In my preceding article, we learnt that not all herbs are for culinary purposes. In having said that, there are still tons and tons of herbs that are used. Where do we start and which herbs are most important in the kitchen. How do we take our cooking with herbs to the next step?
We need to bare in mind that herbs are split into two categories: woody and soft herbs.
These herbs are your most pungent and powerful herbs. These herbs are not pleasant eating raw, and can be cooked for longer periods. The main purpose is to give full flavour and most often removed just before serving. Woody herbs are perfect for drying and don’t lose any flavours.
Some examples of woody herbs are:
These herbs are not as pungent as woody herbs, because they have such delicate flavours these herbs are best enjoyed raw, either in a salad, scattered over a dish, or stirred in the last 5 minutes of the cooking time. As soft herbs have such delicate flavours much of the flavour is lost when dried, so it is best to use fresh herbs instead.
Some examples of soft herbs:
We will now discuss each of these herbs in much detail and how to incorporate them into your cooking as well as what wine will pair well…
It is an extremely and incredible aromatic herb. It has a warm and resinous clove-like flavour. Tomatoes and Basil are a match made in heaven. It is a good staple herb in Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. The number one key ingredient in making Pesto. Finely chopped basil leaves stirred into mayonnaise make a wonderful sauce that pairs super well fish. Flowers are also used in salads. If using basil for salads, rather tear than chop the leaves, as chopping causes the leaves to discolour. Basil pairs well with either a Chianti or a Pinot Grigio.
Adding a bay leaf or two at the very beginning of the cooking process gives meat, soups, marinades and stews an extra depth of flavour. I love adding bay leaves to my boiling water when making mash potatoes. Bay leaves are super pungent in flavour so don’t add too much. Just remember to take the leaves out before serving. We don’t want anyone chocking or possibly having their intestines scratched. It pairs super well with either a Cabernet Sauvignon or Sauvignon Blanc.
Chervil almost has the same taste as tarragon, but more subtle in flavour. It has very delicate leaves looks similar to that of parsley and used in salads or creamy soups. Chervil truly enhances the flavours of eggs, chicken, and fish. It is also one of the key ingredients in Fines Herbs. Chervil pairs well with a Shiraz or a Chardonnay.
I love chives, they add a lovely mild onion flavour to your food. You can add them to salads, sauces, omelettes and potatoes. You can chop the fresh chives and add them to an ice tray, this way you will always have a nice supply of chives. Vinegar and oils are made from the flowerheads, you can also add the flowers as an edible garnish. I know Jamie Oliver has a mean cheese and onion salad using the flowerheads of Chives. A Pinot Noir or a Sauvignon Blanc will pair well with Chives.
A herb with many names: Danya, Coriander, Chinese Parsley or Cilantro. You get two types of people. Those who absolutely love it and those who absolutely hate it. Me…the smell of chopping up fresh coriander has this most wonderful aroma. Some may argue it is a spice and not a herb. In this case, it is a herb. We will discuss the clear differences between herbs and spices in the following articles. It is mostly used in Thai, Indian, Malay, and Mexican Cuisine. As these leaves are delicate in flavour they should be added in the last few minutes of the cooking time. If making a curry paste ensure you use the stalks as well, as they have more flavour than the leaves. Lime, chilli, cumin seeds and coriander are the worlds best of friends. Coriander pairs well with either a Grenache or a Chenin Blanc wine.
Dill’s leave looks very similar to Fennel leaves, however, they have a different flavour. They have more of a caraway seed flavour than aniseed. You can use them either dried or fresh. A key ingredient in making Gravalax and mostly used in Eastern Europe and Scandanavian Dishes. It goes super great with any fish, pickles, chutneys, mustard, and root vegetables. A good Pinot Noir or Chardonnay will do the trick in pairing well with dill inspired dishes.
It has a warm, sweet aniseed flavour. It is used to flavour butter, cheeses, egg dishes, mayonnaise, vinegar, and oils. The fennel stalks are very strong in flavour and perfect for fish and pork. The bulbs of a fennel are cooked like a vegetable served with a white wine sauce or thinly sliced in a salad with a vinaigrette. You can serve either a Pinot Grigio or a Pinot Noir.
