Tips on preserving the flavor of herbs

August 19, 1998|By Carol J. G. Ward | Carol J. G. Ward,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Herbs that dry well include basil, rosemary, oregano, thyme, tarragon and sage.

Herb farm owner Betty Fox Boone said there are several easy methods for drying herbs. The simplest way is to hang herbs in bunches upside down in a dark, well-ventilated warm place. She uses the attic. Dry the herbs for a few days.

"Dehydrators also are excellent for drying herbs on a small scale," Boone said, adding that dehydrators help preserve the ,, herbs' color.

To dry herbs in the oven, arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place them in a warm, not hot, oven with the door ajar. Dry for 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the leaves.

An alternative is to place the herbs on a paper towel in the microwave and heat them on medium-low power until dried. Six to seven basil leaves take about 90 seconds; rosemary sprigs take about 20 seconds, according to "Savoring Spices and Herbs" by Julie Sahni.

Storing dried fresh herbs

However you dry the herbs, keep the leaves whole until ready to use, Boone recommends. To release their flavor, break them up when adding to a dish.

Dried herbs should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place away from light. Boone prefers glass jars.

Most books recommend using dried herbs within a year, but Boone says she has gotten good flavor from some stored longer. To decide whether an herb is still flavorful, check the appearance and then crush the leaves to see if a good aroma remains.

Freezing herbs

Good candidates for freezing include parsley, chives and basil.

Herbs can be frozen in whole leaves or in sprigs. Place them in a single layer in the freezer until frozen. Then transfer them to freezer bags.

Herbs also can be chopped and frozen in ice-cube trays with a little water or lemon juice.

If you freeze herbs whole, you can snip them with kitchen scissors when you're ready to use them, Boone said.

Don't count on frozen herbs for garnish because they will be limp.

Making herb vinegars

Sterilize a Mason jar and wash fresh herbs, if needed. Bruise herbs and fill one-third to one-half of the jar.

Gently heat vinegar (white, cider or wine vinegar of at least 5 percent acidity) just to boiling point.

Pour vinegar over herbs in jar. Secure the top. (You do not need to seal.) If using a metal lid, put a piece of wax paper between the jar and lid.

Store vinegar in a dark place for 1 to 2 weeks.

Strain vinegar through a coffee filter into sterilized bottles. Place a fresh sprig of each herb used in the vinegar bottle. Put the top on the bottle, and store in a dark place.

Use herb vinegars whenever vinegar is called for, such as in salad dressings and marinades.

Making herb butters

Allow a stick of butter to reach room temperature. Finely chop fresh herbs, about 1 to 2 tablespoons to taste. Mix herbs into butter. When well blended, shape, wrap in foil and refrigerate until needed. Butter also can be frozen for later use.

Use herb butters on steamed vegetables, on bread or for sauteing meats or vegetables.

Pairing herbs with food

Although Boone said there is a lot of overlap when it comes to pairing herbs with food, there are some classic combinations:

* Basil: tomatoes, pestos

* Dill: fish, cucumbers, potatoes, green beans

* Mints: carrots, peas, lamb, fruit salad and teas. "Although mint tea often is served hot, it makes an absolutely wonderful cold tea. It's my drink of preference throughout the summer," Boone said.

Boone also recommended adding fresh mint to any type of ice box cookie.

* Rosemary: chicken, herb breads, roasted meats and any type of marinade

* Savory: green beans

* Tarragon: chicken, green beans, sauces and flavored vinegars.

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