Herbs are Essential
Any Hipcook worth her Maldon Salt knows that Herbs are Essential. Garnish? P’shaw! Chopped herbs, scattered onto just about any savory dish, are sprinkles of magic that take the ho-hum to the “ha-ha, this tastes amazing!” Try this experiment: perfectly cook some scrambled eggs (not too wet, not too dry). Add salt and pepper. Taste. Now, sprinkle some chopped herbs on top. Whatever you got: chive, dill, parsley, basil, or tarragon. Cha-ching! It’s money, honey. Storing herbs correctly will keep you in the green, baby.
Sometimes, as in pesto, or in a Mojito (let’s be practical, people), herbs are the star of the show. Treat them right and they’ll sing for their supper (and in your supper!)
Packed with vitamins and nutrients, herbs are powerhouses of energy and vitality. They cleanse your system like powerful little scrubbers, giving you a spring in your step in multiple ways. Cultures that use herbs plentifully and liberally are said to be the most healthy. Storing herbs properly will ensure their longevity — and yours!
Methods for Storing Herbs for Maximum Freshness
Not everyone has the luxury of bare-footing to the garden, scissors in hand, to snip whatever herb they need on a daily basis. (I’m one of those hippie-gardeners, by the way: I need herbs now, forever, always. But it’s eternal pre-spring here in Oregon and most of my herbs haven’t popped up yet.)
When you purchase precious herbs, treat them with love and they’ll love you back, long-time. Now, more than ever, storing herbs with love is crucial. Commit to storing herbs optimally, and you can expect to extend the storage life from days (until they begin to wilt), to weeks: up to 2-3 weeks for delicate herbs, longer for hardier ones. It really pays off to store herbs thoughtfully!
Think of your herbs as members of a family: each has their own personalities and quirks, and we love them for it.
Persnickety-rating: 10 out of 10
Water is the enemy of Basil. Don’t get it wet before storing it — if you must rinse it, do so just before using it and give it a whirl in the salad spinner to dry.
Trim the egregious stems, but leave a little stem attached to each leaf. If you pick the leaves completely off the stem or chop the Basil, that will be The End, in mere minutes.
Adding to its fussiness and temperamental nature (but how we love you anyway), Basil does not like to be packed too-tightly into a container. Like us, it needs breathing room.
Just like Goldilocks: not too hot, not too cold. Basil can last in a vase on the counter, but not for long if the temperatures are not absolutely ideal. The fridge will be your best bet: but then it must be air-tight to protect it. The back of the fridge is too cold, the basil will “burn.” A glass jar will solve all your problems: the glass is thick enough to protect the basil from the cold spots in the fridge, it keeps it air-tight, and you can pack it loose.
The Basil Redux: Remove the long part of the woody stem. Don’t get it wet. Pack it loosely in a glass jar: lots of breathing room. Pop it in the fridge
Persnickety-rating: 9 out of 10
Cilantro, like basil, does best when it is dry. Don’t rinse it after purchase, but be sure to rinse it before use: like parsley, the leaves have a lot of surface area that can trap gritty-tasting dirt. If you rinse it before storage, make sure it is as dry as possible before storage, since it will mold. Store stems and all, into a paper-towel-lined container, to catch any condensation. The more air around it, the better. While it is not as sensitive as basil (any old lidded container will do), try not to place it at the back of the fridge, where temps can be too cold for it.
Persnickety-rating: 8 out of 10
Like Basil, Dill must be kept dry and airtight. Don’t rinse the dill! However, it doesn’t really care if the leaves are picked from the stem. So to save fridge space, I pick a small, airtight container and line the bottom with a paper towel. Pick off the woody part of the stem and store airtight. Leave a bit of air on the top of the container: dill doesn’t like to be packed super-tightly (condensation will create water, the mortal enemy), but don’t fuss too much. Every now and then give the Dill container a little shakey and place it back in the fridge.
