Top tips for cooking with herbs
TV chef and restaurateur Marcus Bean shares his knowledge of how to make the most of herbs in your kitchen
We’re all guilty of it – buying fresh herbs, using a few leaves or sprigs in one recipe and then letting the rest wilt until it’s only fit for the bin. So here are some top tips to ensure nothing goes to waste, so you’ll always have something to hand to pep up your culinary masterpieces.
Clean J-cloths are perfect for storing fresh herbs. Just run a cloth under cold water, squeeze out the excess water, open it up, lay your herbs inside and roll up. You can store this in the fridge – just make sure to re-dampen your cloth if it becomes dry to ensure your herbs stay fresh for as long as possible.
Drying fresh herbs
If you are not using all your fresh herbs, or have too many in the garden, put them in bunches, tie string around the stalks and hang upside down in your kitchen or utility room until completely dry. Once dry, crumble into jars and use whenever you require – just sprinkle on to roast potatoes, vegetables, meat or fish before cooking. You can even try mixing a selection of dried herbs together to make your own flavoured herb mix.
Flavoured butters and oils
Flavoured butters can be a great way to preserve herbs for longer and they are incredibly versatile for cooking with. Chop your fresh herbs (basil, tarragon and garlic will work nicely) and mix with butter before using your hands to roll the butter into long sausage shapes using clingfilm, then wrapping tightly. Your butter can be kept in the fridge for two to three weeks (or use by ‘best before’ date), or you can slice into portions and freeze – either way, flavoured butter tastes great spread on fresh bread or on top of sizzling steaks.
Olive or rapeseed oils can also be infused with herbs to create dressings – the best herbs to use for this are mint, rosemary and lemon thyme. Steep the herbs for two to three weeks in airtight jars or bottles before draining and decanting for use when required.
Store basil in your fridge and it will turn brown and go off. If your basil is fresh, keep it in a tub in your kitchen, or if it is potted, keep it on your windowsill so it gets sunlight and make sure it is kept watered.
Basil bruises easily and so you shouldn’t chop it as you do other herbs. Instead, take a few leaves at a time, roll tightly and carefully slice to get a chiffonade (long thin strips) of basil. To save waste, use leftover leaves and stalks for butters, oils and vinegars.
Combine basil, mint, parsley and coriander with garlic, Parmesan, pine nuts and oil to create your own home-made pesto. Whizz the ingredients together in a blender and season with salt and pepper to taste. Once complete, store in a jar in your fridge and enjoy for up to three to four weeks. Use a spoonful in cooked pasta or risotto for a delicious dinner party dish.
Basil also works well for sweet recipes. To create basil-infused cream, simply warm the cream with basil leaves and allow to cool overnight. Once cool, strain the cream and use for making fools, custard, crème brûlée and panna cotta. Basil also goes well with strawberries.
Mint ice cubes are a great addition to any drink – simply half-fill your ice tray with water, add mint leaves and freeze for 30-60 minutes. When frozen, top up your trays with additional water to seal the leaves and replace in the freezer.
Chopped fresh mint is great for sprucing up your salads and giving a fresh and vibrant flavour.
Growing your own herbs
Herbs are not difficult to grow and almost all can be planted outside (apart from basil, which is best suited to an inside pot or greenhouse). The easiest herbs to start growing are basil, chives, mint, rosemary, thyme, parsley and sage since they require the least maintenance.
If you do not have space for a herb garden, plant herbs as borders on paths or driveways, or use pots and hanging baskets. If you have only the space for one pot, use a strawberry pot so you can plant different herbs in each section of the pot.
Remember to trim your herbs on a regular basis to stimulate the growth of new shoots.
Marcus Bean is a regular chef on ITV’s This Morning.