A bouquet garni (bōh-kāy găr-nēē) is a bundle of herbs tied together. The classic French bouquet garni combines the trio of bay leaf, thyme and parsley. The bay and thyme can be fresh or dried; the parsley is used fresh and sometimes it is just the stems. The famed French chef Auguste Escoffier defined a bouquet garni in the specific proportions of 8 parts parsley, 1 part bay and 1 part thyme.
The herbs can simply be tied with kitchen string or unwaxed dental floss, tied up in cheesecloth or placed in a muslin bag so that they can easily be removed from the pot before serving.
The cheesecloth bundles are necessary when using dried herbs. I prefer muslin or real cheesecloth (used by cheese makers) because standard cheesecloth is loose-meshed and requires many layers so the herbs don’t sift through, which can interfere with the delivery of flavor. I use a generous teaspoon or two of dried herbs and one bay leaf per bundle.
A traditional bouquet garni includes bay, parsley, thyme, possibly savory, and an allium, such as garlic chives. Fresh bay leaves are ethereal compared to dried ones—dried leaves lose their fresh bouquet. Either flat-leaf (Italian) or curly parsley can be used, or a few sprigs of both. French, English or Provençal thyme are all good culinary herbs. Summer or winter savory are both good; winter is stronger in flavor. Use this bouquet garni in soups, stocks, stews and in marinades—wherever you want flavor, not flecks.
Although the classic contains just three herbs, you can make your own bouquet garni from any combination of herbs you like. Usually, a blend of two or three herbs provides enough flavor interest and balance for most dishes. Complex dishes like long-simmered soups or stews with bouquets garnis may use up to four or five herbs. Besides the traditional herbs and depending upon the recipe, I like to use savory, sweet marjoram, sage or rosemary in my bouquets garnis.
Susan Belsinger, a longtime contributor to The Herb Companion, co-wrote The Creative Herbal Home (Creative Printing, 2007).
Click here to read the main article, Create Your Own Herbal Blends.