Herbes salées are fresh herbs preserved in salt to be used as a cooking condiment. It is made in the Charlevoix region of Québec, and in Acadian parts of Atlantic Canada.
The salted herb mixture is used to season stews, soups and sauces.
Commercial versions can be purchased; it can also be made at home.
Ingredients for herbes salées
There is no universal recipe, and what Herbes salées is will traditionally vary depending on what fresh herbs are available at the time that it’s made. It must be made from fresh herbs, not dried.
Herbs (and / or potherbs) used can include parsley, oregano, chives, grated carrot, celery leaves, leeks, spinach, Swiss chard, onion, shallots, etc.
You can make different mixtures for different purposes: chives, parsley and savoury for potatoes; green onion and chives for fish; etc.
The general idea is to mince and mix all your herbs. You then take a clean jar (some people just use plastic sealable containers), and fill it by making alternating layers of minced herb and coarse salt. As you fill the jar, you press down from time to time to ensure that the layer of herb you are covering with salt gets completely covered with salt. Instead of layers, some people mix the salt and the herbs up before putting them in a jar. The top is then put on the jar, and it is stored in the refrigerator.
The coarse salt doesn’t dissolve completely. When you go to use the herbs, if you want to rinse the salt off them, you can by rinsing them in a sieve under running water. Most times, though, most people just use them as they are, cutting back on salt in other areas of what they are making.
Sample recipe, from: A Taste of Quebec by Julian Armstrong
Yield: 5 to 6 cups
1 cup (1 ⅓ oz / 35g) fresh chives, chopped
1 cup (1 ⅓ oz / 35g) fresh savoury, chopped
1 cup (1 ⅓ oz / 35g) parsley, chopped
1 cup (1 ⅓ oz / 35g) chervil, chopped
1 cup grated carrot ( 4 oz / 125 g / 1 large)
1 cup (1 ⅓ oz / 35g) fresh celery leaves, chopped
1 cup (8 oz / 250g) green onions, chopped
4 to 8 tablespoons of coarse salt
Ensure worksurface is clean. Wash all herbs and produce well; wash carrot, peel, then grate.
Combine everything except the salt in a large bowl. In a large bowl, make a 1 inch (2 ½ cm) layer of the herb mixture, and sprinkle the layer all over with some of the salt. Repeat layers until all the herb mixture is used. Cover the bowl, and put in the refrigerator to sit for 2 weeks. Drain, then transfer the mixture to sterilized jars. Don’t fuss overly about preserving the layers of salt — some people even mix it all up deliberately at this point. Instead of a large bowl, you can use a large plastic container with lid. Store in refrigerator; some people say theirs is good for up to a year.
In place of celery leaves, lovage leaves could be used.
See also: Sterilizing jars (National Center for Home Food Preservation)
Store in fridge for up to a year.
Food safety professors Dr Don Schaffner and Dr Ben Chapman in a May 2021 podcast discussed herbes salées from a health risk perspective.
Considerations would be the bacterial load going in at the start, and, the resulting pH of the product. A factor of concern to control for might be listeria.
Still, they seem to feel that the salt content is high enough (4% to 8%) that the product can be approached as one would kimchi or sauerkraut, which is to say, fermented vegetable products. Note that refrigerated storage is a critical control factor in the safety.
They felt that it would probably be safe except for those who are in at-risk categories such as being pregnant, immuno-compromised, or elderly.
A possible issue could be family variations of the recipe which might increase the ratio of vegetable content to salt content, for instance.
The short podcast in which this is covered is here: https://www.riskyornot.co/episodes/152-traditional-qubcois-acadian-salted-herbs (link valid as of May 2021).