Persnickety-rating: 7 out of 10
Mint likes water! It even likes air: for a limited time. If I know I’ll be using my mint in a day or two, I’ll pop it in a vase on the counter. For maximum life: cold & airtight, baby! Grab a vessel (like a tall Tupperware or jar, and put some water in the bottom, no more than a couple of centimeters. Take your mint stalks and remove any very-bottom leaves, so that when you stand the mint stalks in the container, only stalks (and no leaves) touch the water. Pop on the lid and store in the fridge. Alternatively, you can give it the Basil Method above, packing it a little more tightly than the care you’d give the Basil. Mint won’t wind a little condensation: in fact, it helps. Rinsing and drying the mint before storing are a-OK.
Persnickety-rating: 6 out of 10
Basil hates water, Tarragon loves it! Tarragon will wilt super-fast if not stored properly. But with a few tricks, it will love you long time! Keep the Tarragon leaves on the stalk. Pop the stalks in an airtight Tupperware (a little LocknLock is perfect), and give it a bath in cold water. Secure the lid and pop it in the fridge. It’s as easy as that, and the Tarragon will be happy in its little cold water plunge pool. If you’re storing for over a week, change out the water for a fresh bath. Tarragon can last this way for weeks!
Persnickety-rating: 5 out of 10
Sage likes to be dry and airtight. For storage instructions, see Dill, above. So why the lower persnickety rating? When stored properly, it will last a good long time. When it dies, go outside for a walk and find more. It grows (almost) everywhere here on the West Coast.
Persnickety-rating: 4 out of 10
Oregano likes it dry-ish (it doesn’t really care) and airtight. For storage instructions, see Dill, above. This gets a lower “persnick” because it is not as useful as the other herbs and grows everywhere like a weed.
Persnickety-rating: 3 out of 10
What’s not to love love love about Parsley! It is my champion! So healthy, so delicious, so easy! Parsley will keep a long time in a vase, but longer in the fridge. Good ol’ Parsley, you can store it like Dill, above: but you can even pick off all the leaves from the stem and store it that way (for a parsley salad, my favorite!). Parsley is so hardy, you can even store it chopped. Parsley could really teach Basil a lesson or two in temperament! Whereas Basil is the tantrum-throwing 2-year-old, Parsley is the patient and sweet older cousin.
Persnickety-rating: 2 out of 10
I love chive for its elegant beauty and its punch-packing flavor. Pop it in a vase, put it in your windowsill where it will look gorgeous until it’s time to use it.
Persnickety-rating: 1 out of 10
Keep thyme dry and airtight in the fridge, and then you can literally forget about it. If it goes “bad” and dries out, it’s still good! Hip hip hooray!
Persnickety-rating: 0 out of 10
Rosemary can live in a vase, in the fridge: in a container or in the open air. When it finally gives out, you can find more. Easy-peasy.
When Good Herbs turn Bad
Give them a cold-water plunge
Most leafy herbs (except for our friend Basil, and the “woody herbs” like Thyme and Rosemary, can get a quick-refresh in an ice bath. They’ll perk right up!
Make an Herb Oil
You can suspend herbs in olive oil, and you’ll get the flavor in 2 ways: use the herbs (like oregano, pictured above). When I go camping, for instance, I’ll pack my herbs in olive oil. When I need a smattering fresh herbs, I remove them from the oil and use them up.
Secondly, you’ll get a flavored oil! Be sure to remove the herbs after a few days. They’ll have imparted their flavor into the oil. See the Rosemary lemon oil pictured above? It’s great sprinkled on roasted potatoes.
Make Crispy Sage Leaves, and Sage Brown Butter
I adore Crispy Sage Leaves: I add them to roasted butternut squash soup at the Hipcooks Hot Soup Focus Group class, I use them to adorn the top of risottos or pasta. The best by-product of crispy sage leaves? Sage Brown Butter. Just do it.
Tune in later this week, we’ll post the recipe here!
Make Basil Oil
Super-concentrated, packed with flavor, and a great way to use up bunches of basil. This bright green oil is like an Emerald jewel: a few eyedropper fulls of this oil on the side of your plate will add flavor for days!
Here is the recipe for Basil Oil.
Thank you for tuning in to this mammoth post.
Did you make it through all the way to the herby bitter end? Yay! Do you want more on herbs? I was thinking about posting what I grow in my garden, and some planting tips for success. Would you like that? Please comment below. And stay in the Green, Hipcooks!