In an herb rut? You might be, and not even know it! I’m here to help!
Herbes de Provence is a gorgeous little concoction of herbs that grow on the sunny hills of southern France, known for its beautiful Mediterranean coastline, castles, churches, medieval villages–and food. When tourists wanted to bottle up that food and take it home, some brilliant marketing genius in the 1970s came up with a blend of those herbs, slapped “Herbes de Provence” on it, and made a million. I halfway made that up. And yet! It’s true that herbes de Provence as a term only came into being about 40 years ago and it is a collection of the herbs that dominate the Provencal cuisine. There is no one right way to put together herbes de Provence–only the way that suits you. I stumbled back upon my herbes de Provence a few weeks ago when I was cleaning out my spice cabinet and rebottling my herbs and spices in my cute little vintage apothecary jars. It made me realize what an herb rut I have been in and I’ve been tossing it on everything in sight ever since.
The classic Provencal herbs that might go into an herbes de Provence mixture, depending on the source, include marjoram, thyme, savory, basil, rosemary, sage, fennel seed, lavender, chervil, tarragon, mint, bay leaves, and oregano. I made a valiant effort to decipher what was actually in my own, but really had no idea since it was a bulk mixture long separated from its original labeling.
I examined my herbes de Provence for clues, fearing my dwindling supply at the rate I was using it up. I had to decipher its mysteries before I ran out, lest I should find myself stuck with paying for an over-priced prepared mixture. I can make my own!
I’m quite sure about the fennel seed, rosemary, and lavender. I can pick them out by sight. Highly likely on the thyme, marjoram, and savory as you can hardly find an herbes de Provence concoction without those standbys. If you have marjoram, who needs oregano. The bay leaves and basil just don’t feel right. I don’t want to end up with an Italian seasonings mix. I’m not sure I smell any sage in there. Mint just seems a bit too mundane to be part of this special blend. Chervil….is exotic. It’s a weirdly-named herb that grows mainly in the French Mediterranean area. You often find it in a bouquet garni mixture, so there you go. It belongs. (If you don’t know what chervil is, it’s similar to parsley and is sometimes called a gourmet parsley. That’s because it’s French. It is French, therefore it is gourmet. Those French people, they’ve got that gourmet thing all wrapped up! Then I sniffed at my tarragon and sniffed at my herbes de Provence, trying to decide if there was any tarragon in there. I don’t think so. Tarragon smells like licorice, and so does fennel seed, but since fennel seed is used so sparingly, it’s not overpowering. I don’t think tarragon is in there, too.
Lavender, by the way, isn’t traditionally used in this mixture in France, but Americans like it, so that guy who made a million bottling it up? He put some in there. And we still like it! It’s pretty.
When putting together an herbes de Provence mix, you can’t miss if you go heavy on the thyme especially, followed by the rosemary, marjoram, savory, and chervil. Go light on the lavender and fennel seed or they’ll take over.
How to make Herbes de Provence:
2 tablespoons thyme
1 1/2 tablespoons rosemary
1 1/2 tablespoons marjoram
1 tablespoon savory
1 tablespoon chervil
1/2 tablespoon lavender
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
The star of the show, thyme.
Supporting players, (L-R) rosemary and marjoram….
….(L-R) savory and chervil.
With special appearances by lavender….
….and fennel seed.
This makes about half a cup of herbes de Provence and can be stored neatly in a 4 ounce canning jar to dispense to a cute little apothecary spice jar, if you have one. It also adds up neatly to a 4 ounce jar that you can tie a ribbon around and present as a gift.
Use any half dozen or so from the full list of herbs that might be found in herbes de Provence to concoct your own mixture. There’s no right or wrong here, just what you like.
To cook with herbes de Provence, use it similar to the way you would use any herb blend (such as Italian seasonings)–as a short cut to a full-bodied, interesting flavor. Dash it on potatoes or other vegetables, meats, salads, etc. I used it recently in pizza dough and in the coating mix for fried chicken. Also, really delicious with soft cheeses, particularly goat cheese.
Now get out of your herb rut!