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Herbs - Herb Essentials

DK PublishingDK Publishing 2/07/2014 DKBooks
Photo: A fresh herb butter is a deliciously simple accompaniment to pasta. Freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley, basil, oregano, thyme, or other Mediterranean herbs perfectly complement fresh pasta. © Provided by DKBooks A fresh herb butter is a deliciously simple accompaniment to pasta. Freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley, basil, oregano, thyme, or other Mediterranean herbs perfectly complement fresh pasta.

Photo: Soft, fresh mixed herbs lift the flavor of vegetable dishes, salads, and meat or poultry stews. Chop or tear over your finished dish. © Provided by DKBooks Soft, fresh mixed herbs lift the flavor of vegetable dishes, salads, and meat or poultry stews. Chop or tear over your finished dish.

Soft, fresh mixed herbs lift the flavor of vegetable dishes, salads, and meat or poultry stews. Chop or tear over your finished dish.

Photo: Make herb ice cubes by washing and drying the herbs well, then chop and freeze them in small pots or ice-cube trays with a little water or oil. Place in plastic bags to store. © Provided by DKBooks Make herb ice cubes by washing and drying the herbs well, then chop and freeze them in small pots or ice-cube trays with a little water or oil. Place in plastic bags to store.

Herbs can also be quickly and easily dried in the microwave. Scatter cleaned leaves and sprigs evenly on a double layer of paper towels and microwave at 100 percent for 21/2 minutes. Store in an airtight container.

Photo: Dry freshly cut herbs by spacing them out on muslin and leaving them in a cool, dry room until the leaves feel brittle. Crumble large leaves or strip smaller leaves whole from their stems. Store in airtight containers. © Provided by DKBooks Dry freshly cut herbs by spacing them out on muslin and leaving them in a cool, dry room until the leaves feel brittle. Crumble large leaves or strip smaller leaves whole from their stems. Store in airtight containers.

Purée and pot herbs in individual pots by blending them in a food processor with a little olive oil. Pack the puréed herbs into bags or plastic containers and freeze.

Photo: The refrigerator is the best place to store freshly cut herbs, either with their stems in water or on a damp paper towel. © Provided by DKBooks The refrigerator is the best place to store freshly cut herbs, either with their stems in water or on a damp paper towel.

Some cooks like to use the curved mezzaluna when chopping large amounts of herbs. This implement is rocked backward and forward to great effect.

Photo: Purée and pot herbs in individual pots by blending them in a food processor with a little olive oil. Pack the puréed herbs into bags or plastic containers and freeze. © Provided by DKBooks Purée and pot herbs in individual pots by blending them in a food processor with a little olive oil. Pack the puréed herbs into bags or plastic containers and freeze.

A fresh herb butter is a deliciously simple accompaniment to pasta. Freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley, basil, oregano, thyme, or other Mediterranean herbs perfectly complement fresh pasta.

Photo: Herbs can also be quickly and easily dried in the microwave. Scatter cleaned leaves and sprigs evenly on a double layer of paper towels and microwave at 100 percent for 21/2 minutes. Store in an airtight container. © Provided by DKBooks Herbs can also be quickly and easily dried in the microwave. Scatter cleaned leaves and sprigs evenly on a double layer of paper towels and microwave at 100 percent for 21/2 minutes. Store in an airtight container.

Make herb ice cubes by washing and drying the herbs well, then chop and freeze them in small pots or ice-cube trays with a little water or oil. Place in plastic bags to store.

Photo: Some cooks like to use the curved mezzaluna when chopping large amounts of herbs. This implement is rocked backward and forward to great effect. © Provided by DKBooks Some cooks like to use the curved mezzaluna when chopping large amounts of herbs. This implement is rocked backward and forward to great effect.

The refrigerator is the best place to store freshly cut herbs, either with their stems in water or on a damp paper towel.

© Provided by DKBooks

Hold the stalk firmly in one hand, and pull upward with the thumb and forefinger of the other hand to strip the leaves.

© Provided by DKBooks

Pluck fennel leaves from the stalk, pulling the leaf sprays upward with one hand. Remove any thick stalks that remain.

Photo: Hold the stalk firmly in one hand, and pull upward with the thumb and forefinger of the other hand to strip the leaves. © Provided by DKBooks Hold the stalk firmly in one hand, and pull upward with the thumb and forefinger of the other hand to strip the leaves.

Dry freshly cut herbs by spacing them out on muslin and leaving them in a cool, dry room until the leaves feel brittle. Crumble large leaves or strip smaller leaves whole from their stems. Store in airtight containers.

Photo: Pluck fennel leaves from the stalk, pulling the leaf sprays upward with one hand. Remove any thick stalks that remain. © Provided by DKBooks Pluck fennel leaves from the stalk, pulling the leaf sprays upward with one hand. Remove any thick stalks that remain.

Bouquet garni - This little bundle of herbs is used in French cooking to impart flavor to slow-cooked dishes. The muslin cloth tied with string holds the herbs together and should be removed before serving. A classic bouquet garni contains a bay leaf, 2–3 fresh parsley stalks, and 2–3 sprigs of thyme.

