It’s common to find pots of live herbs lining the windows of a bright, airy French kitchen. While they definitely enhance the rustic design of a chateau-style room, they have practical use as well. High quality ingredients are the keystones to fine French cuisine. Fresh herbs bought at the market are wonderful, but imagine glancing down at a recipe, and then walking over to your countertop to snip a few sprigs of fragrant, organic seasoning. From plant to pan, what could be more delicious than that?
For centuries, the French have grown spices within the walls of their backyard gardens and interior kitchens. The practice allows for superior quality control – you and only you have touched, watered, and fed those plants. The flavor of fresh herbs is monumentally different in comparison to commercially dried spices and mass-farmed fresh herbs.
Having little pots of your favorite herbs around the kitchen is a key to the classic French tradition of making secret spice blends. It’s a little like coming up with your own “house seasoning,” but with centuries of guarded secrecy behind it. Try as you might, you will never get the lovely herb recipe out of the charming proprietress of your auberge stay in Gascony. The French do not, under any circumstance, part with their kitchen secrets. For this, you will have to experiment and come up with your own blend. Then again, experimenting in the kitchen is the fun of it.
Traditionally, small terracotta planters hung from high open shelves and placed along windowsills and brightly lit countertops are the way the French bring the outdoors into their kitchens.
Popular Herbs in French Cooking
Here is a selection of easy to grow kitchen herbs that are commonly used in classic French cooking.
Basil is a popular herb to mix with tomatoes and other fresh vegetables in French cuisine. The aroma of torn fresh basil is divine, and its long, glossy leaves make an attractive addition to countertops. It thrives in warm, bright sunlight and well-drained soil. Be careful to avoid watering it too often, because it is a delicate plant. Despite its quirks, basil is particularly well suited to indoor growing.
French TarragonFrench tarragon, an anise-scented herb, is especially popular in French seafood dishes and it pairs nicely with mustard, too. A cousin of the sunflower plant, tarragon grows best in warm, bright sunlight and a slightly rocky soil. Make sure the pot you use has adequate drainage, because this herb thrives in a dry environment.
ThymeThyme belongs to the mint family and enjoys full sun and moderate water. This refreshing herb is strongly scented and attracts bees, so be sure to have a screen in the window. Adding flavor to stews, meat, soups, and dressings, thyme is an extremely popular ingredient in French recipes.
RosemaryRosemary has a bright, refreshing flavor that complements poultry and vegetable recipes. The plant thrives in full sunlight for several hours a day and must be kept fairly dry. As an evergreen, it makes an attractive tabletop decoration, as well. People who find dried rosemary too hard and spiny will appreciate the fresh leaf’s gentle texture.
Sage loves the sun and requires a light hand when watering. Like many Mediterranean herbs, it’s resilient enough to handle a bit of drought but it very susceptible to constant dampness. Sage is one of the few herbs that intensifies in flavor as it dries. For that reason, you can snip the velvety leaves and arrange them in a single layer to dry for a few days. Fresh sage leaves have a subtle flavor and taste fantastic when added to salad dressing, soups, or sauces during the final moments of cooking.
Mint, a partial-shade-loving herb, does best when watered often enough to keep the soil slightly moist. Fresh mint leaves have a cool, refreshing flavor to them. They taste delicious chopped up and added to desserts and sauces. Although the leaves don’t store for more than a day after being removed from the plant, the fast growing, abundant crop always has an ample supply available.
MarjoramMarjoram, a botanical cousin of mint, is a bit sensitive to the cold and loves sunny windows. It has a strong evergreen scent with a sweet citrus flavor to it. The leaves taste best when added to a dish during the final moments of cooking. It complements lamb and tomato dishes.
Delicious Herb Recipes
- Provencal Rosemary Almonds Recipe
- White Bean Puree Recipe
- Minted Zucchini Salad Recipe
- Tarragon Mustard Vinaigrette Recipe
- Provencal Tomato Rice Soup Recipe
- Creamy Feta Potatoes Recipe
- Roasted Sage Potatoes Recipe
- Petits Pâtés a la Sage Recipe
- Ratatouille Recipe
- Snapper en Papillote Recipe
- Roasted Lemon Rosemary Chicken Recipe
- Herbes de Provence Vinaigrette Recipe