May 13, 2014 - Radio Kitchen - The Herbs of Spring
Since the farmers' markets reopened this spring, one of the easiest things to find has been fresh herbs. Now, herbs are great because they can be grown under cover, and a little bit of space can yield a lot of product. There are a lot of herbs out there to work with, but we don't always have an idea about what to do with them.
We also don't always have an idea how to preserve them for later use.
Sage - Fuzzy, long pale grey-green leaves. Everyone knows that you use them for turkey stuffing, but what else? Sage works particularly well with fatty meats such as sausages, pork, goose or lamb; the flavors just seem to blend well. It's not really a salad herb, so it's almost always used in cooking, and because it is so pungent, a little goes a long way. Dried sage is more powerful than fresh, and both are best added at the end of cooking.
Other ideas include using it with eggs in an omelet, adding it to polenta, stuffing a chicken cavity with it, and making sage butter. To save, dry in paper bags with long cuts to allow for air circulation. Or hang in a loose bunch with plenty of dry air to keep them from getting moldy. Crumble dried leaves onto wax paper, clean out the stems and store little packets in tight glass jars.
Tarragon - A sprig with long, slender leaves. A classic in French cuisine, tarragon owes its lightly licorice flavor to its natural oils. Thus, fresh is more intense than dried, and dried does lose intensity rapidly. Cooking intensifies the flavor. Tarragon can be used chopped up raw in salads or as a garnish for omelets.
In cooking, it is a prime ingredient is béarnaise sauce. It also is a great choice to infuse its flavor into white wine vinegar. To save, freeze whole sprigs in baggies. Use within 5 months.
Chives - Long, green grass-like spears with a mild onion flavor. Easy to mince into small pieces. Great as a garnish or a subtle addition to a salad. Chive butter is a classic. To preserve, wash and dry spears and freeze in a baggie.
Oregano - A woody sprig with small leaves. A classic herb for Italian tomato-based spices, it has many other uses. First, wash the entire sprigs and then dry on a towel. Cut off the leaves and then bruise them to release the oils prior to cooking. It is more pungent when dried. Oregano is excellent in marinades for meat, poultry or fish.
Finely cut up or dried, it is great for grilled vegetables like squash, zucchini or eggplant. It also is a great addition to vegetable soups of all kinds. Along with basil and dill, it is great to add to steamed seafood, like mussels, clams and firm fish. To keep, wash leaves, pat dry, and place in a plastic bag. Evacuate as much air as possible, and freeze in a place where it will not get crushed. Will keep for a year.
Chervil - Probably the shiest of the herbs of spring. It look like a pale delicate sprig of parsley, and its flavor virtually evaporates when cooked. (How much does a great French chef use to make cream of chervil soup?) The flavor is very reminiscent of tarragon, but more delicate and bright.
So, it is best used very fresh and raw. Toss it into salads, garnish eggs with it, make a chervil butter for use on steamed vegetables and fish, or add it to a warm potato salad. Doesn't store well for more than three weeks, so use up.
Spearmint - You'll find this standard mint look-alike quite often, but you should think past chewing gum for its uses. First of all, just about anything that needs mint can use spearmint; the flavor will be more intense and aromatic. Some of the ideas that might not occur to you at first: use it in curries and North African stews; cook lamb with spearmint (forget trying to make a jelly); use it with yogurt and serve with lamb meatballs; serve it with spring peas or with creamy lima beans; pop it into a salad; or add it to a big icy jug of sangria. To keep, just dry it, freeze it or preserve it in olive oil.
**The Radio Kitchen Featured Buy of the Week**
Morel Mushrooms are in the middle of their very brief season. These are the kings of the woodland mushroom, with an intense rich earthy flavor that is valued by cooks. Get them and use them while you can!