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How to Properly Store and Cook with Fresh Herbs

How to Properly Store and Cook with Fresh Herbs

Our Chef Scott's fresh herb box has been so popular that we have been inundated with questions on how to store them and how to cook with them, so I thought I would put together a blog post to answer your questions. For those of you who order my curated weekly food box for home delivery from the historic St. Lawrence Market you can always count on a few recipes using fresh herbs.

Here are my top 15 herbs to cook with,

Basil: Believe it or not basil belongs to the mint family. It has a distinct sweet and savoury flavour with hints of anise, mint and pepper. It is the most widely used herb in North America. Other common varieties of basil include Thai basil, sweet basil, and lemon basil. It is commonly used in Italian style dishes and Asian cooking.is used in both fresh and dried form to flavor dishes ranging from Italian sauces to meat dishes to Asian curries. This popular herb is also one of the main ingredients of Pesto, a sauce made with fresh basil, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, garlic, kosher salt, black pepper, and olive oil. In like to throw some leaves in a salad or toss with spaghetti, olive oil and crushed garlic.

Mint: There are 2 common kinds of mint. Peppermint and Spearmint. Both have a subtly sweet flavor and release a distinct cooling sensation due to the menthol in the herb. Peppermint is much more of a pronounced flavour much like well pepper. Think of it this way peppermint is more common in desserts such as a peppermint bark and spearmint are what we like to put on lamb or in a Tzatziki. Dried peppermint is often used in teas. So, in a nutshell cook with spearmint and bake with peppermint. I cannot lie though; mint is equally as good in a drink such as the mint julep or a mojito.

Parsley: There are 2 common types of parsley – flat leaf and curly. As a rule flat leaf parsley tends to have a more robust flavour while curly parsley tends to be used more for decoration. That being said to me curly parsley makes a way better taboule salad than flat parsley. It is an excellent way to bring out the flavours in soups, salads and fish. One of my favourite ways to enjoy fresh parsley is in a gremolata – a classic Italian condiment of garlic, lemon zest and chopped parsley. Another great way to enjoy the full flavour of parsley is to make a chimichurri sauce for meats and fish.

Cilantro: This is a love it or hate it spice. I love it my fiancé hates it. She thinks it tastes like soap, a lot of people do, actually. That is because over 10 % of the people in the world have a gene in their body, known as the soap gene that makes certain foods taste like soap. I kid you not. Also known as coriander, cilantro is a tart, citrusy herb and a member of the parsley family. This flavorful herb is used frequently in Mexican, Middle Eastern and Asian cooking. The seeds of the coriander plant are used to make a common ground spice.

Oregano: Synonymous with Greek cuisine, oregano is a fragrant herb in the mint family with a sweet, slightly peppery flavor. This earthy herb is commonly used in its dried form throughout cooking in dishes like tomato sauce, and is a staple in Turkish, Italian, Greek, and Mexican cuisine. I prefer to use it fresh whenever I can in marinades for meat and chicken.

Thyme: Fresh thyme is a sturdy herb that stands up well to heat. It is frequently added to hearty meat dishes like pork, chicken and fatty meats, as it can hold its own against rich flavors. I particularly like it with potatoes, and it is a key ingredient in my award-winning clam chowder.

Tarragon: This hearty herb is known for its strong flavour with bittersweet notes of anise, licorice, and chervil. It is used to flavor hearty meat dishes, as well as lighter egg and fish recipes. It is said to have been used by ancient Roman soldiers to boost vitality, hence tarragon has an illustrious history as a healthy herb. I enjoy chopping into a simple vinaigrette with some Dijon mustard and shallots and using it to make a chicken salad pita as a healthy lunch.

Bay Leaf: Fresh bay leaf is pungent and aromatic with a slightly bitter taste. It is mostly used in French, Greek, Italian, Asian and Indian cooking. Bay leaves are typically used whole, steeped in stews, soups, and sauces throughout the cooking process to infuse a woodsy flavor. It is tradionally found as a key ingredient of the “Bouquet Garni” a classic French spice sac.

Rosemary: This fresh herb will remind you of a small pine tree branch. It is very aromatic and is used in a variety of dishes ranging from roasted fall vegetables to whipped goat cheese. It pairs really well with lamb. You can use rosemary sprigs to infuse hot oil or butter for cooking meat or vegetables. Vegetables. It can also be used for baking in biscuits or scones. One of my favourite ways to eat halibut is to poach it in rosemary infused olive oil.

Sage: This herb is known for its earthy, sweet-and-savory flavor with a peppery bite. Think comfort foods, roasted fall vegetables, savoury roast chicken, holiday stuffing, and butternut squash soup. Fried sage leaves also make for a great garnish and pair well with brown butter. Fresh sage leaves are commonly used to make Chinese herbal tea. I like to make a sage, wild rice and sausage stuffing for thanksgiving.

Chevril: This is the quintessential herb of French cuisine. delicate and subtle anise flavour and is one of the main ingredients in the classic herb blend “fines herbes”. It is excellent in mashed potatoes, on grilled salmon or in herbed butter. Chervil is a common ingredient in a classic Bearnaise sauce

Dill: Dill is commonly used in pickling, dressings, egg dishes, and creamy salads such as potato salad. Fresh dill pairs particularly well with salmon and rich, creamy ingredients like cream cheese. Dill and fennel look very similar, but fennel has a strong black licorice flavour. A bit of fresh dill makes a great addition to an egg salad sandwich

Marjoram: The best way to describe it is as a cross between thyme and oregano, but slightly lemonier in flavour. It works best as a seasoning for meat and poultry dishes mainly but is also nice in tomato-based dishes, soups, sauces and salad dressings.

