Herban Gardening Part II: Bouquet Garni

The French term for a bundle of herbs used in cooking, a bouquet garni is the perfect complement to any meal, and should have its place in your kitchen. Nothing beats the flavor of fresh herbs in a dish and what better place to gather these herbs than your very own garden. Take it from this Farmer, a bouquet garni prepared from the garden and waiting to flavor your meals is definitely the vehicle to a garden living lifestyle.

Gathering a few herbs from the garden and arranging them in a jelly jar or simple container makes the kitchen prettier and smell good as well. Since my stems of rosemary, thyme, and basil are literally at hand, all I have to do is snip or pluck or pick the leaves I need and my dishes become infused with the essence of the garden.

Since I know my palette and the flavors I like to use, I keep bundles of said flavors close by for convenience and aesthetics as well. When making a stew or boiling water for pasta, having access to these bundles of herbs makes my kitchen prep time a breeze. I love the savory smell, taste, and flavor of rosemary, thyme, and oregano in my pasta and beef dishes as well; so when I know I’m going to cook one of these meals, I like to have the bouquet garni on call and ready for action. A bundle of sage and bay will wake up a chicken dish or soup in an instant, layering the dish with richness and freshness. What better place to collect these herbs than from your own garden and kitchen counter! Besides, the stems will root after a few days in water, so transplant your new herb plants back to the garden or share with friends…a bouquet garni makes a lovely hostess gift or housewarming token.

Often, a bouquet garni is tied with some kitchen twine and immersed into the stock or stew and fished out once the dish is ready for serving. The bouquet may also be bound, simply bagged into cheesecloth or a tea strainer and removed before consumption. Vegetable shavings or julienned pieces of veggies are often placed within a bouquet garni, such as leeks and carrots, to flavor a chicken stock. One of my favorite bouquets consist of thyme, parsley, and lemon peel – this combo fares well with poultry, pasta, and pizza and is a staple in this Farmer’s garden and kitchen.

In mentioning one of my favorite bouquets, note that there is no true recipe for a bouquet garni…the cook’s palette is the way to determine the bouquet’s constitution. Parsley, thyme, and bay leaves are traditionally used in bouquet garni and rightly so, for these flavors blend very well and create a wonderful base layer of flavor to expand upon. Next time you are making a pasta dish or chicken stock, throw in some of these herbs and liven up your dish and awaken your palette. You can even toss some thyme leaves into pizza dough or on toasted bread to coordinate the flavors throughout the meal.

Of course, this Farmer has to have his Southern twist on gardening and cooking and a bouquet garni is of no exception. I like to keep a bouquet of mint close by to flavor and garnish tea… sprigs of ‘Kentucky Colonel’ or ‘Spearmint’ just waiting in a julep cup like pretty maids in a row! This is my kind of bouquet garni… Southern style for Southern style!

Sometimes I’ll throw a bundle of mint into the boiling water or infuse the simple syrup with the leaves. Garnishing a glass of tea with mint is perfectly elegant, but this dose of the garden is not only aesthetically pleasing, but aromatic as well. And since so much of our taste is derived from the olfactory sense, the smell of the mint as you are sipping your tea is just a part of the whole experience. We eat, and drink, with our eyes first so why not drink from a pretty glass of tea?

Take it from this Farmer, a bouquet garni is a welcomed addition to the kitchen counter as well as your dishes’ flavor. Discover you flavor palette, plant your herbs accordingly, and keep a bouquet garni on hand for a dose of garden living. From this Farmer’s garden and kitchen…enjoy!

Herban Gardening Part I