Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Cutting, Storing and Using Herbs

Today at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show, I share Propagating, Planting, and Preserving herbs. (stop by at 2 pm if you are at the show.) Here are a few additional pieces of information of how to use those herbs you will be growing this year.

Herbs are lovely, but they are better when used.  Not only will the plant thank you by becoming bushier, your palette will thank you for sharing all these gorgeous flavors!

Here is an easy way to wash, prep and store your fresh cut herbs.
  • Wash herbs in a large bowl of cool water, swishing them with your fingers to remove grit.  Lift the herbs from the water with your hands.  If there is a large amount of grit int he bottom of the bowl, wash the herbs again in fresh water.  Spin them dry in a salad spinner or blot dry with a clean kitchen towel.
  • To keep herbs fresher longer, wrap the stem ends of cut herbs in a damp paper towel and stow in a zip seal bag.  Place in your crisper drawer and enjoy the herbs for more than a week.  Works on store bought herbs too! Hard herbs work best with this method, the ones with woody stems, like rosemary, oregano, marjoram and thyme.
  • Soft herbs like to be  treated as you would a bouquet of flowers. Snip the base of the stems and put them in a glass of fresh water, changing out the water every day or two if it starts to cloud. Store them in the fridge.
  • Basil may blacken in the refrigerator so keep it fresh by placing the stems in a glass of water and keep them at room temperature out of direct sun.
  • To quickly separate the leaves from the stems of tender herbs, like parsley, dill, or cilantro, simply give the whole bunch a shave.  Hold the herbs by the stems over a cutting board, leaf ends angled down.  With a chef knife, shear the leaved off the stems using a downward shaving motion.  turn the bunch as you go and you will have a nice pile of herb leaves to work with in your recipes.
  • Chop herbs using a very sharp knife.  A dull one can cause bruising of the leaves.  After stripping the leaves from the stems, gather the herbs into a pile on a cutting board.  Rest the fingertips of you guiding hand on the tip of the chef knife to keep it in contact with the cutting board.  Keeping the tip against the board, lift and lower the knife to chop across the pile as you chop stopping to gather the herbs back into a pile as needed.
Extend the flavor of your herbs by fashioning them into butters, vinegar, syrups and more.

Flavored Butter (sometimes called compound butter)
  • Mash chopped hers plus a bit of salt and pepper into a stick of unsalted butter.  Wrap the butter in plastic and refrigerate for up to a week or freeze for up to a month or more.
  • Melt over potatoes or grilled meat or vegetables, spread on toast or enjoy on crackers with tea.

Simple Syrup
  • Bring 1 cup water., 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup packed hers to a rolling boil in a small saucepan.  Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.  Strain out the herb cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.  
  • Use the syrup to flavor iced tea, make sorbet and prepare an alcoholic cocktail.

Herb Vinegar
  • Put herbs in a wide mouth jar and bruise with the a wooden spoon.  Heat white wine or distilled white vinegar to 110 degrees (microwave on hi for 2 minutes or use your stove top.)  Pour the vinegar over the herbs then seal the jar and let sit in a cool dark place for about 2 weeks to infuse.  Decant and strain into another jar after steeping and enjoy for a year unrefrigerated.
  • Splash on steamed or grilled veggies, douse a grilled salmon or make into a marinade or salad dressing.

Herbed Oil
  • This is a dangerous undertaking, so make with caution and keep the finished oil no more than 2 days in the refrigerator.  Never steep or store at room temperature.  In a blender puree 3/4 cup herb leaves with 1/3 cup olive oil.  Add 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice.  
  • Brush on bread round wit craft bruschetta, drizzle over over grilled fish or add to vinegar to make a salad dressing or marinade.

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