Through reading recipes in cookbooks and online I often notice that authors miss out on a huge flavor component – fresh herbs – in their recipes.
Over the years I have made herbs a basic flavor building block next to salt, pepper and perhaps a little garlic. Also many dishes benefit by adding acidity e.g., white wine, vinegar or citrus juice. The inclusion of fat in a dish certainly boosts flavor and makes it more palatable but adding herbs makes a dish sing. It’s fairly simple – just rinse the herbs, chop them finely, and toss them under the food just before serving.
This way, all volatile herb aromas can blossom in the food.
I emphasize fresh herbs versus dried or frozen, which are ok sometimes, e specially in cooked dishes, but compared with fresh, they taste a bit mundane and grassy and certainly not vital. The fresher the herbs the better! They will do wonders for your palate and nostrils.
Often people tell me they’re overwhelmed with all the tasks it takes to make food delicious when it comes close to the actual serving time. Chop this precisely, cook that X minutes exactly – shouldn’t cooking be relaxing especially when you come home from work and you’re hungry?
The following herb preservation methods may ease your mise-en-place, which translates from French to prep basically. It makes the cooking and finishing of a dish effortless.
I like to translate the volatile flavor and fresh identity of herbs into herb oils. The basic way to do that is to cook ½ cup of an herb such as basil, parsley, chervil, chive or tarragon, for 3-5 seconds in boiling, salted water and then stop the cooking process in an ice water bath – this will retain vitamins, nutrients and the bright green color. Further to make the herb flavor shine, combine it with a neutral flavor oil such as grape seed or sunflower oil. Season the herb oil with sea salt and pepper and process it in a blender for two minutes. The friction of the blender blade will create heat and turn the mixture a muted green rather quickly, hence I recommend adding one ice cube, which will retain the bright-green color and nutrient content. An herb oil like this holds its pungency for up to 24 hours when kept refrigerated. Use your herb oil instead of the oil in a salad; toss it into pasta just before serving and drizzle 1-teaspoon worth of herb oil over cooked meats or fish.
Similar to herb oils, pesto is prepared with herbs, nuts and perhaps a tad of garlic. Generally the go-to oil for pesto is extra virgin olive oil but nothing should prevent you from using other flavorful oils such as coconut. Here is a recipe I enjoy and find rather quick and you can store it for up to three days.
1 cup flavorful oil such as extra virgin olive
¼ cup nuts such as pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, cashews
1 clove garlic, peeled sliced thinly and boiled in water for 30 seconds
½ cup herbs such as basil, parsley
Sea salt, to taste
Black pepper from a mill, to taste
- Pack all ingredients into a blender cup and process for 2 minutes. If the mixture does not blend well add 1-3 tablespoons of cold water and continue to blend for 2 more minutes.
The oil captures much of the flavor of the herb and preservers it for several days in a container tightly sealed. A good rule of thumb is an expiration date of three days for pesto – this will assure ideal flavor. Use pesto to finish, brush onto roasted meats and grilled fish – enjoy!