Photo: Bouquet garni - This little bundle of herbs is used in French cooking to impart flavor to slow-cooked dishes. The muslin cloth tied with string holds the herbs together and should be removed before serving. A classic bouquet garni contains a bay leaf, 2–3 fresh parsley stalks, and 2–3 sprigs of thyme. © Provided by DKBooks Bouquet garni - This little bundle of herbs is used in French cooking to impart flavor to slow-cooked dishes. The muslin cloth tied with string holds the herbs together and should be removed before serving. A classic bouquet garni contains a bay leaf, 2–3 fresh parsley stalks, and 2–3 sprigs of thyme.

Herb Essentials

Herbs are usually used to add fragrance and flavor to a dish, rather than to provide the dominant taste. The light flavors of dill, parsley, and chervil are good with fish and seafood; the more pungent rosemary, oregano, and garlic will flavor braised or baked lamb or roast pork beautifully. Root vegetables respond well to thyme and rosemary, eggplant to Provençal herbs, green peas to chives, tomatoes to basil and parsley. It is important always to balance delicate and hearty flavors in recipes, and to use herbs judiciously so they do not overpower the flavors of the other ingredients.


Buy

The wealth of fresh herbs now available has had the beneficial effect of banishing from many kitchens a lot of small packages of stale, dried herbs. Some herbs that are sold dried, such as basil and parsley, are never worth having; their aroma is musty at best and their taste insipid. Such herbs are meant to be eaten fresh. The clean, herbaceous notes of fresh parsley, and the complex, sweet scent of anise and clove wafting from a bunch of basil beguile first the sense of smell, and, later, also the tastebuds. Unlike many herbs, these two are not overwhelming if used in large quantities—as they are in basil sauce pesto and parsley salad tabbouleh. Robust herbs, such as oregano, thyme, sage, savory, mint, and rosemary, respond well to drying, which preserves and often concentrates their flavor. Whether fresh or dried, these herbs should be used sparingly, or they will overwhelm the other flavors in the food instead of complementing them.


Store

Ideally, use herbs when they are freshly picked, as this is when they have the most fragrance and flavor, but there are several techniques that can be used in order to store them for a little longer without compromising their flavors. Whether storing them in the fridge, freezer, or drying them for later use, you achieve the best results by doing this as soon as possible after picking.


Prepare

Herbs can be used whole, chopped, or pounded into a purée, depending on the requirements of the recipe. Softer-leaved herbs are better used raw, or added in the last minutes of cooking.


Chop

Herbs are chopped according to what suits the dish. Finely chopped herbs integrate well with other ingredients and add immediate flavor because much of their surface is exposed. They also allow essential oils to blend into the food quickly, but they may lose flavor in cooking. Coarsely chopped herbs keep their flavor and texture longer and survive cooking better, but are less attractive in a smooth-textured dish.


Using a knife

Use a large, sharp knife or you will bruise the herbs. Hold the point of the blade with the fingers of your non-cutting hand and chop up and down briskly in a rocking motion.


Pound

Herbs can be pounded to a paste using a pestle and mortar, and garlic is easily puréed in a mortar with a little salt. A smoother result is achieved more quickly by chopping them in a food processor. Some herb sauces, such as pesto, are made in this way.

Pesto is the classic pounded-herb sauce. Start by pounding some basil and garlic in a large mortar to a rough purée.

Gradually work in some pine nuts, grated Parmesan cheese, and olive oil, and pound further until it produces a smooth paste.


Strip and pluck

Some herbs—chives, chervil, cilantro—have soft stalks, but in most cases leaves must be stripped from the stalks before being used. Small leaves and sprigs are used whole in salads or as a garnish, but most leaves are chopped, sliced, or pounded depending on the dish being prepared. Keep leaves whole until just before you need them, or their flavors will dissipate.


Slice

Any finely shredded vegetable used as a garnish is termed a chiffonade. Shredded herb leaves make an attractive garnish and also keep their texture well.

If shredding leaves such as sorrel, remove the thick vein from each one beforehand. Stack a few similar-sized leaves one on top of the other and roll them up tightly. Using a sharp knife, cut the roll of leaves into very fine slices.


Cook

Adding herbs to cooking early on will enable them to release their flavors into the dish. Dried herbs should always be put in at the beginning, and herbs with tough leaves, such as rosemary, lavender, winter savory, thyme, and bay, withstand long cooking well. If you add sprigs of herbs to a dish, remove them before serving. To restore the aroma of herbs used in a slow-cooked dish, stir a few finely chopped leaves into the pan toward the end of cooking. Strongly flavored herbs, such as mint, tarragon, fennel, marjoram, and lovage, can be added at any stage during cooking. The essential oils of delicate herbs such as basil, chervil, chives, dill, cilantro, perilla, and lemon balm soon dissipate when heated. To keep them fresh in taste, texture, and color, add them just before serving the dish.


Herb mixtures

Dried or fresh herbs can be used in many combinations. The composition of even the classic mixes is usually determined by the kind of dish they are to accompany—this is a principle to guide you for European bouquet garnis, Middle Eastern blends, or South American mixtures, which may all include spices along with the herbs.

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