November 28, 2021

Cooking with Sachets

Herb and spice sachets make it easy to add flavor to stocks, soups, stews, and braises.

The weather is colder, and the days are darker. And nothing warms the soul quite like soup. Well, maybe a stew? A braise definitely would warm you up. Probably puppies and kittens too. Family? Okay, you got me. There are lots of ways to warm the soul. 😉

While it’s fun to get fancy in the kitchen, there is something to be said for throwing a few ingredients in a pot, turning it to a simmer, and letting time do its magic. It’s simple. Hands-off. And delicious.

When time is your secret ingredient, a few good herbs and spices go a long way. Add a couple of bay leaves to your soup as it simmers. A few sprigs of rosemary to a stew. Or cardamom pods in a curry.

But let’s be real for a second.

We’ve all had that moment of panic when we can’t seem to find that 3rd bay leaf, and you’ve got a table full of hungry guests. And dinner is already an hour late. 😬

It’s a pain to fish out those sprigs or pods. Almost to the point where you might not even add them.

But do add them. The extra flavor is worth it. Just do this instead.

Make a Sachet

A sachet is a bag of herbs and spices. Typically, you use cheesecloth. Its mesh-like consistency keeps the herbs and spices in while letting the flavor out.

You simply wrap the herbs and spices in cheesecloth, then tie it together with kitchen twine. It’s as simple as that.

Then as your chicken stock cooks or your beef braises, the sachet will perfume flavor throughout the pot.

A bouquet garni is a specific herb sachet of parsley, bay leaves, and thyme. You often see it in classic French cooking. Sometimes they even use the green tops of leeks, instead of cheesecloth, to bind the herbs together.

But Why Make a Sachet?

Is it worth the trouble? My answer: yes.

A sachet is a tool of refinement and convenience.

Whenever I see chefs do something few home cooks do, my spidey senses tingle. (This kind of spider, not this kind.)

If it’s taught in culinary school, why don’t we do it in our kitchen? It’s just a small, extra step in the process. But those small steps are often the difference between the professionals and the wannabes like me.

First up, refinement. When you add whole spices, herbs, chiles, or citrus peels to a pot, bits and pieces break off. Those pieces then seep into the liquid you’re cooking. They muddy how the liquid looks. And can add unwanted texture.

Let’s talk about adding sprigs of leafy herbs to a braise. Over time, those leaves separate from the stem. And after hours of cooking, those dull, limp leaves are not the most appetizing to look at. Nor the best consistency to chew. 😬

A sachet keeps the leaves contained in the blanket you made for them. The same goes for the peels that inevitably split in half. And the chile stems that always break off.

Then there’s convenience.

You save yourself a lot of time and effort making a sachet.

  • It’s easier to use spices and herbs whole instead of grinding or chopping. With a sachet, you simply pile them up. Wrap them. And throw them in the pot. 🙌
  • It’s a pain to meticulously fish out the small thyme sprigs or sticks of cinnamon. Not to mention, they’ll change color and turn soft after all the cooking—meaning they’re that much harder to find. 🔎
  • Don’t sweat having to remember if you added 2 or 3 bay leaves. 😅

How Do You Make a Sachet?

Really, it’s not that complicated.

Put your sage leaves, star anise, clove, or whatever else you want in the middle of the cheesecloth. Then keep folding it until the spices and herbs are all wrapped up. Then tie it so it doesn’t unravel as it cooks.

My only recommendation is to make sure there is at least a double layer of cheesecloth all the way around. That way you know for sure nothing is getting through!

It doesn’t need to be a perfect rectangle, cylinder, or hexadecagon.

It just needs to work.

Here’s a GIF of how I do it: