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Thyme Is On My Side

handling fresh herbs for longer storage

· video,WasteLess,Herbs

HERBAL TALK

A few years ago, I was running a catering/meal delivery company and had opened a cafe/production kitchen/deli that was as much work as there are slashes in this sentence! For all of the work, I wasn't taking home much income so we had a tight household budget. One summer when it was worse than normal we really scaled back. I thought: I control food cost for a living, I can feed us on the cheap!

It was summer and I was craving tomatoes with fresh basil. Basil doesn't last long and isn't really ever inexpensive for the sustenance you get out on the plate. I only needed a leaf or two and couldn't justify the $1.89 for the entire bunch (yea, I was that broke). I picked up a bunch and shook it gently... a few leaves floated to the ground. Is that trash now; is it stealing if I put this in my bag? I considered it for awhile but didn't take any. I went home with my tomatoes and ate them with salt and olive oil and side of regret. Had I thought it through, I could have preserved that one bunch of basil to use all summer long!

Contemplating theft in the produce aisle isn't really my point - justifying the cost and flavor of fresh herbs is plan today.

How often do you buy fresh herbs but end up throwing away the majority of the bunch because you can't use it up fast enough?

There's no need to toss out herbs! Let's go through 4 super simple ways to save any herb before it turn to slime. We'll talk about proper storage when you bring them home from the market.

Woody: Thyme, Rosemary, Oregano, Marjoram, Sage

STORAGE

Woody herbs keep reasonably long, a month or more isn't unheard of if you care for them properly. These are identified by having an inedible center stem which is removed before using.

When you take woody herbs home from the market:

  1. Run under cold water to wash, then shake 'em off until they're mostly dry. If you're into gadgets, here's a chance to use your salad spinner. 
  2.  Remove the twist tie, plastic clamshell, or rubber band they came in, then lay them together on a damp paper towel. 
  3. Loosely roll up the bundle and place that in a ziplock bag or small plastic tupperware and pop in the produce drawer of your fridge. Label the outer container and store multiple herbs together. Every few days or when you think of it, check that the towel is damp and remoisten as necessary.

HERB SALT: Trick #1

Arguably the easiest method.

Spread woody herbs out on a baking sheet (that's what's happening in the thyme photo above). Leave uncovered, in a dry space for about a week. OR, place in 200 degree oven for about an hour until the leaves are crisp and dry. Rub leaves gently to remove center stems.

Combine ANY COMBINATION of dry herbs and kosher salt. Try 1 tablespoon of herbs to 1/2 cup salt. Store in a dry place for a year.

  • To use replace with regular salt on almost anything. Try on: buttery popcorn, scrambled eggs, roasts or beef or pork, roasted potatoes, etc.

INFUSED: Trick #2

Never mind, this is easier.

Put olive oil in a jar. Add woody herbs. Seal jar. Ready to use in 3-4 days. Store for about 3 months.

You can do this with leafy herbs too - basil oil is amazing - but you'll want to heat the oil first. You can microwave it for a couple of minutes until its bubbling or use a small pot. Pour just barely boiling oil over the herbs into your jar. Also tastes amazing if you some combination of garlic cloves, peeled piece of citrus zest, hunk of ginger, or pinch of chili flakes. If you heat the oil for this method be sure to store it in the fridge!

  • Use anywhere you'd use olive oil. Try: salad dressing, drizzle over ricotta or cream cheese on crackers for a quick appetizer, drizzle over seared chicken or fish, whip into smashed potatoes, serve in a bowl for dunking your sourdough bread, etc. 

Another variation for my boozy crowd (please tell me I have a boozy crowd) take any of these herbs and add to simple syrup instead of oil! Simple syrup is 1 cup water, 1 cup white sugar - bring to boil until sugar melts. Add herbs, cool together in jar, store in fridge. Now, where's my Mezcal?

Leafy: Parsley, Cilantro, Dill, Mint, Tarragon​

    STORAGE

    Leafy herbs are more delicate. You want to use these up within a week a so. Leafy herbs have soft stalks, so if you're chopping them up quickly and catch a little piece, you can eat it. Many preparations actually call for chopping through the center stem, especially in Chinese or Greek cooking. I often eat the stems because I'm lazy and if you chop it small enough you can't even tell. Or save the stalks for stock!

