Fines herbes

Fines herbes is a mix of parsleychivestarragon, and chervil used to flavour chicken, fish, and egg dishes, in sauces and in herb salads. Perhaps the most famous dish is ‘Omelette aux fines herbes’ a classic of French cuisine. Dishes using Fines herbes should always be cooked quickly as not to spoil the herbs flavour and appearance.

Culinary Herbs
Fresh Herbs

Fines herbes is one of three classic herb blends used in classic French cuisine alongside the more strongly flavoured mix of herbs in ‘Bouquet Garni’ and ‘Herbes de Provence’.

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Tarragon

“I believe that if ever I had to practice cannibalism, I might manage if there were enough tarragon around”

James Beard

Gently crushing the leaves of tarragon releases a sweet aroma of liquorice, and anise is the predominant flavour with lemon, basil and a sweet aftertaste. Tarragon is a popular ingredient in French cooking as a key flavour Béarnaise sauce and one of the ingredients of ‘fines herbes’, along with chives, parsley and chervil. Tarragon marries well with fish dishes, chicken and eggs, as well as being perfect with mushrooms and tomatoes. Tarragon can be used both fresh or dried however the flavour and aroma often disappear when dried so it’s better to preserve fresh leaves in oil or vinegar.

Fresh Tarragon
Fresh Tarragon

Tarragon is a perennial herb it grows best in a sunny spot with rich, dry soil. It grows better in colder climates, however, it does need protection from sharp frosts. Tarragon is said to be an appetite stimulant and to assist with stomach upsets, heartburn, insomnia and headaches, the Romans chewed tarragon leaves to ease toothaches.

Thickening Sauces

Thickening sauces have developed from using starchy vegetables, the ground nuts, and breadcrumbs from medieval cookery to using gums and gelling agents in today’s advanced gastronomy. The most common and popular methods are;

Roux

Flour and butter for a roux
Preparing a Roux

roux is a mixture of flour and fat used to thicken sauces, soups, and stews. It is traditionally used to thicken the classical French Béchamel, Velouté, and Espagnole sauces and in Cajun and Creole cooking. The roux is made from equal parts wheat flour and either butter, vegetable oil, bacon drippings or lard which are cooked together with or without colouring. The warm liquid such as stock or scalded milk is then slowly whisked in to the cooked roux, which is then cooked out over a low heat.

Beurre monté

This is a French term meaning to finish a sauce with butter forming an emulsion. Immediately before serving you can whisk in chunks of cold unsalted butter, one at a time, into a hot sauce. The sauce must not boil or the butter emulsion will split. The finished sauce has a velvety texture and rich flavour.

Beurre manié

Is a paste made by kneading butter and flour together which can be crumbled over and quickly whisked into a simmering sauce. It can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator. A ratio of fifty grammes of butter to seventy-five grammes of plain flour will thicken one litre of sauce.

Liaison

This is a mixture of cream and egg yolks, used to thicken soups and sauces. Never add directly to hot liquids or the eggs will cook out and scramble. Temper the liaison by adding a small amount of the hot sauce to it which gradually raises the temperature, then whisk this mixture back into the remaining sauce. DO NOT BOIL and serve straight away. This is a very rich method of finishing classic sauces.

Reduction

Demi-glace reduction
A Demi-glace reduction

This is the same as the American term “cooking down” … as the stock or sauce simmers water vapour evaporates. This thickens the sauce and intensifies the flavour. Use a large heavy pot and bring the liquid or sauce to a gentle simmer, a vigorous boiling may burn the sauce and evaporate volatile flavourings. Many of the sauces found in modern cuisine are based on reductions see Demi-glace.

Slurry

A slurry is a mixture of a starch and cold water. You can use cornstarch for thickening milk or dairy sauces, arrowroot used to thicken fruits juices because of the clear, glossy finished result on fruit tarts, potato starch, rice flour, wheat flour or dried powdered yam. The ration is one-part starch with two parts cold water. Always remove the sauce from the heat before adding the slurry to stop the starch cooking in thin streams or ribbons and not mixing. Then return to the heat stirring continuously.

Garlic

Fresh Garlic Cloves
Garlic Cloves

Garlic is one of the most popular aromatics used almost worldwide because of the flavour adds to dishes. Raw garlic has a very pungent, hot taste that mellows and becomes sweeter when cooked. Roasting garlic gives it a lovely delicate, nutty flavour. Propagation is by placing a single clove in the ground, for this plant to reach maturity will take around five months depending on the growing conditions. It is best to grow garlic in a sunny location that is well drained. Garlic is a major ingredient in Asian influenced dishes such as stir-fries and curries, as a classic flavouring in Mediterranean cooking for soups, sauces and casseroles and pairs perfectly with onions, tomatoes, chilli, ginger, basil, chicken, pork, and seafood.

