Cooking with Herbs
Cooking with Herbs
Herbs add a wonderful dimension to cooking and are just the tasty component needed to elevate many dishes to another level. Can you imagine Thanksgiving stuffing without sage, Italian dishes without basil and oregano, or pickles without dill? Summer is a great time to take advantage of fresh herbs but dried herbs are great too.
Here are just a few common cooking herbs and what to do with them, along with some general tips for herbs.
Oregano is a member of the mint family, and is spicy and peppery. Most oregano is Mediterranean vs. Mexican, which is actually a member of lemon verbena. Oregano is commonly used in Mediterranean, Italian, South American, and Cajun cooking. Oregano adds warmth to dishes and is excellent in pasta sauces, pizza, grilled meats and seafood, Greek dishes, and Mexican cuisine. A pinch of oregano elevates the flavors of garlic, lemon, and tomatoes.
Most everyone is familiar with using basil to make pesto, but this versatile herb lends itself well to a variety of dishes. Basil is a member of the mint family and there are many varieties. Basil adds a slightly sweet Mediterranean-inspired flavor. It’s a classic flavoring of Italian dishes and is superb with tomatoes, but basil also pairs well with lemon as a savory flavoring agent. Use it to make a summer vinaigrette, fresh tomato salads, pasta and chicken salads. Chop and sprinkle over grilled fish or chicken.
Thyme is typically included in the traditional bouquet garni, a bundle of herbs used in making stocks and sauces. Strip leaves from the sprigs of fresh thyme to be used in dishes. Use thyme to season poultry and pork, and to flavor tomato-based sauces. When making soup or stew, you can toss in a whole sprig of thyme and then remove the stem before serving. Mix thyme with other spices and salt to make a dry rub for meats. Add fresh thyme to dishes toward the end of cooking time as the flavor diminishes when cooked.
Sage is the signature flavor in traditional Thanksgiving stuffing and breakfast sausage, but sage works especially well with fatty meats such as pork, chicken, and lamb. Sage is also very good in stuffings, beans, potatoes, risotto, gnocchi, cheeses, and tomato-based sauces. It’s a strong herb that can overwhelm a dish if too much is used. Try it with grilled fish or seafood or make a compound butter by mixing finely chopped sage with softened butter and serve it with fresh corn on the cob. To add a wonderful aroma to grilled dishes, toss the stems or leaves on the hot coals while cooking.
Like sage, rosemary is a hearty, strong herb that you would use to scent winter soups and stews. It’s a perennial you can easily grow in your garden. Fresh rosemary lasts a long time if stored in the refrigerator, and is so much more fragrant and less “needly” than dried. You can toss a whole sprig into a soup or stew as it’s cooking, and then simply remove the stem before serving. Rosemary is lovely with lamb and all meats, potatoes, roasted root vegetables, in bread or pizza dough, and bean dishes.
Fresh tarragon has intense flavor, thus a little goes a long way. Tarragon is a prime ingredient in Bearnaise sauce. It is often used in French cooking and is good for flavoring chicken and other poultry, fish, salad dressings and vinegar. You can also season bean salads, egg dishes, and shellfish with tarragon, or make a compound butter by mixing chopped tarragon with soft butter and serving it with potatoes, steak, corn, or asparagus.
Fresh Herb Tips
Make Flavored Vinegar
1. Start with a clean glass jar and tight fitting lid. 2. Place washed and patted dry herbs of your choice in jar, a good handful or several sprigs. 3. Pour white wine, champagne or cider vinegar over herbs. 4. Store in a cool place for 2 weeks. 5. Strain herbs and pour into clean, decorative bottle. Store in a cool, dark cupboard and use within 6 months.
When to Add Fresh Herbs in the Cooking Process
Add delicate fresh herbs such as basil and dill toward the end of cooking to preserve their flavor.
A Different Cut
One way to cut leafy herbs is to chiffonade them. A chiffonade is a bunch of thin strips or shreds. To create a chiffonade of herbs, tightly roll up larger leaves, such as basil, and cut across the roll, spacing the cuts close together.
How to Store
Cut a 1/2 inch from the stems. Stand stem ends in a jar with a little water. Loosely cover leaves with a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator. You can also wrap uncut stems in a damp paper towel, place inside a plastic bag, and refrigerate for up to a week. Some herbs last longer than other. Fresh rosemary is hardy and lasts longer than fresh dill or basil, which are very delicate.
You can freeze hardy herbs such as rosemary, sage, thyme, and oregano in oil for use in the winter. Just chop the herbs and pack into ice cube trays 2/3 full. Pour extra-virgin olive oil, melted lard, or melted, unsalted butter over the herbs and freeze. Store the cubes in a freezer bag or container.
Using Dried Herbs
If a recipe calls for a fresh herb and all you have is dried, start with half as much dry as the recipe calls for.