Keeping it green
Summer is prime season for garden herbs. Everything begins to grow and bloom around this time, and fresh herbs are in abundance. You’ll find a much bigger selection of fresh herbs in the supermarkets over the coming months. It’s yet another thing to look forward to now that summer's just around the corner. In winter, there are fewer types of herbs available on the supermarket shelves, but never fear: with some careful planning, you can garnish dishes with your own supply of herbs even in winter. In this article, we’ll show you how to preserve your herbs correctly or ensure that they keep for longer.
First things first
Before you get to work, you need to be aware of a few things.
1 Shop and select with care:
You should only prepare and preserve healthy herbs. Leaves that have gone yellow or limp should be discarded. Throw away any herbs that have gone a bit slimy; these shouldn’t be eaten.
2 Herbs can lose their flavour:
Prepare herbs as soon as you can after picking or buying them, so that they don’t lose their taste.
3 Herbs aren’t like cut flowers:
Many of them won’t survive for long if you stand them in a glass of water. Instead, it’s best to use the storage methods set out in this article.
4 Chop herbs properly:
We recommend using a herb knife to chop herbs. It’s easiest to chop herbs when they’re wet, so give them a rinse beforehand. The leaves of some types, like curly parsley, can be stripped from their stalks. Hold the stripped leaves together with one hand and chop them with the other. When chopping herbs, a swinging stroke works best. Start with the tip of your knife and roll the blade back towards the handle. Repeat until the herbs are as finely chopped as you want them. Then put the herbs in a piece of kitchen towel and wring out any moisture. With herbs like parsley, you can catch any moisture that escapes and season it with salt, pepper and olive oil to make a quick salad dressing. ;-)
Air-dried or frozen?
There are a number of ways to preserve herbs so that you can enjoy them at a later point in time. We have drawn a distinction between keeping herbs in the refrigerator or freezer and preserving them using the drying method or by adding oil or vinegar.
- Keeping herbs in the refrigerator
This method of preservation can keep herbs fresh for about two weeks. To do this, you shouldn’t chop or tear the herbs, but instead wrap them in a damp towel or sprinkle them with a little water and place them in a reusable tin. Delicate herbs like peppermint, chives, parsley, lovage and lemon verbena will stay fresh for up to four days if stored in this way. More robust herbs like rosemary, sage and thyme will stay fresh for up to ten days.
- Keeping herbs in the freezer
If you opt to keep your herbs in the freezer, they’ll stay fresh and flavoursome for up to a year.
Simply chop the herbs as finely as you want them and put them in a freezer bag. All done!
Storing herbs in ice cube moulds is another practical option. To do this, simply chop the herbs, transfer them to the ice cube trays, pour in a little water and freeze. Now you have your own herb cubes. You could create your very own mixtures of herbs to suit your taste or freeze them by type. If you’re going to be using the frozen herbs in a cooked dish, it’s important to only add them towards the end. That way, they keep their flavour and don’t go tasteless during the cooking process.
If you’re using your herbs as a decorative garnish, opt for sprig-like varieties like thyme, bay leaf and rosemary. To do this, simply place the entire sprig on a plate and put it into the freezer whole, so that it keeps its shape. Bouquets of herbs can also be tied together and frozen whole.
Herbs like sage, lovage, coriander, dill, oregano, fennel leaves, tarragon, chives and chervil are especially well suited to freezing. Parsley also keeps well in the freezer, but it’s best to opt for the flat-leaf variety, as it retains more of its flavour after freezing that its curly counterpart. If you love basil and want it to keep its lovely green hue, then don’t chop it before freezing. Instead, tear off the leaves and freeze them whole. This will stop the leaves from going brown, and they’ll taste just as delicious when thawed as they do fresh.
- Preservation by drying
Drying is a traditional and longstanding technique for preserving herbs. Herbs that are particularly well suited to this method of preserving are rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, lovage, savory, mint, mugwort, lemon balm and marjoram. It doesn't work as well for herbs like basil, borage and parsley.
So how do you do it? It’s perfectly easy.
First, carefully shake any grit off the herbs or clean them with a cloth. Avoid washing them with water, as this will prolong the drying process and water down the flavour of the herbs. Now tie the sprigs of herbs into little bouquets (of no more than 10 sprigs each). These should now be hung upside down, ideally in a warm, airy, dry spot that isn’t exposed to direct sunlight. The herb bouquets will be dry after 1–2 weeks. If you can't possibly wait that long, your oven can help speed things up. ;-) Spread the sprigs of herbs over a baking sheet and warm them in an oven at 30°C. Keep the oven door open a crack so that all of the moisture from the herbs can escape – a wooden spoon works well here. Regardless of how powerful your oven is or how fresh your herbs are, the only real way of working out whether they're done is to try them. You’ll know that they’re dried if a leaf crumbles the instant you rub it between your fingers. However, as a general rule of thumb it’s likely to take about three hours. If stored in an airtight container somewhere dry and dark, the dried herbs will keep for up to a year. If you’re planning to use your dried herbs in a cooked dish, they should go into the pot during the cooking process itself, to make the most of their flavour. Dried herbs are also great for mixing with your favourite type of salt. Pop your homemade salt mixture in some pretty packaging, and it’s the perfect thing to bring along to a barbecue.
- Preserving with oil and vinegar
Lots of herbs cannot be dried by drying or freezing. Instead, you can use oil or vinegar to keep them edible. Basil, oregano, thyme and sage all keep well when preserved this way.
You just need your fresh herbs, a good-quality oil or vinegar and bottles or jars with a lid. If you fancy making your own herb oil, chop the herbs up a little, so that they release more of their lovely flavours into the oil. To make a herb vinegar, use whole leaves only – don’t chop the herbs. Now simply put your herbs into your chosen container and pour over the vinegar or oil, making sure that the herbs are covered. Get creative: you can add all sorts of other ingredients, like garlic, chillies or pepper. An exquisite herb oil or vinegar makes the perfect addition to a salad dressing, or a fantastic gift.
Whether you freeze your herbs into ice cubes, make dried herb bouquets or douse your leaves in oil, every method has its advantages and preserves those wonderful flavours. As you'd expect, we’ve prepared a few delicious recipes for you to try with your Monsieur Cuisine. Give them a try and turn your favourite herbs into scrumptious treats.
Have fun cooking and savouring your creations.