It has a spicy and aromatic flavour. He is also baby brother to the Oregano. They do look very similar but Marjoram has thinner and more delicate leaves that are round instead of a pointed shape. Marjoram also plays a role in making a bouquet garni. Although a wooded herb, and has a strong flavour it is mild enough eaten raw and added to salads, omelettes and sauces. The flavour of dried marjoram is about 3 times the strength of fresh. A good Merlot or Sauvignon Blanc will do the trick.
Is such a versatile herb, often used in savoury and sweet dishes. It also goes super well with many beverages from smoothies to cocktails. Fruits like peaches, figs and melon pairs well with mint. It is also excellent with lamb, fish and do not forget the minty mushy peas. Adding a little chilli, to mint gives it a cutting edge as mint’s fresh flavour totally balances out the heat of the chilli. If you having a mint inspired meal try pairing it with a Merlot or one of my favourites a Riesling.
Slightly more robust than Marjoram. Commonly used in Southern Europe. Used mostly in Italian, Greek, and French Cuisine, it compliments foods like lamb, tomatoes, peppers, grilled fish, and oh can forget pizzas and pasta. You can pair either Chianti or a Sauvignon Blanc with Oregano.
You get two types of parsley. Curly leaf and flat leaf. A strong aromatic herb that adds a fresh taste to basically any dish. Parsley stalks are often used in Soups, Stocks and Stews. Parsley pairs well with garlic, lemon, ham and mushroom dishes. Drinking a Cab Sauv or Chenin will not do any harm at all.
Rosemary leaves looks similar to that of pine needles. It has such a lovely intense earthy flavour. Rosemary goes super well with lamb, beef, garlic, anchovies and olives. If using leaves in stews, soups or vegetable dish, chop the leaves up finally. They are super intense in flavour and can be rather unpleasant to chew on. Use rather sparingly unless you are roasting chicken or meat. Rosemary is also excellent for flavouring both oils and vinegar. The flowers are very pretty and make an attractive garnish. You can add them to salads, butter and cottage cheese. You need a good strong wine to pair with rosemary, a good Merlot or Chardonnay will go super well.
Sage has long oval fury leaves that can kick a mean punch if used too much. Mostly used in Italian cuisine and pairs well with veal, pumpkin, garlic, tomatoes, onions, poultry and pork dishes. Often also used to flavour sausages. Sage also aids the digestion of rich foods so it is excellent with oily fish or fatty meats. Chopped leaves also add flavour to bread, scones and cottage cheese. Chop and cook sage in a little olive oil or butter until nice a crisp pour over a simple pasta dish like a ravioli or tortellini. Flavours are just as pretty to use as a decorative and tasty garnish. Sage goes well with either a Pinot Noir or a Riesling.
A popular herb used in much many French Cuisine, as it is another key ingredient in Fines Herbs. Tarragon creates a slight numbing after-effect on the tongue if eaten fresh. It enhances the flavours of poultry and seafood, eggs, vegetables like green beans and carrots. A full-bodied Shiraz or Chardonnay will pair well tarragon flavoured dishes.
Thyme has a very strong piquant and lemony flavour. A very popular ingredient in stews, stocks and soups. Marries well with red meat, poultry and oil-rich fish. Carrots, mushrooms, leeks, swedes, and artichokes just love thyme. Thyme is also a common component of the bouquet garni, and of herbs de Provence. Dried thyme retains its flavour better than many other herbs. Although thyme is a strong and flavourful herb it does not overpower and blends rather well with other herbs and spices. A Pinot Grigio or a Cabernet Sauvignon will go well with Thyme.
What are your favourite herbs to cook with? What is your signature dish using herbs? Are there any herbs you just can’t stand the taste off? Is there anything you do with herbs that takes your cooking to another level? So my dear friends – I would love to hear from you, and remember to sign up so you don’t miss another boozy post. I do plan in the near future to post a delicious homemade butter that has brandy, cream and red wine as some of its ingredients.