Fresh Herbs

 

Fresh herbs are aromatic plants that flavour and garnish both raw and cooked dishes. Here the techniques of chopping, shredding and snipping are shown.

PREPARING FRESH HERBS

For maximum flavour, use fresh herbs immediately after picking. Usually only the leaves are used, although stalks are also sometimes included. The aromas come from the essential oils, which are released by cutting.

CHOPPING

Strip the leaves from the stalks and chop coarsely, bunching the leaves up against a chef's knife.

SHREDDING

Suitable for soft leaves such as basil. Stack the leaves and roll them tightly. Slice crosswise into shreds.

SNIPPING CHIVES

Hold a bunch of chives over a bowl or board and finely snip them into small pieces with kitchen scissors.

COOKING WITH FRESH HERBS

Not all herbs behave in the same way in cooking. Use the points below to make the most of each.

• The flavour of fragile herbs, such as basil, dill and mint, diminishes when heated, so add them at the end of cooking. By contrast, hearty herbs such as thyme and rosemary benefit from long cooking because their perfumes are allowed to slowly permeate the dish.

• The method in which a herb is cut also affects its intensity. Grinding herbs in a pestle and mortar or food processor heightens their flavour. Shredding herbs lends a less pungent taste and is best for soft-leaved herbs like basil.

• Delicate herbs may turn black if chopped too long in advance; this is especially true of mint. To retain colour, cut herbs just before use.

FINES HERBES

This classic mixture of four herbs consists of equal quantities of chives, chervil, parsley and tarragon. The chives should be snipped and the other herbs finely chopped. Fine herbes should always be added at the end of cooking.

Snip chives. Put chervil, parsley and tarragon leaves on a cutting board and chop them finely together. Combine with the chives before using.

MAKING A BOUQUET GARNI

The classic mix for this flavour enhancer is thyme, bay, parsley and celery wrapped in the dark green part of a leek and tied tightly with string. Used in slow-cooked dishes, it gradually releases its flavours.

For the bouquet garni shown here, the green part of the leek is loosely wrapped around a bay leaf, a sprig each of rosemary and thyme and a few stalks of parsley, then tied with string. For easy removal of a bouquet garni at the end of cooking, leave a long end on the string and tie it to the handle of the pan, or enclose the bouquet in a muslin bag.