I cannot remember a day when there were no herbs in my home or my kitchen, and if such an instance we ever to happen, it would purely be by accident. Would I be able to cook without them? Yes, because I love my trade. Would I like it? Probably not.
It’s very hard to explain how essential herbs are to the cooking process or how profoundly they enhance food, whether added to a salad, meat, fish, vegetables or even a dessert. They have such an important place in the kitchen simply because they bring so much taste, so much scent, so much colour to a dish.
Like everyone, I have a few favourite herbs that I often use. One of them is thyme; one of the most versatile and commonly used herbs in the kitchen. It is especially good with meats such as pork, lamb and mutton because it aids the digestion of fats, and it’s also used in stuffing, ragout, and the all-essential bouquet garni- my standard bouquet garni is made up of a sprig of thyme, a sprig of parsley and a bay leaf.
Another herb I like to use is lavender. Many people do not associate lavender with cooking and are surprised to find it in food, but it is a versatile culinary herb. It is great in meat and poultry dishes as well as desserts. We use it in our specialities at The Vineyard. For example, lavender infused in honey and chilli gives a wonderful flavour to fish dishes.
My favourite herb to cook with is rosemary. Whilst it’s difficult to explain why I love it so much, I suspect it is partly because it is so evocative of my childhood, reminding me of when I would cut it freshly from our garden at home to go in whatever dish Maman was preparing that day.
When mixed with other ingredients, rosemary changes character. It is a great herb, but it’s strength can be lethal, and adding too much of it can make a dish taste bitter. Using rosemary carefully is therefore crucial – but when you succeed, you have a heavenly scent.
Growing a variety of herbs in your very own herb garden, whether in your kitchen or on a balcony, a roof terrace or window sill, is a great idea, especially if you cook a lot. Not only does this allow you to control the quality of herbs you use in your cooking, but it also means you regularly get to use fresh herbs whose flavour is completely different from and far superior to the flavour of shop bought dried herbs.