Friday, August 13, 2010

'Tis the Season...

here is useful herby info:

When wishing to dry fresh herbs, tie them loosely in a bundle and hang them in a cool, dry place, for several weeks. When the leaves are completely dried, strip them from the stems and store in an airtight container. Or - if you have the room - leave the dried bundle of herbs intact, and put them into a paper bag, and close the top. Keep this in a dry place, and then remove the leaves as needed. This seems method seems to keep in the flavour.

Two quicker ways to preserve herbs is either in the microwave or in the freezer. To microwave, place 3 or 4 sprigs at a time between two sheets of kitchen paper, and microwave on high for 1 - 3 minutes, until the leaves are brittle, then store leaves loosely in an airtight jar.

To freeze herbs, rinse and then pat dry with kitchen paper. Strip the leaves from the stems and put them into heavy-duty freezer bags. Press out at much air as possible, seal the bag and then freeze. Use as required.

Now a few details of some herbs that we normally use when cooking:
This does not dry or freeze particularly well, but fresh leaves can be stuffed into a jam jar - then light olive oil poured over (shake the jar to get rid of air bubbles) then seal and store at room temperature for several days. The oil will become infused by the basil flavour (useful when making pizzas, or dishes containing tomatoes, and a leaf or to can be taken from the jar to add to a dish.

Bay leaves:
Being an evergreen, the leaves can be picked throughout the year, although they do dry well (some chefs prefer using dried basil to fresh as the flavour is more pronounced), and they also freeze well. Just put the leaves into a plastic bag or container to freeze. Every bay leaf taken from the freezer is virtually the same as if just freshly picked.

The smallest of the onion family, they grow in grassy clumps. Chives should always be used fresh as dried ones are virtually tasteless. Hardly worth freezing as during the colder months onions take their place.

You either like it or loathe it. Coriander leaves should always be used fresh, and added at the end of cooking so that their flavour can be fully appreciated. Coriander stems and (cleaned) roots also have good flavour so can be added to a dish to give flavour (remove before serving).

A feathery-leaved plant that goes wonderfully well with cucumber and fish. Like coriander, should be added to the end of the cooking time to preserve its delicate flavour. Both dill seeds and dill leaves can be steeped in wine, cider or white wine vinegar to make a 'herb vinegar'.

Sometimes called sweet marjoram, this is very similar in flavour to oregano. Best used fresh, but can also be dried as an ingredient for salad dressings.

So many varieties, but the most common is spearmint. Dies down in winter, and not worth drying, but can be preserved as mint jelly, or mint sauce.

Similar to marjoram (see above) and the flavour of its leaves intensifies after drying.

Parsley: curly and flat-leaf
The flat-leaf has a more distinctive flavour than the curly. With any luck, parsley should keep growing through the winter, although may need so protection. Sow a fresh batch every year. Not worth drying.

An 'evergreen', so fresh rosemary can be picked throughout the winter. However, drying this herb does not impair the flavour, and so worth begging a few sprigs if you don't grow your own.

Like thyme, and rosemary, one of the stronger flavoured herbs that needs using only in small amounts. Perhaps the only herb that improves with drying as this imparts an added musky flavour.

Best used fresh. A tarragon flavoured vinegar can be made by steeping whole sprigs of this herb in a bottle of vinegar. It will keep for weeks, just add more vinegar as it gets used up.

An essential herb for any kitchen as used in fresh (or dried) bouquet garni, salad dressings, and flavoured vinegars. Thyme leaves dry very well and lose little of their flavour.

As to using herbs (fresh or dried), as these can impart a subtle or stronger flavour (according to your wishes) to anything savoury, it is always worth using them as often as possible. Try adding a few dried mixed herbs to flour when making pastry, or to flour and suet when making dumplings.

Fresh herbs roasted with the meat (particularly rosemary) just crumble when eaten and taste really good. Parsley can be fried in hot oil until crisp and this adds a different texture to a dish - almost like the fried 'seaweed' we get served with Chinese food. Sage leaves are also wonderful when quickly fried until crisp, and we should try to incorporate herbs in various ways in the dishes we serve.