Lavender: If you think that this fragrant and floral cousin to the mint leaf is just for potpourri and perfume, you are totally wrong. It is wonderful in dishes like grilled pork chops, lavender jam, lavender roasted red potatoes, and even lavender ice cream and shortbread cookies. It pairs very well with lemon and makes a delightfully refreshing lemonade on a warm summers day. A word to the wise – alittle lavender goes a long way- so use it sparingly or it will overtake your dish. Lavender  much like cilantro, can taste like soap to some people. I make a bone marrow and lavender mashed potato that is out of this world.

Chives: Chives are closely related to onions, scallions, garlic and leeks. So the flavour profile is similar. It has a thin grassy leaf and is often used as garnish or to tie vegetable bundles for plate presentation. They are a great addition to cream cheese and work well in egg or seafood dishes, cream-based sauces, flavored butter, cold salads—like egg, chicken, and tuna—and flavorful vinaigrettes.

Chef Tips & Tricks for cooking with fresh herbs:

  • Then flavours will vary as herbs are subject to their soil, environment, growing conditions etc. Always taste your herbs before you add them to your cooking. Sometimes you will need a little more, sometimes a little less
  • Herbs will start losing their flavor immediately after they are picked. With proper storage fresh herbs can last up to 3 weeks
  • Tender herb leaves, like basil, chives, coriander, dill, fennel, and parsley should be added at the end of cooking, to hold their flavor.
  • Thicker and woodier herbs, like bay leaf, oregano, sage, thyme, and rosemary can be adding during the cooking process to allow them time to meld with the other flavors.
  • Thicker herb leaves, like rosemary and sage, can be very pungent and should be finely chopped and used sparingly or added whole and removed before serving.
  • To substitute dried herbs for fresh, the general rule is: use twice the amount of fresh as dried. 1 tbsp. Fresh Chopped =1 tsp. Crumbled Dry or 1/4 tsp. Ground Dry.

Here are some classic pairings for using your herbs:

HERB

GREAT WITH

SUBSTITUTE

Basil

Most vegetables. Anything to do with tomatoes.

Marjoram, Mint, Anise

Bay Leaf

Used mainly in soups and stews, where the flavor can develop.

Thyme

Chives

Salads and Cold Plates

Scallions / Green Onions

Cilantro

Salsa, Asian and Caribbean Dishes

Flat-leaf Parsley. Spicy Basils.

Dill

Fish, Chicken, Eggs, Salad, Beans, Carrots, Cucumbers, Cabbage, Potatoes, Pickles & Sour Cream or Yogurt Dips.

Caraway

Lemon Grass

Thai Dishes, Chicken, Beef, Curry, often combined with coconut milk.

Lemon Zest

 

 

 

Mint

Lamb, Eggplant, Desserts, Teas, Salads, Vegetables, Fruits.

Spicy Basils

Oregano

Beef, Chicken, Pasta, Tomatoes, “Blacken” Rub

Marjoram, Mint, Basil

Parsley

Salads, Tabbouleh

Cilantro

Rosemary

Chicken, Fish, Lamb, Pork, Potatoes, Stews

Oregano, Spicy Basils

Sage

Poultry, Beans, Stuffing, Pasta

Thyme, Summer Savory

Tarragon

Chicken, Eggs, Fish

Anise, Fennel

Thyme

Poultry, Eggs, Stews, Vegetables

Lemon Basil

 

 

 

 

How to safely store your fresh herbs for optimal freshness:

The first thing to think about when storing fresh herbs is whether or not they are hard herbs with woody stems, like rosemary or thyme or tender herbs, with softer stems such as basil, cilantro, and parsley.

Both types of herbs call for a different way of storing them. They are both super simple tricks that should add days to the shelf life of your herbs.  

Hard Herbs: (oregano thyme rosemary and marjoram etc.)

Lay the hard herbs lengthwise on the damp paper towel in a single layer. Loosely roll up the paper towel with the herbs inside. Place the roll inside a resealable plastic bag. Put the plastic bag in the crisper drawer of your fridge. The paper towel will help keep the herbs nice and moist, while the plastic bag keeps everything contained and the oxygen out.

Soft Herbs: (parsley cilantro basil mint dill)

Remove any brown or wilted leaves. Fill a glass or mason jar with an inch of water. Place the herbs in the glass or mason jar like a bouquet of flowers. If you are storing basil, leave it uncovered and at room temperature. If, however, you are storing any of the other tender herbs, loosely cover with a plastic bag and place in the fridge.

Freezing Fresh Herbs:

If you think you will not be able to use all your fresh herbs before they go bad try freezing them in ice cube trays. It is quite simple really and whenever you need to add them to a recipe just pop them out of the freezer. Start by shopping the herbs as you would for a normal recipe. Place about 1TBSP in the bottom of each compartment of the tray. Fill half full of water. Make sure all the herbs are submerged. Freeze for 1 hour then top of ice cube tray with water and return to freezer till frozen solid. Some herbs will lose their appearance but will retain their flavour. Great for soups, stocks and sauces.

Need fresh Herbs? Visit our online store www.chefscottshop.ca 

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