Cooking with fresh herbs

Cooking with fresh herbs

Do you love using fresh herbs, but find them hard to get and hard to keep fresh? This is what I do: I freeze my herbs!

Anytime, everytime: freezing is the trick

When I lived in Brixton, South London, I only had to walk down the road to buy armfuls of fresh herbs, at a pound each. Every single Asian or Caribbean grocery store (as well as the Portuguese deli) would have huge piles of all kinds of fresh herbs, and it felt like home: almost like I remember it from the weekly laiki farmers' market when growing up in Athens.

Now that I live in rural North Wales the options are a lot more limited. The choice is between puny plastic packets from the supermarket containing barely a handful at an exorbitant price, or a 20 mile drive to the nearest veg wholesale place where I would sometimes get lucky with a bunch or two. True, I now have the space to grow my own, in theory at least. But I only ever seem to have success with the hardy things: thyme, rosemary and mint are thriving without me raising a finger, but the rest just won't. And I would need to grow loads of them to satisfy my herb cravings when cooking...

Luckily I now own a food shop... so now and then I give in to the indulgence of ordering big boxes of fresh herbs, like parsley, dill, coriander or fennel herb; even though I know it's a non-seller... We sell them loose at a very good price compared to those supermarket packets, yet only a few people will buy a couple of sprigs at the time. Invariably, I get to take home most of the big box. (Bingo! That was my secret plan all along!)
It seems, in the UK at least, most people only think of using fresh herbs - one at the time - when a recipe tells them to. And the stipulated quantities usually come in pinches and spoonfuls, not handfuls. No wonder you aren't looking to load your bags with the stuff if it's only going to sit there and wilt while you wait for the next suitable recipe.

But does it have to be that way?
This is what I do (I learned this from my mum): I freeze my herbs.

How to:

  • Rinse your bundle of herb(s)
  • Pat as dry as possible with kitchen paper or a clean towel (to avoid ice forming into clumps)
  • Remove any coarse stems - I freeze those separately for stocks and soups.
  • Stuff herb in a resealable freezer bag (ziplock or similar) - you want to stuff it in as much as you can.
  • Flatten to remove extra air and seal.
  • Label and freeze.

To use:

  • Take the zip bag out of the freezer and - immediately - scrunch or punch it up so that the frozen herb breaks into tiny shards - think automatic chopping! You must do it immediately or it will start thawing and softening and it won't break up nicely. (Once the bag has been scrunched a few times it will be all broken up and you can skip this step).
  • Use liberally (by the handful)
  • Return the bag to the freezer straight away (you don't want it to thaw and spoil).
  • Don't be afraid to use several herbs at once or use them in a new context. (Did you know dill is lovely with any greens, including garden peas, and with eggs and potatoes too?)
  • Enjoy the added taste and added goodness whenever you can! (Herbs are veritable superfoods packed with beneficial plant chemicals - this is how they get their strong taste and aroma.)

Yes, it does takes a little while getting the freezing done properly if you have a big pile of herbs to do. But it's worth getting that big pile when you have a chance, so you have plenty ready to use anytime! Once it's done, using herbs anytime, all the time becomes a breeze.

I know some kitchen gurus are a bit sniffy about frozen herbs. They apparently lose taste and structure. This may be true to a certain degree, but so what? Adding frozen herbs to your pot as it cooks still gives you a load more flavour (and goodness) than using none. Dried herbs are of course an alternative, but those soft herbs especially have quite a different taste when dried so the result is a bit different.
Obviously, the freezing process does affect the texture of the herbs - they do get a bit mushy if defrosted. So I wouldn't use them where looks count, like as a posh garnish (though someone has figured out a way to do this). Of course, I much rather use them fresh, but as I don't have a reliable continuous supply where I live, this is the next best thing!

And there are even more ways to preserve fresh herbs (either one at a time, or mix them up):

  • PESTO: Blitz them into a green mush with olive oil and freeze in ice cube trays.
  • HERB BUTTER: chop finely and fold into softened butter. Put back in the fridge to firm it up, then cut in cubes or slices and freeze.

No excuses left now not to stock up on fresh herbs!

PS. I also made a little video about my freezer tricks - scroll to watch.

And here is the video I made:

Categories: COOK, LIBRARY


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