There's really no seasoning that beats the taste of fresh herbs. Herbs in spice jars from the supermarket can't begin to compete with that right-off-the-plant taste that an herb picked from your garden has. The problem is, fresh herbs have a shelf life and sometimes it's difficult to find enough dishes to cook to use them up within their short lifespan. So what's a chef to do? Have no fear because with these five storage methods, you can have your fresh herbs and plenty of time to eat them, too.
When given a choice, most cooks prefer using fresh herbs over dried ones, simply because they taste better -- at least in most cases. But if you're running out of time to use your herbs in their fresh state, drying them is much preferred to throwing them away. Hanging them upside down until they're dry works best for low moisture herbs like rosemary and thyme, but oven drying is better for basil and oregano, which are high moisture and will mold if they're not dried quickly. Keep the oven warm, not hot (around 180 degrees Fahrenheit) and dry them out for about 3 or 4 hours, stirring them around every so often.
Another way to preserve fresh herbs is to store them in your freezer. Hard herbs, such as rosemary and thyme, can simply be rinsed and popped in a zipper bag for freezing. Herbs with soft leaves, like basil and cilantro, fare a little better when they're chopped up and frozen in ice cube trays filled with water. When you're ready to use them, just add them to your cooking as you would any fresh herbs. Be sure to label your frozen herbs well because they look a lot alike when frozen and don't have a distinct smell until they've thawed.
A great way to preserve herbal flavors without having to make space for the herbs themselves is to infuse them in oils to use in recipes. Olive and safflower are both great oils to use along with strongly flavored herbs. All you need is a sterilized bottle filled about one-third of the way with fresh herbs that have been well rinsed and patted dry. Pour the oil over the herbs and allow the concoction to sit at room temperature for about two weeks. Vinegars are also great for herbal infusions and the directions are the same.
A lot of fresh herbs can find a happy home in a glass full of water for a couple of weeks after they're harvested. All you need to do is fill the bottom of a glass with water and add the herbs stem first. Be sure that when you cut them, you leave some of the stem so it can take up water from the glass. Cilantro needs to be stored in the fridge for maximum freshness, but basil and parsley can sit on the counter at room temperature. Just be sure to change the water every couple of days, and wait to rinse the herbs until you use them.
The easiest way to save fresh herbs is to keep a plant full of them at your fingertips year-round. Oregano, rosemary and thyme are easy to grow but require a lot of light, so be sure you have sunny window available in the winter. Basil and cilantro can be tricky to grow as indoor herbs, but mint, chives and lemongrass are super easy and abundant enough to get you through the cold weather months. Look for varieties of all of these herbs that were specifically bred for indoor growth.
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- "End of Summer Tips for Storing Fresh Herbs." Thegreensamaritan.com. September 13, 2010. http://thegreensamaritan.com/2010/09/end-of-summer-tips-for-storing-fresh-herbs/
- "Frequently Asked Questions." Versatilevinegar.org. October 21, 2011. http://www.versatilevinegar.org/faqs.html
- "How to Store Parsley, Cilantro and Other Fresh Herbs." Simplyrecipes.com, April 14, 2008. http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/how_to_store_parsley_cilantro_and_other_fresh_herbs/
- "Saving the Flavor of Fresh Herbs." Smithsonianmag.com. August 5, 2011. http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/food/2011/08/saving-the-flavor-of-fresh-herbs/
- Webber, Roxanne. "How to Grow Herbs Indoors." Chow.com. March 16, 2009. http://www.chow.com/food-news/54973/how-to-grow-herbs-indoors/