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When you start cooking with fresh herbs your family will be so impressed, they will wonder when you found time to become a professional chef. Simply adding fresh herbs to your dishes is the difference between ordinary dishes and extraordinary dishes it's also the difference between a home cook and a chef. One of the first things they teach us in culinary academy is the correct use of fresh herbs.
Fresh herbs are what changes basic foods into favored dishes. They are the secondary seasonings that develop and extend the natural flavors of our raw materials. Fresh herbs compliment and enrich taste without adding any calories or fat. There are some basic ideas that apply to virtually all herbs. Let us look at them and then we can explore the individual herbs to see how best to enhance your cooking.
Fresh herbs have subtle and delicate flavors. Prolonged cooking causes them to lose their fragrance and their flavor. Add the fresh herbs near the end of the cooking time the flavors develop very quickly. They should not cook in liquids for more than about an hour, generally, to get the most from them, some herbs, as basil will turn black if cooked too long. Add herbs to stocks, soups, stews near the end and see how much richer the flavors will be at the table.
Rub Roasts with herbs before cooking. One restaurant technique is to chop the fresh herbs you want to use with a bit of salt and pepper. Then, rub the seasonings on the roast and finish as usual. This technique works will with poultry and seafood as well. For ground meats, finely mince the fresh herbs and mix into the meat before cooking. Add whatever other additions you like - eggs, crumbs, prepared sauces, salt, pepper, etc. - and shape them as appropriate for the dish.
Add fresh herbs to both batters and crumb mixtures used for fried foods. Chop finely, mix into batter or crumbs the green color add eye appeal as well as flavor.
Fresh herbs enhance cooking waters for vegetables. Either chop and drop them into the water so they'll be part of the finished dish or tie them in a little cheesecloth bag and remove them before serving.
Fresh herbs can add wonderful character and pleasantly surprising complexity to breads. A general rule of thumb is to add somewhere between 1 to 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs per one-pound loaf. Herbal cornbread is wonderful. Likewise biscuits, dumplings, savory pancakes and waffles - add up to a tablespoon to 2 cups of flour.
Fresh herbs are perishable and proper storage can prolong their lives rather nicely. Store bunches under refrigeration with their stems in water. Keep loose leaves in the coldest part of a refrigerator in perforated bags. Some moisture is good for fresh herbs. Too much moisture promotes decay. Shake them as dry as possible before storing. It is a good idea to crumple a paper towel and put it into the bag under the herbs. It absorbs excess moisture and lengthens the useful life of the herbs.
When preparing a dish that requires a lengthy cooking period, it is best to use a small, tied bunch of fresh herb sprigs or bouquet Garni. This little bundle customarily contains parsley, bay leaf, and thyme wrapped in cheesecloth then tied to keep closed. A bouquet garni is often used in stews, soups and long cooking sauces like tomato sauce.
Herbal combinations can also be minced and added to a meal immediately upon completion of cooking, and as a garnish before serving. This French practice is referred to as fines Herbes combinations include fresh chervil, parsley, tarragon, and chives most chefs use fines Herbes as a garnish for any dish and any herb that was used in cooking the dish can be used as a garnish. Sprinkling finely sliced basil on top of a plate of spaghetti with meat sauce adds huge color and helps bring out the flavor of the basil cooked into the sauce.
Italian cuisine often consists of herbal blends that include basil, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, and thyme. Basil is best to use fresh (when possible) and compliments tomatoes, tomato sauces, eggs, fresh salads, and macaroni. It adds a wonderful tang to vegetables such as green beans, peas, eggplant, and zucchini. Basil is the significant ingredient in pesto and is an extraordinary compliment in both tofu and tempeh marinades.
Oregano or marjoram is the preferred herbs in Italian cooking, especially in spaghetti sauces and pizzas. They also add a nice touch in salads, soups, and chicken. Mediterranean cuisine favors the use of oregano as well. Marjoram can actually be used as a substitute for oregano, providing a much subtler taste. It often accompanies green beans, mushrooms, and chicken as well. Thyme is an exceptional herb for seasoning sausages, soups, casseroles, bread, stuffing, and many cooked vegetables. Sage, like thyme, is a terrific addition to sausage and stuffing. Many experienced cooks accent their favorite meatloaf recipes with this herb. Chicken, pork, and lamb taste best when flavored with rosemary. Adding a scant pinch to mashed potatoes or peas can add an appetizing twist to these otherwise ordinary side dishes. Take care when preparing foods with dried thyme and rosemary, when dried, these herbs possess an incredibly pungent flavor.
Tarragon enhances many foods; among these are chicken, fish, and lentils. Adding a hint of tarragon to split pea soup is heavenly. Tarragon also makes especially aromatic herbal vinegar. You can prepare tarragon vinegar by placing sprigs of the herb into a bottle. Pour vinegar into the bottle, completely covering the sprigs. Close the bottle tightly and store for several weeks. This allows the tarragon time to release its flavors. The herb Savory has two varieties: winter and summer. Both are often added to salads and poultry stuffing. Bean dishes also benefit from this herb's aroma. Bay leaves are frequently added to sauces, stews, and many dishes that require time to simmer. One medium bay leaf may be added to season a recipe that serves six. Bay leaves are excellent embellishments for spaghetti sauces, dishes containing chicken or venison, and eggs. Be sure to remove the bay leaves before serving, bay leaves are not to be eaten.
Parsley is a widely utilized herb, its flavor being subtle enough to be added to virtually any cuisine. Cooked vegetables, stews, soups, and fresh or prepared salads often contain this herb. As a garnish, parsley adds fantastic eye appeal. Cilantro also referred to as coriander or coriander leaves, has an extraordinarily original flavor. It is utilized frequently in Indian, Mexican, and Chinese cooking. Some cooking texts actually identify this herb as Mexican or Chinese parsley. It adds a wonderful flare to salsas and marinades. Chervil, like parsley and coriander leaves, is often used as a garnish. This herb seasons soups, salads, and fish. Cheese dishes and potato salads are also excellent choices for the addition of chervil.
One of the most commonly used and well-known herbs is chive. Chives have a delicate onion flavor, making them a common addition to sour cream and cottage cheese. Sprinkling chives on vegetable stews or soups, particularly those containing eggs or milk-based products, is divine. This herb is placed in many herbal vinegars and jellies. Be certain not to add chives to dishes during boiling, frying, or baking. These processes destroy the herbs natural flavor. Dill weed is another commonly used herb, seasoning sour cream as a vegetable dip, salads, fish (particularly salmon), cold soups, and vegetables. The pickling process utilizes the seeds from this herb. Mint leaves are regularly used to adorn desserts, especially those consisting of chocolate or fruit. Mint has a very refreshing taste and is added to several salads and drinks containing fruit, tea blends, jellies, and sauces. Serve mint jelly or sauce with lamb.
Always remember to purchase herbs in small quantities. Store them in airtight containers to prevent staleness and insect intrusion. Place the containers in a cool, dry, darkened area. Fresh herbs may be refrigerated. Freezing fresh herbs is a relatively simple process. Cleanse the herbs delicately, blot them dry, and remove leaves from the stalks. You can freeze them whole or chopped, packing into bags or airtight containers. There is a convenient method of freezing chopped herbs to be used in soups or stews. Simply spoon the clean, chopped herbs into an ice cube tray, cover each cube with water, and freeze. You can pop them right out of the tray and into a cooking pot as needed. Remember to experiment! You are sure to create blends that compliment many of your favorite recipes!
Copyright © 1995 - Photius Coutsoukis (All Rights Reserved).
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