One of the fun things about working in a large kitchen is the ability to go into the walk-in (refrigerator) and grab any fresh herb that you need to work with. How does the song go; “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.” Fresh herbs are tremendous for getting the seasoning of your soups and sauces just right. Whether it is fresh ginger for that Thai peanut sauce or fresh thyme for your vegetable medley.
In a high volume kitchen we go through literally pounds of fresh herbs each week. Cilantro, parsley, basil, thyme, tarragon, rosemary, dill and mint. We use fresh herbs in all our sauces and marinates, as you would expect of any kitchen worth its salt. Vietnamese spring-rolls with fresh cilantro and mint are awesome. Any cut of beef marinated in infused herb oil is fantastic. Fresh pesto with its bright green color is a marvelous addition to salads, Italian pasta dishes, cream cheese or mayonnaise for dips and spreads. Don’t forget Cilantro pesto for the spicy Mexican dishes.
You probably would not want to purchase your fresh herbs by the pound as they have a very short shelf life. However, there are lots of things you can do to extend the shelf life and keep those flavors around for a much longer time. Here are a few suggestions.
- Make an “Infused Oil”. Take an ounce each of Thyme, Basil, Rosemary, Parsley and mince them finely. Add 3 finely chopped cloves of garlic, a few shallots minced finely. Put all of these together in a sealable container and add a 25 ounce bottle of light olive oil or an olive canola blend. Let the container sit in the refrigerator for 3 days. You now have a marinate for beef and chicken. You can also use this for sautés of fresh vegetables. This will keep for 6 months in a sealed container.
- Flavored vinegars. A gallon of basic distilled white vinegar costs less than $5.00. Take the vinegar and pour it into 5 wine bottles (thoroughly rinsed with corks) add 1 ounce of your favorite fresh herb to the bottle by putting the whole stems directly into the bottle. Cork them and store them in a cool dark place for 3 weeks. You now have your very own flavored vinegar inventory. Thyme, Tarragon, Rosemary, Basil and Dill are all excellent candidates for this.
- Freezing your herbs. If you find a deal on a larger quantity of Dill or Tarragon; these can be frozen in smaller quantities for later use. In the case of Tarragon you will need to lightly blanch the stems for about a minute, then store in small zip-lock bags for future use. For Dill just lightly chop it and freeze in quantities you expect to use.
- Drying your Herbs. Last but not least the more delicate herbs can be dried. Any time that you have a large quantity of herbs that are heading over the hill they can be dried by simply spreading them on a cookie sheet and setting your oven to its lowest setting. Put them in the oven at less than 200 degrees for a couple of hours. Then crumble the dried herbs into a storage container that can be tightly sealed and you have a six month supply.
When ever I have some serious mincing to do I like to use two knives at the same time!
Cooking with fresh herbs is a delight. In most cases you cannot overdo the flavors. Thyme and Basil are good examples of this. Other herbs like Oregano and Rosemary can be very strong so you need to be careful with your quantities. Do you use fresh herbs in your cooking? Let me know in the comments, I would love to explore the ideas.
Would you like a year around supply of fresh herbs for your kitchen? You can easily grow your own fresh herbs at home. Find out how with a kit and DVD instructions.