A bouquet garni is so simple that you might not believe how useful it is whenever cooking with herbs. It’ll save you clean up time in the kitchen. Plus, it’s a great way to store leftover herbs!
For years, I cooked without using kitchen twine. I threw herbs and spices directly into a big pot of broth. I had never truss chicken before.
Once I met Alex, I learned all kinds of simple French culinary techniques by cooking alongside him and my in-laws (they love Julia Child and Jacques Pépin).
Making a bouquet garni is one of those special techniques. It sounds so simple that it might make you think, “Is this a cooking technique? Is it even worth reading, let alone writing, a whole article about it?”
Let’s dive into learning what a bouquet garni is and why I think you’ll be reaching for it the next time you cook with herbs.
What is it?
You’ve likely seen a bouquet garni simmering in a big pot of beef stew. Perhaps you’ve even used one when making chicken stock without knowing what it was called.
Bouquet garni is the neat bundle of fresh herbs and aromatics that give deep flavors to a dish.
Like many of my recipes, it’s more technique than following a rote recipe. There’s no strict list of ingredients because there’s no definitive bouquet garni.
You create the bundle of herbs you need for the particular dish you are making. Every time you make a bouquet garni, the mix of herbs could be different.
Bouquet garni uses
Is it for French cooking only? Don’t be intimidated by the French name. You can use this simple bundle of herbs for any cuisine, even no-frills dishes like bean chili (yes, chili could benefit from herbs and aromatics too).
Here are examples of dishes and drinks where a bouquet garni could save you time:
- Soups: French onion soup, chicken stock, beef stock, vegetable stock, fish stock, court bouillon
- Stews: boeuf bourguignon (beef stew), ratatouille (vegetable stew), pot au feu (another beef stew), coq au vin (braised chicken)
- Beverages: mulled wine, apple cider (though these are more likely to use spice sachet)
Recipes using bouquet garni
While I haven’t used a bouquet garni every time I cooked one of these dishes, these recipes are perfect for deploying a bouquet garni.
The main reason to use a bouquet garni is to add herbs and aromatics in an orderly manner.
Most herbs and aromatics add flavor when slowly simmered. They are usually discarded after cooking (I like to compost my leftover bouquet garni).
Tying the herbs together makes it easy to fish out when it’s time to throw them out. Who wants to bite into a stick of rosemary?
While it’s unnecessary to use a bouquet garni, once you’ve spent 15 minutes chasing after peppercorns and chunks of sage in your soup, you’ll never underestimate the time-saving benefits of a bouquet garni.
NOTE: Even if you think you’re going to strain the stock, there’s still a benefit to using a bouquet garni. It lets you quickly remove the aromatics before they overpower your soup.
Alex often finds strong herbs and aromatics like rosemary or ginger overpowering if left to simmer for too long. Using a bouquet garni, it’s easy to pluck them out while the soup continues simmering.
Bouquet garni is typically a bunch of fresh herbs and aromatics tied together with kitchen twine (also called butcher’s twine, this is string used for cooking).
You could be super French and tie them with a leek leaf. This is a good strategy if you want to make a bouquet garni but you don’t have any string or cheesecloth.
TIP: If you plan to use spices that you can’t tie together, such as cloves, peppercorns, or star anise, make a spice sachet instead. Or if you’ve run out of kitchen twine, you can make a bouquet garni using a coffee filter or empty tea bags.
Bouquet garni vs mirepoix
A bouquet garni is made from fresh herbs tied together, such as rosemary, thyme, sage, dill, etc. Mirepoix is a combination of celery, carrots, and onions, which often serve as a base of aromatics in French cooking.
You may have also seen a bouquet garni with mirepoix, meaning there are carrot and celery sticks and a quartered onion bundled with the herbs. You can do that too, if you plan to discard the mirepoix ingredients after cooking, such as in a broth or stock.
TIP: To help the onion stay with the bouquet garni, you can make a slit into the onion and push the string through. This holds the onion in place more securely than if you simply wrapped twine around the onion. Keep in mind, onion and garlic soften when they are simmered. You may need to be careful when retrieving the bouquet garni as they might fall out. Using extra twine to hold everything together helps.
Homemade bouquet garni
- kitchen twine
- 3 sprigs Thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- Pick your variation of herbs to use in your bouquet garni. Wash your herbs and pat dry.3 sprigs Thyme, 2 bay leaves, 2 sprigs rosemary
- Bunch the herbs together. Place the herbs over a segment of kitchen twine. I like to keep my string about 12 inches / 30 cm long. I prefer to place the herbs closer to one end of the string, leaving the other end to be very long. The excess length allows you to tie the bouquet garni around a pot handle to easily find it (see the same tip in a spice sachet).
- Wrap the twine around the herbs a few times. Tie a double knot at the narrowest point in the bunch of herbs to increase the chances that the herbs will stay tied together.
- Place the bouquet garni in the big pot you are cooking. Optionally, tie the other end to the pot handle.Retrieve and discard when your dish has finished simmering.
Herb combination ideas
There are endless possible combinations to make a bouquet garni. Here are a few ideas to inspire you the next time you have extra herbs on hand.
- Poultry: bay leaf, sage, thyme
- bay leaf, fennel or tarragon
- rosemary, sage
- bay leaf, parsley
- Fish (for example, salmon): dill, lemon peel
- bay leaf, thyme
- bay leaf, parsley, lemon peel or slices
- Meat: bay leaves, thyme
- Tomato sauce: basil, oregano
- Herbes de provence: marjoram, oregano, rosemary, savory, thyme, (optional) orange peel
- Chinese blend: bay leaf, cinnamon, ginger, green onion
NOTE: Bouquet garni isn’t only for bundling different herbs. You can tie together a single herb, such as only dill or only thyme. You still get the benefits of easy retrieval.
Bouquet garni substitutes
When do you avoid using a bouquet garni?
As mentioned earlier, if you have small spices that can’t be tied together, a cheesecloth or muslin pouch would be better. You can use a spice sachet to hold the spices and prevent them from falling out.
Another substitute for bouquet garni would be using dried herbs instead of fresh.
Dried or frozen
Bouquet garni is a good starting point if you want to preserve fresh herbs that you cannot use up before they spoil.
For example, you can tie up fresh basil, thyme, and sage leaves with kitchen twine. Leave them hanging to dry. These herbs will be ready for simmering once dried.
NOTE: Remember, a bouquet garni is simply fresh herbs tied together with a fancy name. You can replace fresh herbs in a recipe with dried herb or skip them entirely while keeping the mirepoix.
You can also freeze the bundle of herbs and use them for a future recipe. While some herbs, such as rosemary, become darker in color after they thaw, they are still perfectly fine to use in a dish.