No, it is not the same as fresh; sometimes it’s even better!
This post is an encore of one I wrote a few years ago, so please forgive the late summer rerun!
Ah, those fresh herbs
I admit to being spoiled all summer long when I walk a few feet from my kitchen door to find the beauty of a couple of dozen varieties of fresh herbs at my fingertips. I have whatever I need for any recipe.
The season seems eternal!
Well into November, I have plenty of chives, parsley, oregano, thyme, lemon balm, rosemary, and sage in the garden waiting to be picked, and I’ll use them as long as I can. A little cover of leaves as fall settles in protects them all.
But all too soon, the layer of leaves will be replaced by snow, and I’m left with a few pots of herbs on the windowsill (that I use up in what seems like hours), herbs from the market (never the variety I want), and dried.
Different techniques depending on the herb
I approach each herb differently. I do not dry my parsley or basil, it just doesn’t hold the flavor I want. I cover the parsley with a cold frame, and I’ve been known to harvest it well into December, under the snow! Last year, I picked fresh parsley for New Year’s day.
I use my fresh basil in pesto and tuck it in the freezer throughout the summer. The more I pick, the more bushed out the plants get, and the bigger the harvest in a few weeks. When we start getting cooler nights and the forecast calls for frost or freezing temperatures, I harvest it all and make a really big last batch to freeze in smaller containers. (recipe here).
I have tons of chives in my garden; they arrive first in earliest spring, and stay at the party until snow, sometimes beyond. But in late winter I relay on my frozen chive butter and chive oil to see me through. Both are simple. Place a cup of softened butter or plant butter in your food processor and from 1/3 to 1/2 cup of minced chives. Whirl it all up, then place it on a piece of parchment and form into two logs. Wrap each in another layer of plastic wrap. Freeze, then open, thaw just a bit and slice off what you need during the winter, resealing the rest. You can also combine the chives with other herbs from the garden for a mixed herb butter. These are all great on fish or vegetables. My favorite is adding a slice to steamy hot mashed potatoes.
But my most common way to preserve my herbs is simple air drying and storage in an air-tight container. I use this process for peppermint, sage, thyme, oregano, lemon balm, tarragon, and other small leafed herbs.
Gather your herbs after the morning dew has dried off, and strip the bottom often craggy looking leaves. This will give you a smooth stem to secure. Give them a good shake to release any hitchhikers. Depending on the size of the herbs, you will probably want six to 10 stems in a bundle. A really large bundle will not dry evenly. Use a rubber band to secure. I’ve used string in the past, but if the stems shrink too much, they will slip out of the bundle!
Hang them up where they will get plenty of air circulation and not too much direct sun. After about a week, they should be dry. If you leave them to hang out too long, you’ll run the risk of losing their oils, and thus flavor, even in indirect light, so as pretty as they look hanging, you want to limit that time.
Place the dried herbs on a sheet of waxed paper and roll them gently between your palms. It only takes a few moments. Remove the tough stems, and roll them again gently to get the size you want. Place in a tight container and store out of direct light.
I processed sage from my herb bed today and used the stems to infuse some olive oil I know I’ll use at Thanksgiving; just crunch up the leftover stems, place in some oil (I used olive, but you can use any type of vegetable oil as well), bring to a simmer for about five minutes, remove from the heat, and let steep until the oil is completely cool. Strain and place in a bottle. Score another point for using every part of the plant!
An herb infused olive oil will make a beautiful holiday gift! Just add a label and a pretty little ribbon, and you have something from the heart of your home to give to another!
I also make rosemary oil. Rosemary is my problem child. Dried rosemary is difficult to use, you can’t just sprinkle it on a quick dish because it is so tough and, well, like needles! You have to let it lend its flavor in long, slow cooking, or sequestered in a bouquet garni. Rosemary is not hardy here, so I use it with great flourish during the growing season, then pot it up and bring it into the house. It does not last long – I overuse it, and it dries out easily, so while it is still healthy and wonderful in flavor and aroma, I infuse some of my favorite olive oil (same method as the sage) with the crushed leaves and stems. Try roasting potatoes or chicken with this! You won’t want to be without it!
Or, flavor some vinegar
My French tarragon ended up in champagne vinegar! Sterilize a bottle or jar in your dishwasher. Thoroughly clean and dry the tarragon, then bruise it slightly. Immediately put it in a bottle and cover with the champagne or white wine vinegar. Let it set for a few weeks, then strain and rebottle, adding a last beautiful stem of the tarragon if you still have it. This makes a lovely vinaigrette one part vinegar to two or three parts oil depending on how acidic you want it to be. Or, use it in your Béarnaise Sauce!
Quick is not always best
Yes, I know you can dry your herbs quickly in the microwave, but I love the whole process of hanging them up and looking at them for a week or so before putting them away; just my fancy!
Although the fresh herbs from my garden will soon be a thing of the past, the dried herbs will provide tons of flavor. There are some applications, such as roasting vegetables or protein at high heat, where the dried herbs hold up better, while the fresh herbs tend to burn.
They are different, but whether fresh, dried, or frozen, the taste of summer continues throughout the year!
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