Beginners Guide: How to cook with herbs?
Yes, I know this blog is called My Boozy Kitchen, but I also want to share with you the basic techniques of cooking. Many of my recipes contains herbs and spices. Pairing the right herbs to which wine is just as important. You might have flavours that will completely clash and your entire dish can be a disaster.
In order for you to become a seasoned cook, you need to have a strong foundation in order for you to start experimenting with all sorts of flavours. This is what I hope to achieve in this article. Besides, all the talk of booze all day, people may start to think I’m an alcoholic. (Laugh out Loud!!)
The best thing for me when I cook, is using fresh herbs and spices. Nothing more satisfying than to be able to chop up or grind your very own herbs or spices.
It can give your food a good punch of flavour. You can almost say they are natures little surprise packages of flavour.
Herbs adds so much more flavour to your food without adding single calorie or gram of fat. If want to or if you must really… you can cut fat and salt by flavouring foods with herbs instead of using butter, cream or salt. Cooking with butter and cream is just so good why you would want to cut it out….
Herbs have excellent health benefits, not only are they used for culinary purposes but many are used in medicinal, or in some cases even spiritual usages. General usage differs between culinary herbs and medicinal herbs. As this is a cooking blog we will discuss the most commonly known herbs for cooking.
For me, using fresh herbs brings a wonderful and very complex flavour to any dish. It doesn’t matter if it is a complicated French dish or a mid-week budget meal adding the right herbs will make your dish taste like a million dollars.
You do not need much to make an extraordinary impact in your cooking. A little goes a long way. The most important fact to remember – avoid mixing strongly flavoured herbs together. You can, however, mix milder herbs together like parsley and basil.
The most commonly fresh herbs used in everyday cooking is:
- Bay Leaves,
Herbs in their dried form are more concentrated than fresh and best used slightly more sparingly than fresh herbs. I just prefer cooking with fresh herbs, the smell of chopping up basil or coriander just makes my mouth salivate.
Fresh herbs are easy to find at your local supermarket, particularly in summer months. But it is even more fun to go and pick your own from your garden.
Once you know your herbs you’ll be able to mix and match flavours and you will be well on your way of making your own herb dressings, soufflés, flatbreads, vinaigrette, flavoured oils and so much more.
How to Start Cooking With Herbs:
Cooking with herbs… it just totally completes a dish. If you are a beginner cook or not familiar with cooking with fresh herbs it may be extremely overwhelming at first. So many herbs and so many recipes to choose from – where do you start?
Well start at the very beginning – use a recipe that includes herbs. One of the best sites for a wide variety of recipes and from Michelin star chefs is the BBC Good Food Website.
The pleasure comes when the distinctive flavour of each herb is fully understood and has a signature of your very own creation.
Here are a few tips to help:
Obtain a clean fresh leaf of a herb, and chew it slowly, move it slowly around the mouth, enjoy and experience the leaf as one may do to a very fine wine. Let the leaf meet all your taste senses. Meditate on the flavour of the herb: Is it very strong? Or soft and delicate? Is it sweet or savoury? Think about what food may compliment a dish/food. You don’t have to swallow the herb if you don’t want to.
Add freshly chopped herbs to something familiar to you and slightly bland in flavour, for example, add chives to sour cream, rosemary to potatoes, and thyme to bacon. The power of the herb on its own assists you to know in how much to add. Have a little “herb notebook” and make notes of what herbs you used and whether it complimented the dish or not. If it was fresh or dried or a combo of both. Don’t be afraid to experiment, and play around with flavours.
The best things about herbs you can even make use of the pretty little flowers. They make awesome little garnishes. Not only do they flavour a dish but also add colour. Remember we eat with our eyes and presentation is just as important. Pretty to the eyes – heaven on the taste buds. Flowers can be added to sauces, salads, sautés and desserts.
How to freeze herbs:
Freezing herbs is a fantastic way of storing them for a longer period. Very gently clean the herbs, blot them dry with a paper towel, remove the leaves from the stalks, and pack your gorgeous little herbs in a freezer bag or airtight container. It is up to you if you would like to freeze them whole or chopped – entirely your choice. Another handy little trick that I do so often is to chop a variety of herbs and put in an ice tray, cover with water and freeze. When you need them all you do is take a block of ice or two and pop them in your soup, stew or sauce, and pop the rest back into the freezer for the following time.
How to use dried herbs:
Most herbs flavours and aromas are released by heat. Sometimes you just can’t find certain fresh herbs, you need a plan B. Dried herbs come very handily. Dried herbs are far more pungent in flavour. Always remember the rule of thumb – 1 teaspoon crumbled or 1/4 teaspoon for powered/dried herbs for every tablespoon of fresh herbs.
Tips in Using Fresh Herbs:
To release the flavours of fresh herb it is best to use a mortar and pestle. By bashing the herbs you release the oils in them and they enhance the flavours so much more.
When herbs are required for cold dishes ensure that the herbs are used at room temperature.
Avoid mixing two very strong herbs together, instead rather use one strong herb with a milder flavour to complement one another.
If you are using softer herbs like basil, parsley, or coriander add them to the end of the cooking. If you add them initially in the beginning, those beautiful delicate flavours will be lost as well as all those good health benefits. You can make your own flavoured vinegar and oils simply by bruising about one cup of herbs for every 2 cups of oil/vinegar. Allow for it to seep for 2 weeks.
Fresh herbs must always be fragrant, fresh looking and not wilted or have any discolouration.
Store your fresh herbs in a loosely wrapped damped paper towel and then in a perforated plastic bag that it can breathe. Store in the crisper drawer in your refrigerator.
Add uncooked herbs an hour before serving as the herbs can fuse with the other foods which can overpower the other flavours.
In my subsequently next article, I will discuss the most important herbs to have in your kitchen.