By Chef Robbie
1. Find the best looking and tasting herbs as possible
Herbs are so delicate, but packed with flavor. They are perishable and if you are not using quality herbs, the flavor is not going to be as bright and delicious. Look for grocery stores that have a dedicated herb section that is maintained on a regular basis. There are some good companies that do packaged herbs pretty well, but look for a section in the store where they have herbs out in water to keep them fresh. Look for herbs that are nice and bright colored with no wilting or brown spots. If you cannot find herbs that are suitable, try your local farmers market or coop. If you live in Houston Texas, try one of these three locations.
- HEB Bunker Hill
- Central Market
- Rawfully Organic Coop
2. Use them at the right time
As mentioned above, herbs are very delicate with some being more so than others. Some are suitable for cooking for short periods of time like, rosemary, bay leaves (fresh does make a difference), thyme, and lemongrass. Others have to be added at the very end of the cooking process like, basil, dill, chervil, cilantro, chives, mint and tarragon. I had a chef once tell me that with herbs, you do not taste anything that you smell and that is because as the herb cooks it is releasing it’s volatile compounds into the air instead of into your mouth. Also, try not cooking herbs at all. Add them to your salads and on top of your dishes. They will give a beautiful flavor burst to any dish.
3. Realize how delicate they are
Herbs need to be treated with care from start to finish. They are so delicate that if handled roughly they can bruise and turn brown and bitter. First of all when cutting herbs use a very sharp knife and a smooth rolling cutting motion with long strokes. This will help slice the herbs instead of crush, you want to avoid cutting straight down. If possible use the herbs whole or tear them gently with your hands.
4. Think out of the box
Experiment with herbs. There are so many different variations of the mother herb that you can just go crazy, lemon thyme is one of my favorites. Try adding a bunch of different herbs into your favorite salad to add some flavor and diversity, get away from that basic mixed greens salad. One of my favorite salad mixes is arugula with basil, tarragon, chives, and mint. It’s so fresh, flavorful, and the mint gives it a unique freshness that will have you back for seconds. Try herbs with fruit and in desserts, the possibilities are endless. If you are looking for some awesome flavor combinations pick up, Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, the herb section starts on page 196.
5. Store them properly
Lastly you want to store herbs properly. Herbs are expensive, so you do not want to go out buying new bunches on a daily basis. The best way to keep herbs fresh is to roll them in damp paper towels an store in an OPEN ziplock in your fridge. You should label the outside so you don’t disturb them multiple times while looking for the right herb for your dish. This technique will keep herbs fresh for up to two weeks.
As you can see, we love freshening up our salads with lots of herbs. What’s your favorite use of fresh herbs?
Robbie Rense has been in the culinary industry for over 10 years and attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York where he went on to receive his culinary training and bachelors degree in culinary business management. During Robbie’s internship at the CIA, he trained at the Chatham Bars Inn in Cape Cod, MA, a five diamond resort, with visiting VIP chef Oscar Gonzales from the Ritz Carlton in Naples, Florida. Robbie moved to Texas where he opened the Sur La Table cooking school at the Houston City Centre as the Resident Chef and Culinary Manager. Robbie is the owner of Savory Celebration with his wife Samantha.