Preserving and storing herbs
Most people prefer to use fresh herbs in their cooking but sometimes a herb cannot be grown all year round and so storing herbs is necessary. Sometimes there may be an abundance of a herb crop within a short period of time that means there is excess supply so again storage is necessary.
Herbs tend to retain more of their flavour when they are stored 'whole'. The stored herbs can then be broken / ground up with a pestle and mortar before use to release their flavours and aromas. This is especially true of herb seeds such as Coriander seed which should be stored in their whole form and then ground up for use in cooking.
Herbs can be stored and preserved in a number of ways.
A relatively new method of storing herbs is freezing them. Many prefer this to drying herbs as more flavour can be preserved by freezing. To freeze your herbs you can adopt one of two methods. Firstly for leafy herbs such as Basil, Parsley, Dill or Chives you can simply rinse and then place straight into freezer bags or other suitable storage in the freezer. Some herbs may require blanching in boiling water for a minute before cooling the herbs in very cold water before transferring to the freezer.
An alternative method of freezing herbs that is becoming increasingley popular is to chop / cut the herbs into small pieces and place in the cells of ice cube trays. Top up the cells with clean cold water and then place in the freezer as you would normal ice cubes. When you want to use the herbs in cooking simply pop out a herb-cube and drop it into your sauce.
Drying herbs is the traditional method of preserving and storing herbs that has been used all over the world for centuries. The herbs should be dry and brittle, leave should crumble easily.
To retain as much flavour and fragrance as possible dryed herbs should be stored in airtight containers in a cool, dark place.
You can dry herbs by a number of different methods but each method will require the herbs to be prepared prior to drying. To prepare your herbs for drying you should
- remove any soil still attached to the stems
- rinse the herbs in cold water to remove any insects or dirt.
- Remove any flowering stems along with their flowers
- Gently pat off any excess water with a paper towel
The herbs are now ready for drying.
Air drying herbs
Tye the stems in bunches and then hang the bunches upside down. Because the bunches are upside down the herb oils that provide a lot of the herbs flavour and fragrance will travel down the stems and into the leaves. After about two weeks of hanging the leaves should be dry and brittle to the touch. Firmly run your fingers along the stems and the leaves should fall off easily. Collect the leaves and place in your airtight storage container.
You can use a dehydrator to dry your herbs. Simply place the herbs on one of your dehydrators trays and follow the machines instructions. You can turn the stems over to help achieve an even drying process. Dehydrators use electric heat to gently dry the produce but they don't 'cook' the produce unlike the microwave method outlined below. Dehydrators are useful for drying all sorts of produce, not just herbs.
This is a quick fix if you can't air dry your herbs but is recommended only if there is no other option as you are actually cooking the herbs. You can dry herbs in the microwave by placing them between two layers of kitchen towel in the microwave and then microwaving on a LOW setting for around 3 minutes. You can turn check the drying progress and turn the towel over after 2 minutes.