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The Culinary Application of Common Herbs

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ImageWith Spring in the air, it seems like a good time to present a basic primer on herbs. The following usage guide provides just the information you need to start working with some of the most popular varieties.

All of the herbs listed below are readily available at most good grocery stores and will run somewhere between $1-2 per bunch. Or you can pick up live plants at the Farmers' Market. In either case, herbs make an attractive and healthy addition to any dish.

Bon Appetite.

What you need to know

Herbs can make a pedestrian dish come alive.  But too much of a good thing can be overwhelming. This is especially true of dill. As you will find, a light touch is often best.

Dried herbs lend themselves to slow cooked dishes like stews and soups. While, the delicate top notes of fresh herbs (think cilantro) are shown to best advantage when used as a finishing touch in a spicy dish like salsa or to add complexity to a plain salad.

This chart is a quick reference for those who are just starting to cook or beginning to use fresh herbs and greens.  As you begin to experiment, you'll find that your palate will prove to be your best guide.

HerbFlavor Complements 
BasilStrong with licorice accentTomato sauce and
dishes, crab, shrimp,
lamb, veal, zucchini,
eggplant.
Bay Leaf
Accent flavorSlow cooked stews,
mole, soups, meat,
game. Used with
other herbs
ChervilVery delicate parsley flavorPrinciple ingredient
in Fine Herb mixes.
Ideal as a garnish.
Use only fresh

Chives

Chives/Flat tube 

Mild onion flavor
Garlic accent
Both are finishing herbs for
eggs, soups, salads.
Preferred by those
who eschew onions.
Dill Weed
Unique flavorGoes well with fish,
smoked salmon.
Use in cucumber,
potato salads.
FennelLicorice notesUse with fish, duck,
and as a garnish for
cream of mushroom
soups.
MarjoramPleasant taste, cousin of OreganoUse as a seasoning
for soups, vegetable
dishes, eggs, stuffing
mixes, peas.
MintClean refreshing flavor
Use in fruit drinks,
Moroccan tea,
new potatoes, jelly.
Oregano
Pungent
Tomato based dishes,
pizza sauce, meatballs
sausage, zucchini,
eggplant.

Parsley

Flat leaf

Curly leaf 

Core Seasoning

Delicate flavor

Classic flavor 

The flat leaf is becoming
the new standard due to
its nuanced flavor.
Principal flavoring for
salads, herb mixes,
marinades, stuffing mix,
and any number of
recipes.
RosemaryPungent, woodsy
Use in lentil soup,
to flavor chicken,
specialty breads, lamb,
game, marinades.
SageUnique strong flavor
Main flavor in many
stuffing mixes. Often
used in chowders, stews,
gravies and to season
pork, duck and goose.
SavoryIntense  flavor
Used in fish and pea soups,
Herbes de Provence mixes,
stews, and in marinades.
Tarragon

Unique accent flavor-

slightly hot with licorice undertones

Frequently used in salads,
sauces, dressings, with
mushrooms, chicken and
potato soups, as well as
chicken, & turkey dishes.
ThymeCore seasoning flavor
Along with parsley this
herb is one of the most
important to international
cuisine. Used in stuffing,
marinades, stews, broths,
stocks and sauces.

Tips on Storing Fresh Herbs

Rinse the herbs well, pat dry with a clean kitchen towel. Wrap the rinsed and dried herbs in a paper towel and place in the fridge crisper. Do not store herbs in a plastic bag as it collects condensation and makes the herbs wilt. Plus, buy only what you can realistically use in 3-5 days.

For those with massive freezer space - Take few of the fresh herbs, chop them up and place into ice cube trays with some water and freeze. This item comes in very handy when you just want a little color/favor in a soup or stew.

Tips on Storing Dried Herbs

After purchase, store the herbs in a dry, cool, dark place (not near the stove on in direct sunlight). Your kitchen cabinet is probably fine. 

Tips on Buying Herbs

Buy fresh when you can. If buying dried, make sure the desired herb is a rich color and not faded in spots or dull and brown.



About the Seasoner

Image Kathy FitzHenry is the founder of Juliet Mae Fine Spices, an artisan maker of fine spice blends and seasonings located in San Francisco. Known for her array of sophisticated, handmade products, Kathy has just begun to sell her blends nationally under the name The Occasional Gourmet.  You can find her blends at select specialty stores and at all the Northern California Whole Foods Stores. For more information, please contact Kathy at 415-474-1633 or go to www.theoccasionalgourmet.com.  


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