    When you take leafy herbs home from the market:

    1. Run under cold water to wash, then shake 'em off until they're mostly dry. If you're into gadgets, here's a chance to justify your salad spinner. This is even more important with leafy herbs because they don't mince well when wet, so if you mince right before you want to use them you'll get a grassy mess. 
    2.  Get a mason jar or simple vase and fill with room temperature water. 
    3. Chop off ends of the herb bunch. Store like fresh cut flowers.  Post on Insta, especially if you've used a mason jar.

    RULE BREAKERS

    Lets talk about chives and green onions. Also, now that I think of it, parsley...and cilantro and mint.

    • Chives and green onions go with herbs to me but they aren't technically herbs. I store them like woody herbs wrapped in damp paper towel. 
    • Parsley, cilantro and mint can also be happily stored in the damp paper towel method. Wrap mostly around the stems and leave the leaves to hang out the top. 

    BETTER BUTTER: Trick #3

    butter gets fancy

    I love butter. I almost couldn't cook without it. Compound butter is a fantastic thing and a great way to save herbs that are on their last leg. Let a stick of butter warm to very soft room temperature. You can cheat, but the more thoroughly room temp, the easier this is to mix. Chop any combination of leafy herbs (or woody herbs too, but if using them, either pull off of them stems white they're fresh or dry first in the oven and crumble. As described in Trick #1 above). With a fork combine 2 tablespoons of finely chopped herbs (chives and scallions really shine here) with 1 stick of butter and a hefty pinch of salt. Optional: add a pinch of chili flakes, a teaspoon of yellow miso (OMG its so good like that), or a little citrus zest. Store butter wrapped tightly in the fridge - I usually just spoon it into a small ziplock bag and use the back of a knife to squeeze it all down to the bottom in a neat little roll. Once cold, it will be a sliceable log.

    • I actually dare you to find a way this doesn't taste good. Try: on bread (duh.), after searing fish, chicken, or steak slice a little round off and place on top to melt: instant sauce!, under the skin when roasting any poultry, over roasted potatoes or squash, on top of steamed veggies, lacquering corn on the cob, etc.

    PESTO-ISH: Trick #4

    most useful for a large amount of leafy herbs

    If you have a bunch of herbs to go through, making salts and oils are nice, but a teaspoon in each recipe probably won't save the day. Its time to make a pesto-ish sauce. Pesto is a specific combination of ingredients - not just herbs in a blender - I'll surely post a great recipe this summer when basil is plentiful. I'm all for creative license in cooking but I find it unacceptable to alter a classic dish and not rename it appropriately. Don't

    So for now, lets have a recipe for Herbs in A Blender!

    1. Wash and dry herbs if you haven't already. You'll want 1-2 packed cups of leafy herbs and a sprinkling of woody herbs if you need to get rid of them too. 
    2. Pack into a blender or food processor (I'm obsessed with my NutraNinja for things like this because its so easy to clean) and add a hefty pinch of salt, squeeze of lemon juice or teaspoon of vinegar, and about  1/2 cup of olive oil.
    3. OPTIONAL ADDITIONS : garlic cloves, pepper flakes, anchovies, capers, grated parmesan, dijon. 
    4. Blend. If using closer to 2 cups of herbs, you might need a bit more oil to get it going. 
    5. When smooth, spoon into an ice cube tray - ideally a silicon one - and wrap with plastic wrap. After they're frozen well, pop out and store together in a ziplock bag. Store for a year! 
    6. To use frozen - add to soup bases (as in, you're sautéing onions for chicken soup and you toss on in to melt and season things up). 
    7. To use other ways - let them melt in a bowl, stir it up, and use sauce over grilled meats or veggies, whisk into hummus or sour cream for a super quick dip, whisk with more vinegar and olive oil for a herbaceous salad dressing, whip into potatoes, toss with freshly cooked pasta and butter for fast sauce.

    Turns out I could keep going. I almost decided to become a herb only blog! Share your thoughts below, I'd love to hear your concerns or successes with buying, cooking with, and storing herbs.

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