixAlthough technically not an herb blend, Mirepoix, raw, roasted or sautéed with butter or olive oil, is the flavor base for a wide variety of dishes, such as stocks, soups, stews and sauces.

A mirepoix is a roughly chopped vegetable cut, usually a mixture of onions, carrots, and celery (either common pascal celery or celeriac).  It is used to add flavor and aroma to stocks, sauces, soups and other foods. The proportions (by weight) for making mirepoix are 50% onions, 25% carrots and 25% celery.

Making Stock with Mirepoix

For brown stocks such as beef stock, use a pound of mirepoix per 6 quarts of cold water. It’s customary to roast the mirepoix before adding it to the stock liquid, which contributes flavor and color to the finished stock.

For white stocks such as chicken stock or veal stock, use about a pound of mirepoix for 5 quarts of cold water. For fish stock, use half a pound of mirepoix per gallon of cold water. You can cook the mirepoix and fish bones in butter for a few minutes before adding the water.

When you’re making stock, the mirepoix is ultimately strained out, so it’s not important to use great precision when chopping the vegetables. The sizes should be more or less uniform, however, to allow for uniform cooking times.

The more finely mirepoix is chopped, the more quickly its flavor and aroma is released into a stock. Since brown stock is simmered longer than white stock, it’s perfectly acceptable to cut the mirepoix into pieces an inch or two in size.

Mirepoix Variations:

  • Leeks can be used in place of some or all of the onions.
  • If you want a colorless stock, you can make a “white mirepoix” by substituting parsnips, mushroom trimmings, or both, for the carrots, or just omitting the carrots altogether.

 

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2 thoughts on “Not into Spicy Foods? Try French Herb Blends

  1. Cookin Mum says:

    Wonderful article. So much information its shocking. thank you

    1. cebohrer46@yahoo.com says:

      I aim to please….lol Seriously, I hate it when I read something and only get half the story, don’t you? -Colleen

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