Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Preserving fresh herbs to make them last a bit longer

dried herbs
I just love to cook with fresh herbs. Although dried herbs are great, nothing can beat the taste (and colour) of fresh ones - I really do think they bring food alive. In the summer I grow pots of herbs in the garden and even up here, in windswept Northumberland, I've had success growing most of the varieties I've tried. Having said that, I keep my basil in the conservatory just to be on the safe side! Growing my own herbs means I can pick as much or as little as I need and as it replenishes itself it's hard to exhaust my supply.

Although it's the beginning of April now (and officially Spring) I am still resorting to my Winter contingency of buying the small, but expensive, packs of fresh herbs from the supermarket. The trouble is they always seem to have too much in them for what I need but then only last a couple more days in the fridge before turning to a greeny brown mush. 

I hate waste and get really annoyed at the amount I end up throwing out so I've been looking for ideas on how to preserve the herbs I've got leftover quickly and easily.  I've found two different methods that have worked really well - drying in the oven and freezing in oil. The results vary depending upon the type of herbs used so it's worth experimenting a bit.

Drying Herbs in an Oven

This method is best for the more woody herbs such as rosemary and thyme - the flavour is retained and the herbs spring back to life when added to soups, stews or sauces and, stored properly, they last for ages without losing their taste. This method isn't so effective for the leafy varieties such as parsley and coriander though - the leaves tend to wither away and lose their taste. 

drying rosemary
Drying Rosemary in the oven
To dry herbs in the oven, just spread the leaves out on a baking tray and pop into an oven that's still warm after cooking. Leave for an hour or so until the oven is completely cool and the herbs are dry and brittle. It's important that the oven is not switched on or too hot as too much heat will burn the herbs and impair the flavour. 

Store the dried herbs in an airtight jar - remembering to label it so you know what it is! They can then be used straight from the jar - how easy is that?

Preserving Herbs in Oil and Freezing

This method is my favourite! The herbs retain a lovely freshness and the little cubes can just be dropped straight into a soup or stew while it's cooking and they'll just melt away. Or the cubes can be allowed to defrost completely and then both the herbs and oil can be drizzled over the top of a salads or vegetables. I always use a good quality oil so if I want to drizzle they taste good - I like to use olive oil.

preserving herbs in oil
Rosemary, basil and coriander
It's really easy - just chop herbs finely and place a teaspoonful into each cavity of an ice cube tray. Pour in enough oil to cover the chopped herbs and lightly wrap the ice cube tray in cling film. Place in the freezer for at least 24 hours until solid. 

The cubes can then be tipped out of the ice cube tray into freezer bags and popped into the freezer until needed. Again, make sure the bags are labelled so you know which herb is which.
herbs preserved in oil and frozen
The little cubes can be melted into soups, stews or
sauces - delicious!
Although there is no replacement for freshly picked herbs, I would say these two methods are a great way of preserving herbs that might otherwise get thrown out and are definitely worth a try.

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