Herbs

Herbs

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From
Encyclopedia of Food and Cookery

The generous but discriminating use of herbs is one of the easiest ways of adding flavour to food. Herbs owe their flavouring qualities to essential oils which quickly permeate the foods with which they are mixed. Sometimes the seeds of the plant are the seasoning agent; sometimes it is the foliage. You will find that most herbs are at their best when home-grown and plucked fresh for use – so do start a small herb garden.

Herbs are easy to cultivate – in a backyard garden, in pots or in a box on the kitchen window-sill – preferring a light, moderately rich soil and a sunny exposure. Few gardening efforts are less troublesome or more rewarding than growing herbs of one’s own, for nothing adds such interest and flavour to cooking as a snip or two of a favourite herb.

Discover the joy of cooking with herbs by starting with the major ones. Parsley, thyme, sage, mint, marjoram, basil, chives, oregano and bay leaf are the ones most often used.

With fresh parsley and mint we are on familiar ground. To cook without parsley is almost unthinkable. The curly, attractive, bright green leaves can be chopped and sprinkled over dishes before serving to give flavour, colour and nutrition to soups, casseroles, grills, sautés and salads. A sprig or stalk goes into flavouring many savoury dishes. Flat-leaf Italian parsley is also good in flavour, and coriander (cilantro) is becoming popular (see Coriander). Mint sauce is a favourite with lamb and vegetables such as green peas and carrots.

Thyme, marjoram and sage are used in stuffings; sprigs or a few little chopped leaves are added to roasts, casseroles, meat loaves and sausages.

Chives and garlic, those well-known members of the onion family long used in Mediterranean countries, are becoming more acceptable throughout the world. Garlic bread is an international favourite. Chives snipped over omelettes and salads, or jacket potatoes with added butter or sour cream, are all great treats.

No kitchen should be without bay leaves – the foundation of bouquet garni, bay flavours stocks, soups and stews. And an infusion of bay leaf and milk transforms rice puddings and many cream sauces.

Fresh or dried herbs? Fresh is almost always best. Parsley, chives, mint and basil should always be fresh. Thyme, marjoram and oregano can be used both fresh and dried. Bay leaves should not be absolutely fresh; they are picked and kept for 3 or 4 days to allow them to lose their bitterness. Or they may be purchased dried. Good-quality tarragon is often dried.

Use 1 teaspoon dried herbs in the place of every tablespoon fresh herbs. Crumble dried herbs before using, to release their odour. If using dried herbs, it helps to chop the herbs along with some fresh parsley: it gives a nice look and fresh flavour to the otherwise colourless herbs.

When buying dried and rubbed herbs, the rougher looking ones are usually the best. With very fine or powdered herbs the flavour seems to get lost. Do not expect dried herbs to last forever; buy in small quantities, keep them airtight and in a cool, dark place.

See separate entries for individual herbs.

Fines herbes: A mixture of fresh parsley, tarragon, chives and chervil, all finely chopped, is called fines herbes in classical French cooking. This is virtually the bouquet garni of uncooked or briefly cooked dishes. Nowadays, the term is commonly applied to other combinations of fresh herbs which may include only one or more of the original fines herbes. They are used in the following traditional ways:

Omelettes: The best-known use for this delicate herb mixture. Stir 1 tablespoon fines herbes into a 2‑-egg omelette mixture before cooking, and garnish the omelette with a fresh herb sprig. Other fresh herbs, or parsley alone, may be substituted if classic fines herbes are not available.

Other Egg Dishes: Flavour scrambled eggs or soufflés with fines herbes; shell soft-boiled eggs and serve in little dishes, with a mixture of melted butter and fines herbes poured over them.

With Chicken or Veal: Mix fines herbes with melted butter and a squeeze of lemon juice for a simple sauce to spoon over grilled or roast chicken, veal scallops or veal cutlets.

Sauces: Mix fines herbes into Mayonnaise or Sauce Tartare, or Hollandaise or Béarnaise Sauce, to serve with fish, shellfish, vegetables or eggs.

Salads: Sprinkle fines herbes over a green, potato or pasta salad.

Ingredients

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