Herbs bring a special element to an ordinary dish
By Gwen Schoen - gschoen at sacbee.com
Last Updated 5:42 am PDT Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Story appeared in TASTE section, Page F2
Fresh herbs can turn a weeknight supper into a masterpiece.
Here's proof: Make a paste of chives, fresh rosemary, garlic and olive
oil, and rub it into a pork roast the night before you roast it. Or
snip some fresh parsley to sprinkle over your pasta sauce. How about
dicing fresh basil to sprinkle over heirloom tomatoes?
The cook's hand with herbs is the difference between cooking and
creating. And when the herbs are snipped fresh from your own kitchen
garden ... well, now we're talking masterpiece.
The difference between a spice and an herb
Herbs are usually the leafy, green portion of a plant. Spices come
from the bark, buds, fruit, roots, seeds or resin of a plant. When an
herb is allowed to bloom or develop seeds, the seeds and blooms are
spices, but the leaves are herbs. A good example is coriander, which
is related to the parsley family. Coriander seeds are a spice, but the
leaves of the plant are the herb we know as cilantro.
Storing fresh herbs
After you buy or cut fresh herbs, if you plan to use them within a
day, stand them in a vase of water just as you would cut flowers to
keep them fresh.
If you need to keep herbs fresh longer than a day, place them in an
open plastic bag with a damp towel and store them in the crisper
drawer of the refrigerator.
Most herbs can be dried for long storage. The easiest way to dry herbs
is to tie a bunch together with a piece of string and hang them upside
down in a dark, dry place until they are completely dry. Herbs can
also be dried in a dehydrator or an oven on low heat, but most people
have better success just allowing them to air dry.
Once the herbs are dry, remove the stems and crush the leaves. The
best storage is a glass jar with a tight lid. Try to use dried herbs
within a few months because once dried, they will lose their flavor
Tarragon and chives freeze well. Just rinse them off, dice them and
toss them into a plastic storage bag before freezing.
Leafy herbs such as cilantro and parsley are better frozen in water so
that they turn into little ice cubes. They will turn mushy and soft
when thawed, but you can still use them to flavor liquids. Just pull
the leaves from the stems. Dice the leaves and put them in ice cube
trays. Add water and freeze them into cubes. Once they are solid, you
can remove the cubes from the trays and put them into freezer bags.
Cooking with herbs
It's best to adjust seasonings at the end of a long cooking time to
avoid overseasoning a dish. During cooking, liquids evaporate, which
can cause the flavors of seasonings to intensify. Also, some herbs and
spices turn bitter during long cooking, and others lose their flavor
altogether. If you add them to your recipe toward the end of the
cooking time, you avoid these problems.
When substituting dried herbs for fresh in a recipe, use about one-
third as many as you would fresh. When herbs are dried, moisture is
lost, which intensifies the flavors, so you would need less.
Preparing herbs for cooking
Wash fresh herbs by submerging them in a dish of cool water and gently
bouncing them around so that soil, sand and bugs are removed. Shake
off the excess water and gently pat them dry with a soft towel or
allow them to drain in a colander.
For best flavor, crush or snip herbs just before adding them to your
recipe. Dried herbs can be crushed between your fingers to release the
flavors. The stems of fresh herbs are often bitter, so it's best to
remove the stems by pulling the sprigs between your fingers or
snipping leaves with herb snips or kitchen shears. Leaves of fresh
herbs can be diced with a knife or cut with herb snips.