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In most cases, we find that fresh herbs add so much more zing to cooking than dried herbs. We live in an apartment and have pots of them growing on the kitchen windowsill.
But when the cold comes, the herbs die off and our farmers markets won’t have replacements until spring. The solution: buying greenhouse-raised fresh herbs for a premium price.
So when and how should you pay for fresh herbs?
The truth is that when most herbs are dried, they lose at least some of their flavor and aroma.
The woody herb group is often just as good dried as fresh. Bay leaf, oregano, thyme, rosemary and sage tend to work as well (or almost as well) dried as fresh. Save your money and use dried herbs.
Soft herbs are better fresh. Basil, chives, cilantro, mint and parsley lose much of their magic once they’ve been dried. Spring for the fresh versions.
Woody herbs like rosemary are often as flavorful whether fresh or dried. Photo courtesy Burpee.
WHEN TO USE FRESH HERBS
When you want bright flavor: in eggs, salad dressings, sauces and other dishes that are made and served immediately. and other quick dishes since dried herbs don’t have enough time to really infuse these kinds of dishes.
In special dishes where the complexity of flavor counts. Most people like turkey stuffing whether the herbs are fresh or dried; but fresh sage is magical to us. Even though dried sage is a pretty good substitute, we always buy fresh sage for our stuffing, and use the rest in appetizers (stuffed mushroom caps, for example) and other recipes.
If you have too many leftover fresh herbs: freeze them! First strip leaves from woody stems. You can also freeze them in ice cube trays, covered with some vegetable or chicken broth, and pop the frozen cubes right into the recipe. You can also add one to the dish when you’re reheating leftovers.(After the cubes freeze, remove them to heavy plastic storage bags.)
For best flavor, woody herbs like rosemary
and oregano can be either fresh or dried.
Photo courtesy McCormick.
WHEN TO USE DRIED HERBS
Dried herbs begin to open up when they meet moisture, and their flavors continue to grow over time. That’s why they are best to use in dishes that take a day or two for the flavors to infuse—soups and stews, for example.
Dried herbs need to be added early to the recipe so their flavor has time to infuse. Add them late in the preparation and they don’t open up as well.
Not all dried herbs are the same quality. Often, the jumbo bargain sizes at club stores don’t pack the same punch as a supermarket jar of McCormick. McCormick itself has a special “gourmet collection” line with the choicest herbs.
Check your dried herbs and spices annually; but if they no longer give off a nice aroma, it’s probably time to buy a new jar. Here’s how to check dried herbs and spices for freshness.
Use herbs at the end of cooking for fresh, bright flavor. We snip fresh basil, chives or parsley over pasta, soup, vegetables—just about anything.
Dried herbs have a more concentrated flavor, fresh herbs have a better aroma and brighter flavor. Don’t use them in equal proportions.
Substitution ratio: Use 1-1/2 times the amount of fresh herbs as dry herbs: 1-1/2 teaspoons fresh sage = 1 teaspoon dried sage.
If it pains you to throw out dried herbs that are past their prime, buy a fresh bottle to use where it counts and start adding the older herbs to dishes where any flavor or color: scrambled eggs, omelets, canned soup, grilled vegetables, rice, dips, etc.
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