Fines herbes (feen ZERB) translates from the French to, as you may have guessed, fine herbs. Its origins are found in classic French cuisine and often attributed to “the king of chefs and the chef of kings” Escoffier. Fine herbes is a blend of equal parts chervil, tarragon, chives and parsley. Thyme is the next most typical inclusion and occasionally marjoram, savory and watercress. Three of the four, chervil, tarragon and chives, are spring herbs that are flourishing in the garden now, parsley won’t be planted until June. By then the warm days of summer will send the chervil to seed, the chives will be past their blossom but will still be fine to use and the tarragon will start to flower. There are dried versions of fines herbes sold by every major herb supplier, but dried chervil and parsley lose much of their flavor in comparison to when they are fresh.
Chervil is a shade loving annual with feathery leaves and lacy white flowers, like a pale dainty parsley. It doesn’t last long once it is cut. I have never seen it a market, farmers or otherwise so growing it is your best option. The good news is even though it is an annual, it easily self seeds. Our crop of chervil migrated on its own from the garden to a shady spot in the back of the house and shows up every spring.
Chives love the sun and are one of the first herbs to pop up in the garden. The beautiful lavender blossoms are a welcome addition of color to the early spring garden. Chinese chives, also called garlic chives, bloom in the fall with white flowers. Garlic chives self seed very easily and if you don’t want them to take over your garden, don’t let them go to seed. For fines herbes I would recommend regular chives, their delicate onion flavor harmonizes well with the other herbs.
Parsley has a warm gentle flavor, green and piny, with just a touch of camphor. Parsley mellows the assertiveness of its partners in flavor while adding its own intensity. Our parsley plants are still in flats, waiting another month or so for the warmer days of summer. We grow both curly and flat leaved or Italian parsley. I prefer flat leaved parsley for this mix.
Tarragon has a robust anisey camphor flavor, the counterpoint to the milder parsley licorice flavor of chervil. Tarragon is an herb that usually stands alone with the exception of this blend. The chervil, parsley and chives are not assertive enough to challenge the tarragon.
Fines herbes are always used as a finishing element to a dish, sprinkled in an omelet or scrambled eggs, in a simple vinaigrette, over some freshly steamed mussels, topping a bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon. Make fine herbes in small quantities since it is best fresh.
Makes about a quarter cup
- 1 T finely chopped tarragon
- 1 T finely chopped chervil
- 1 T finely chopped chives
- 1 T finely chopped flat leaved parsley
- With a sharp chef’s knife, chop each of the herbs separately.
- Measure out a tablespoon of each and combine in a small bowl.
- Add fines herbes at the end of the cooking process to preserve the flavor of the herbs.