Need flavor? Add herbs. They are the
simplest way to boost the character of a dish. Use them in baked recipes
too. When choosing fresh herbs, look for herbs with a vibrant color and
aroma. Black spots, off odors and yellow leaves indicate old, tired herbs
that are losing much of their flavor. Farmer's markets carry field-grown
herbs, which have a stronger aroma than the greenhouse herbs usually sold
in grocery stores.
When washing herbs, put them in a large bowl
of cool water and swish them about with your hands to loosen any bits of
grit. Lift the herbs out of the water, leaving the grit in the bottom of
the bowl. If the herbs are very gritty, repeat the process. Then, spin
them dry in a salad spinner or blot dry by rolling up in a kitchen towel.
To store those tender fresh herbs like
parsley, cilantro, basil, dill and tarragon, just remove any rubber bands
or fasteners from the herbs, then trim the stems. Put the unwashed herbs,
stem side down, in a tall container with enough water to cover the stems.
Cover loosely with a plastic bag, then store on the top shelf of the
refrigerator (the warmest part) for up to 5 days. The exception here is
basil which can be stored loosely covered in a container of water at room
temperature to protect its delicate leaves from the cold, which could
cause them to turn brown. As for those hardy fresh herbs like thyme,
rosemary and sage, simply wrap the stem ends in a damp paper towel. Then
put the herbs in a plastic bag and refrigerate unsealed for up to 2 weeks.
To dry fresh herbs - tie hardy herbs such as
thyme and rosemary together in a bouquet. Then hang it upside down in a
dry, well-ventilated area until crumbly, 3 to 6 days. If the herb has
seeds you'd like to catch for future plantings, tie a bag around the stems
so that the seeds fall into the bag as the herb dries. To dry tender
herbs, such as basil and parsley, spread them on a mesh screen and leave
in a dry, well-ventilated area until crumbly. Then store in airtight
To coarsely chop fresh herbs - stuff the
leaves into a glass, insert the pointed end of scissors into the herbs,
and snip, rotating the scissors 90 degrees with each snip. Or just tear
the leaves into pieces with your fingertips.
To shred fresh herbs - stack the leaves no
higher than 1/4 inch. Roll the stack lengthwise into a cigar shape. Cut
crosswise into paper-thin slices, also known as chiffonade.
To mince fresh herbs - use a large, tapered
chef's knife, and quickly chop back and forth across the herbs, using the
point of the knife as a pivot. Or tear the herbs coarsely and chop them in
the work bowl of a mini food processor.
To choose dried herbs - the flavors of hardy
herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and sage are well reserved by drying. But
don't waste your money on dried basil, parsley or cilantro. The delicate
flavors of these tender herbs fade when commercially dried. If possible,
smell dried herbs before buying them. The best-tasting dried herbs will
have a powerful aroma. If they don't, pass them by.
To store dried herbs - keep them tightly
sealed, away from heat and light. Next to the stove in clear containers is
the worst place. For easy access, store opaque bottles of dried herbs in
alphabetical order in a closed cabinet. To keep track of freshness, write
an "expiration date" on the bottles. They usually lose most of their
flavor within a year of opening the bottle.
To substitute dried for fresh - generally,
use about one-third as much dried as fresh. But avoid adding more than a
teaspoon or two of any dried herb to a dish, unless you are cooking in
large quantities. Excessive amounts of dried herbs can easily overpower
the other flavors in the food.
To quickly remove leaves from hardy fresh
herbs - for thyme, rosemary and oregano, pluck off the tender top leaves,
then pinch the top of the stem and run your fingers down the length of the
stem to strip off the rest of the leaves.
To quickly dry fresh herbs - place fresh
herb leaves in a single layer between paper towels. Microwave on medium
power for 2 to 4 minutes, or until almost dry. Set on a rack and let sit
overnight until herbs are crumbly. Place in a tightly sealed container and
store in a cool and dark place. Use as you would store-bought dried herbs.
To get the best flavor from fresh herbs -
add tender herbs such as basil, parsley, cilantro and dill toward the end
of cooking time. Or sprinkle on top of the finished dish. Cooking these
tender herbs rapidly diffuses their flavor. Add strong-flavored hardy
herbs such as thyme, marjoram or rosemary earlier in the cooking process
so that they have time to mellow. Added at the end, these hardy herbs may
be too overpowering.
To get more flavor from dried herbs - just
before using, rub dried herbs between your fingers to release their
flavor-carrying essential oils. Also add dried herbs at the beginning of
cooking time so that they have a chance to heat up and release more