Each Herb is a Universe
The other day Fabien Phillip, the grower at the Marché de Saxe where I go twice a week, came up to me and said “Susan, I’ve got a few tomatoes if you want some.” He pointed around the back of his stand, and there, indeed, were just a few gorgeous little missile-shaped things of bright red with a yellow base. Some were split from the rain, but I chose several un-split tomatoes, got home, sliced and sprinkled them with salt, strew over a few basil leaves, added a drizzle of olive oil and sat right down to breakfast.
It will be a week or two before we’re fully into the summer produce season, of tomatoes, eggplant, and local fruit, but while we wait – and perhaps sample things from further afield – we have herbs galore to brighten up dishes and bring the season to the plate. Their season has arrived.
The question begs, though, which herbs for what?
I gathered many in order to demonstrate the best ones for specific dishes. But guess what? Each herb has its own, very large and complete universe of flavor and texture which means that it is hard to specify. I know instinctively which herbs to use when but in examining how to explain my instinct I realize it has as much to do with the day, my mood, the weather, and the food I am flavoring than any “rule”.
Vital Piece of Information
You can take our Live Classes, where I use fresh herbs all the time, and you’ll learn a lot about their flavors, how to use them, how to take best advantage of them to make your food taste and look beautiful.
Gradually you will use your instinct, based on what you learn and taste, and the guidelines I provide below. The vital piece of information to remember, though, is that using fresh herbs will enhance everything you make, making it brighter, better, more delicious.
Grow Your Own
I encourage you to grow your own herbs because most of them are hardy and grow easily and, if you have extreme seasons, they can be brought indoors or protected, and they’ll do just fine. They generally need little care, not much soil, and a plus is that they are always at hand. And most of them give beautiful, bright flowers which are edible, too!
A couple of often asked herb questions:
Do they need washing? I rinse certain herbs the minute I get them home, like flat-leaf parsley, thyme, and rosemary. I don’t rinse tarragon, dill, or basil unless absolutely necessary because their leaves are fragile and they bruise easily. If you do rinse your herbs, shake them gently afterwards to remove excess water, then set them on a tea towel to dry, before storing.
How long will herbs last? Count on most herbs staying fresh in the fridge for about four days. The best way to keep them is to line a plastic or glass container with a paper towel and lay the herbs in it, then seal it. The paper will absorb excess moisture and help the herbs stay fresh.
Here's a short list to help guide your herb instinct:
Tarragon: tastes like licorice, numbs your tongue which is kind of fun, and it is perfect in salad, with chicken, with fish, with quinoa, with melon, strewn over fresh peach slices…
Thyme: has a resinous touch which enhances red meats, fish, seafood, fruit, even a glass of lemon water
Flat-leaf parsley: beans, grains, pasta, and just about everything else
Chives: salad dressings, omelet or any egg dish, fish, yogurt dips, fresh cheese
Dill: seafood of all kinds, fruit, salad, cold cucumber soup, yogurt dips
Lemon verbena: cakes, cookies, lemonade, fruit, tisane