From Scratch: How to Make a Bouquet Garni

January 5, 2012

bouquet garni nicole franzen
Photo by Nicole Franzen, styled by Mariya Yufest

Start winter meal preparation with a "garnished bouquet" and your favorite stews and sauces will return the love tenfold at the dinner table. The notion of tying a few sprigs of fresh herbs into a neat bundle dates back to 17th century France when inventive chefs used these bundles to flavor savory liquids for stews, broths, and sauces. The bundle was originally referred to as a paquet. By the 20th century during the reign of chef Auguste Escoffier the paquet was renamed bouquet garni

A classic bouquet garni (pronounced boo-KAY gahr-NEE) contains bay leaf, thyme, and parsley stems. The exact proportions are debated, but in general, one bay leaf is grouped with one to four sprigs of thyme, and three to eight parsley stems. The bay leaf and thyme may be fresh or dried, but the parsley should always be fresh. The herbs are tied together in a packet so they may simmer freely in the liquid, and then be extracted easily when their work is done. The resulting sauces and stews are typical of classic French cuisine: refined in appearance -- no bits of herbs on the loose -- and complex in flavor. 

How to Make a Bouquet Garni

  • The cheesecloth method: The simplest way to bind the herbs together is to place them in the center of a 6-inch square of cheesecloth. Tie the cloth into a sachet, enclosing the herbs and leaving a loop of string by which you can retrieve the bundle after cooking. If you can't find cheesecloth, a coffee filter will work just fine.
  • The leek method: If you have a leek in the kitchen, you can use this in place of cheesecloth. Remove the outermost layer of the leek and nestle the herbs in the leek, lengthwise (it may need to be blanched first so it’s soft and pliable). Fold the leek leaf over on itself to enclose the herbs, and tie the packet together with kitchen twine. In addition to making a neat wrapper, the leek adds a pleasant onion flavor to whatever you’re cooking. 
  • The tea ball method: Another option is to stuff a tea ball (or tea strainer) with the herbs. This option is best for thin broths; it gets a bit messy with thicker stews and sauces. 

Float it Freely or Tie it Down?

Many cooks leave a long piece of string on the bouquet and tie this to the pot handle, which makes for easy retrieval after cooking. Purists insist the bundle not be tethered so it may float freely and release its flavor. As long as the leash is long enough, we don't see this being a problem.

Variations

The most common variation (and possibly the only one found in classic French cooking) is to include a small stalk of celery in a bouquet garni, but in today’s modern kitchen we can include any number of aromatic herbs and spices. When creating a bouquet garni, reach for aromatics that benefit from a long, slow simmer. For best results, take a lesson from the French masters: a few carefully chosen ingredients will give you much better flavor than a handful of ill-matched ones. 

Here are a few of our favorite combinations:

  • Thyme, rosemary, and orange peel
  • Star anise, lemongrass, and dried chiles
  • Lime zest, basil stems, and whole coriander

Bay Scallop Chowder Autumn Olive Medley
Photos by Sarah Shatz

Some of our favorite recipes featuring bouquets garnis:

Bay Scallop Chowder (pictured above, left)
Autumn Olive Medley (pictured above, right)
Flambéed Chicken with Tomatoes and Garlic
Chestnut and Pear Gravy

Have you ever used a bouquet garni in your cooking? Share your cooking tips and serving suggestions in the comments section below or upload a recipe!

Like this post? Check out last week's From Scratch topic: Sweet Potato Primer.

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