Strings of Garlic Bulbs
Fresh Garlic Bulbs

Slaves building the pyramids were given garlic to give them strength. The first workers strike then occurred when, to save money, the garlic was removed from their diet. During World War I soldiers depended on garlic for its antiseptic properties and it has been used for a long time to fight colds and coughs.  There is an old Spanish proverb that says, “where you find garlic, you find good health.” The same chemical that gives garlic its pungent aroma reacts with bacteria in your mouth that cause bad breath. A good way to counteract this smell is to eat parsley or to drink milk while you are eating the garlic.

 

Coriander

Fresh Coriander Leaves
Fresh Coriander Leaves

In cooking, we can use all of the coriander plant, its leaves and stems, the seeds and the roots and each has its own distinct flavour. Coriander is native to the Mediterranean but is used in cuisines throughout the world and is an essential ingredient in Thai, Mexican, Moroccan and Indian cuisine and is found as the fresh leaves, roots or the spice from the ground down seeds in classic curries, salsas, stir-fries, tagines, and fajitas. Coriander pairs well with chicken, beef, chilli, lemongrass, garlic, mint, fish sauce and soy sauce.

Dried Coriander Seeds
Coriander Seeds

Coriander is an annual plant grown from its seeds. There are references to coriander in the Old Testament of the bible and they were found in the tomb of the legendary Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun. In the past coriander has been used to treat migraines and indigestion to help purify the blood and to relieve nausea, pain in joints and rheumatism. The dried seeds have a sweet and spicy flavour while the leaves of coriander are zesty, with a strong citrus and peppery flavours. Coriander leaves are best added at the end of cooking or as a garnish on dish as high heat can quickly discolour them and kills the fresh flavours.

Chives

chives 3

Chives are a member of the same plant family as onions, leeks, garlic, and spring onions and grow wild all over Europe and North America. The flowers are edible, but it is the stems that are popular in a variety of national cuisines most especially in French cooking. Chives taste and smell mildly of onion and are delicious in potato, cheese, and egg dishes. Chives are a hardy plant that can survive cold winters and will cope with drought and wet weather. They are a perennial that will regrow after cuttings. Chives will grow in early spring, sprouting a slightly mauve coloured flower.

Vibrant Green Chive Oil
A great garnish for soups

Chives can be used to make a wonderfully vibrant, flavoured oil with which you can decorate soup and fish dishes and make delicious herby salad dressings. You may think the amount of chives in the recipe seems to be quite a lot but it makes for a really impressive colour.

Chive Oil

120 g Chives

300 ml Vegetable Oil 

Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper

Bring a large pan of very lightly salted water to the boil. Blanch chives in boiling water for 30 seconds, remove with a spider and plunge into a large bowl of iced water to stop the cooking process. When the chives have chilled, drain and remove any excess moisture by patting gently with kitchen paper. Place the blanched chives, seasoning, and oil into a high-speed food processor and blitz to a fine purée. Careful—over-blending can turn the chives brown, then pass through a fine-mesh strainer or muslin cloth. Reserve in the fridge and shake well before serving.

Vermouth

French Dry Vermouth
A popular French ‘dry’ Vermouth great with fish and shellfish

The vermouth that we now drink and cook with now was first produced in the 18th century in Italy. It was originally used as a treatment for stomach disorders, then became popular aperitif in the cafes of Turin. It then became a key ingredient in cocktails such as the Negroni, the Manhattan and perhaps most famously the Martini. There two main types are sweet and dry vermouth which are made from a base wine flavoured with amongst other ingredients cloves, cinnamon, citrus peel, cardamom, chamomile, coriander, hyssop, juniper, and ginger, fortified with a spirit, such as grape brandy and sweetened with cane sugar. The exact recipe for each vermouth is kept secret by the individual manufacturers.

Vermouth can be substituted for white wine in cooking but because of the aromatic flavours it can overpower more delicate ingredients. It is most often used in recipes for oysters, scallops, and fish, but also compliments fennel, pork, and chicken. Perhaps the most famous dish with vermouth is Sole Veronique, poached fillets of sole in a vermouth cream sauce garnished with skinned, deseeded green grapes.

Cooking with Vermouth

Coquilles St. Jacques

Chilled Salmon, Cucumber, and Dill Soup

Seafood Tarts

Jersey Mussel, Smoked Haddock, and Prawn Chowder