The Herb Guide
Herbs are a sweet way to radically alter, flavour and transform a dish and even alter the nutritional contribution. Get use to handling herbs with confidence and you’re opening up some great tastes and new directions.
Buy a pot or two to keep on your windowsill. Cheap. Easy. Available in supermarkets, markets etc. Water them regularly but not too much. Fresh herbs give you the texture you want in a fresh dish of food as well as full-on flavouring.
Store in the bottom of the fridge. Check they don’t go mouldy. Check the sell-by dates. Fresh packs from farmers markets can be huge so maybe don’t get too carried away!
Check out your supermarket selection. Herbs such as lemon grass/mint/ coriander come ready prepped, save you loads of chopping time and are really useful to have in. Use them to add to soups, casseroles, pies, curries etc.
HERBS IN JARS
I keep a small range of dried chopped herbs on my shelf and often find myself sprinkling a little bit of marjoram on a couple of chicken thighs or adding a pinch of oregano to my standard tomato sauce. It’s cheap, easy, effective. Be aware that dried herbs have a very different flavour to the fresh version though. They can be very strong (twice as strong) and have a much darker flavour. So experiment using small amounts until you’re confident. I never use dried herbs on salads but would add a few to my roast vegetables. Check the sell-by date on your jar (they go off) and try to store on a dark dry shelf.
PREPPING FRESH HERBS
Tear leafy herbs or shred them with a knife. Finely chop the leaves of coarse herbs. Snip chives with scissors. Bashing herbs in a pestle and mortar strengthens their flavour.
Wash and blot your herbs dry on kitchen paper, as you would with salad leaves.
Some of my favourites – flavour guide
BASIL: spicy yet fresh and a bit grassy – think subdued mint. Good for pesto if you have loads (a good farmers market buy if you want to keep the price down). Add basil to tomatoes, pizza (at the end of cooking if you can). Don’t use the dried variety. Keep it fresh.
BAY: a deep dark earthy aromatic so don’t over-do it. Use whole dried fresh or dried sparingly. Good to flavour a stew, pie, casserole, bread sauce at Christmas,, good with game, a beef sauce. Bay trees aren’t just for styling – there’re free aromatics there. Bay also comes whole in jars.
CHIVES: Slightly sweet with a hint of onion. . Use in fast cooking or add at the end. Great with eggs and cream.
CORIANDER: Bright, fresh, warm though not everyone loves it. Use the leaves, stems and roots to live up marinades/dull meats/curries/tex-mex/chilli/Asian cooking.
DILL: grassy taste, feathery stalk. Works with fish, eggs, potatoes, in soda bread, add at the end of cooking to maximise flavour when you can. Great when stuffing whole fish or baking fillets in parcels.
LEMONGRASS: bright and lemony aromatic. If using fresh, bash the end to bruise it then chop very finely. Use for curries.
MINT: not just for Pimms. Works brilliantly with lamb, peas, potatoes. Throw fresh mint into boiling water for tea.
PARSLEY: comes in flat leaf form or curly. Great with potatoes, in soups, always use it fresh. Good one for the windowsill.
ROSEMARY: woody herb works well with lamb, pork, beef, chicken, BBQ foods. Stick into the chicken cavity if you have a load around. Good for pizza dough and flat breads.
SAGE: dark woodsy herb best with pork, pasta, sausages, duck, darker meats, cheese
TARRAGON: best friends with any chicken dish – a roast, baked thighs, a soup. Works brilliantly with egg, egg sauces, tarts, soups, , mushroom and fish dishes. French tarragon is more subtle than Russian.
THYME: bittersweet and beautiful. Use with meats/pizza/pasta.
LEMON THYME: a seductive aromatic blending lemon and thyme. Love this with mussels, fish, eggs, chicken.