Fines herbes, or fine herbs, are a staple of French cuisine. This classic mixture of French herbs is traditionally used fresh in a wide range of dishes, although it is also available dried. The exact composition of a blend varies, depending on the type of dish being cooked, although it usually includes parsley and chives. Ideally, the mixture should be made fresh with herbs grown in the garden or purchased at market, but for cooks who cannot do this, dried blends are often available in the store.
A common blend includes tarragon and chervil in addition to parsley and chives. Other herbs, such as coriander, lovage, thyme, marjoram, basil, cress, and dill, may be used as well. The herbs are minced very fine, so that they will be almost invisible in the final dish. They are also typically added at the very end of the cooking process, as they will lose potency as they are heated.
A wide range of French dishes call for fines herbes. Since different cooks have different definitions of this term, when using a cookbook, it is an excellent idea for the cook to read the section on seasonings carefully. Many books will give a general recipe to work with, including individual additions in the relevant recipes. Because these herbs can be used in everything from omelets to roast meats, they vary widely.
Since the herbs are used fresh, they impart a fresh, garden flavor to the finished dish. They also tend to have a small hint of bitterness, which often complements the layers of flavor in the food. As the herbs are diced so finely, they are almost smelled rather than tasted, suffusing a dish with flavor rather than appearing in chunks. The fine cut also ensures even distribution, so that diners do not encounter a sudden change in seasoning.
Dried fines herbes generally keep for six months to one year before they lose their flavor. They should be stored in a dark, cool, dry place, as herbs in general tend to be very fragile when dried and stored. To determine whether or not dried herbs are still usable, a cook can shake the bottle gently before opening it. A cloud of flavor should waft out, indicating that the herbs have retained their potency. If they have a very light or nonexistent smell, they should be discarded in favor of fresh ones.