Working and Storing Fresh Herbs, and other ready to use cooking ingredients.
Well, first of all this is a very extensive subject to talk about as there are many methods/techniques that can be used to obtain similar results.
What I will try to explain here are those methods that worked out the best for me, for my everyday use in the kitchen. So the idea is that you grab the best tips from this post according to the kind of use you give to herbs in your kitchen. My best advice would be that you try out different methods and see which is the most appropiate and which you feel more practical when using the herbs in your kitchen.
First of all, I would like to give you some general tips and hints on working with fresh herbs, like I said, as general knowledge.
Fresh herbs have both more and less flavor than dried ones. Dried herbs have had some of their flavor elements concentrated and so they can seem stronger. But drying them causes some other tastes to be lost, so the flavors are disminished. The general ratio to substitute fresh for dried is 3 to 1. That is, 3 times as much fresh herbs as dried herbs the recipe calls for.
Fresh herbs have subtle and delicate flavors. Prolonged cooking causes them to lose their fragance and flavors. Add the fresh herbs near the end of the cooking time. The flavors develop very quickly. They shouldnt cook in liquids for more than about one hour, generally, to get the most from them. Add to stocks, soups, stews, etc near the end, and see how much richer the flavors will be when serving.
Roasts should be rubbed with herbs
before cooking. One restaurant technique is to chop the fresh herbs you
want to use with a bit of salt and pepper. They each flavor the other.
Then, rub the seasonings on the roast and finish as usual. This
approach can be used for poultry and seafoods as well.
For ground meats, finely mince the
fresh herbs and mix into the meat before cooking. Add whatever other
additions you like – eggs, crumbs, prepared sauces, salt, pepper, etc.
– and shape them as appropriate for the dish.
Fresh herbs may be added to both batters and crumb mixtures used for fried foods. Chop finely and add as desired.
Fresh herbs enhance cooking waters for vegetables. Either chop and drop
them into the water so they’ll be part of the finished dish or tie them
in a little cheesecloth bag and remove them before serving.
Fresh herbs can add wonderful character and pleasantly surprising
complexity to breads. A general rule of thumb is to add somewhere
between 1 to 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs per one-pound loaf.
Herbal cornbread is wonderful. Likewise biscuits, dumplings, savory
pancakes and waffles – add up to a tablespoon to 2 cups of flour.
For instance, I have been adding 2 teaspoons of fresh or 4 teaspoons of dried thyme to my pizza dough (made with about 1 lb of flour). This enrichens the pizza dough very much without turning invasive and so far nobody has disliked it.
Fresh herbs are perishable and propper storage can extend their lives rather nicely. Bunches of fresh herbs can be stored in the refrigerator with their stems in water. Lose leaves are best kept in the coldest part of a refrigerator in perforated bags. I normally use some zip-loc bags to which i make some perforations and then wrap the stems of my fresh herbs bunches in a wet kitchen paper towel and they last in good condition for almost 10 or 12 days.
Be careful when you buy fresh herbs. The fresher they are the longer they will last if stored propperly.
Normally you should look for hard stems and leaves, discard all broken or yellowish leaves as they will rotten first and can cause the sorrounding leaves to rotten as well.
What I usually do is to place the herb bunches in cold water (with some ice cubes if needed) for 30 or 40 mins before putting them in the fridge. This allows the leaves to “get back to life” and become hard again (especially in summer when all the leaves are normally soft due to the environmental temperature).
How to chop our herbs?
Rinse your herbs and carefully dry them with a paper towel.
Clean your cutting board, leaving a wide working area.
If using herbs with a woody or thick stem, like rosemary, basil, or older thyme, strip the leaves off the stems using your fingers. (normally from the upper side to the bottom of the plant) You can save the stems for other uses (like making a bouquet garni for flavoring soups or broths)
(a bouquet garni is a group of herbs tied up together so that it is easy to remove them after cooking is finished).
Back to chopping herbs, remove the lower stems from herbs like parsley or cilantro. Pile the herbs on your cutting board. Chop the herb pile roughly first, drawing the berbs into a pile as you rechop.
Finely chop the herbs by holding the knife firmly but not too tight with one hand and place the fingers of your other hand on top of the knife down by the tip, both to keep the tip lightly pressed to the cutting board and to keep that hand out of the way.
Raise the kinfe handle up and down, using a rocking motion, with the tip of the knife acting as a hinge.
Remember you should cut the herbs, not hit them with your knife when chopping. This latter will only oxidate, damage and break your herbs edges, you will not have nice looking and full flavored herbs.
Most of the fresh herbs can not be chopped too much time ahead as they may oxidate. They are better when chopped right before using them. Also some herbs like basil leaves are better if used whole, not chopped as they are very delicate and oxidate inmediately.