What Are Herbes de Provence?

By Michael Mason

Provence, on France's southern Mediterranean coast, has a signature herb blend that's sold and used around the world. The cuisine of Provence is said to epitomize French cooking, and has been unsuccessfully copied by restaurants all over the world. According to Elizabeth David, author of "French Provincial Cooking," only in Provence can one experience the best of French cooking.

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Origins of Herbes de Provence

Herbes de Provence is a traditional mixture of aromatic herbs that grow in the hills of Provence during the hot Mediterranean summer months. There is no specific, established recipe for herbes de Provence as it varies from one cook to another, one village to the next. But there are plenty of suggestions, most of which involve similar basic ingredients. Although known and used locally for generations, herbes de Provence only became commercially known in the 1970s, when it started appearing in terracotta pots at farm stalls in Provence. Tourism helped to spread its popularity.

Basic Herbes de Provence Mix

The basic mixture of herbs consists of 3 tablespoons each of dried marjoram, rosemary, thyme and savory, 1 tablespoon each of basil and chervil and 1 teaspoon each of sage, fennel seeds, oregano, chopped bay leaves, tarragon and mint. Fennel seeds are not included in all recipes, and 1 teaspoon lavender or orange zest can also be included. Store the mix in an airtight jar.

Using Herbes de Provence

Rub the skin of a chicken or a roasting joint of lamb, beef or veal with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and then press the herb mixture into the meat. You can also use it on the breast of a turkey. Add the mixture to tomatoes, potatoes or fish before roasting. Herbes de Provence can also be used to flavor pizza sauce, salads, cheeses, stews, soups and sauces. The mixture is used in Provence itself in many of its dishes. When barbecuing, sprinkle a little of the mixture onto the coals to allow the smoke to permeate chops or steaks.

Where to Buy Herbes de Provence

Ready-made herbes de Provence can be bought from delicatessens in decorative earthenware containers with an airtight lid. The mix should last between one and three years if kept sealed. If you prefer to make your own, you can easily mix individual herbs at home. Herbes de Provence is open to your interpretation. There is no laid-down rule of specific herbs or ingredients. If you have an aversion to a particular herb, leave it out.