One of summer’s underrated pleasures is using your own fresh herbs. Wether from your garden, patio planter or windowsill pots, their flavor-boosting power will enhance your cooking all season long.
If you already have a herb garden, nod along: there is always a point during these few months when you find yourself with more than you can possibly use. Sadly fresh herbs, like summer itself, are but a fleeting moment.
But! While admittedly no storage method can faithfully retain the flavor and texture of fresh herbs, there are some simple techniques to preserve surpluses.
Dehydrating, a.k.a drying is one of those methods. It works best with woody herbs like bay leaf and rosemary however, drying may not be the most effective option with tender herbs like mint or basil. (I’m not saying you can’t dry soft-stemmed herbs, because you absolutely can. It’s just that some methods produce better results than others.)
Freezing is another option, and you know how much I love my freezer. It’s a fast and easy way that retains the taste, smell and nutrients found in fresh herbs long after the growing season has ended – the bounty will stay fresh for up to 12 months. Sadly it’s not perfect either, because there will be a change in color and texture: the formation of ice crystals destroys cell walls, turning the herbs limp after defrosting. Frozen herbs are also prone to freezer burn, this happens when the ice crystals in them go directly from solid ice form to water vapor.
All in all, frozen herbs are ideal in sauces, soups, marinades and stews, rather than thawed as a garnish. Freeze them in small portions and just take out what you need – it’s a great way to have herbs immediately for cooking.
I’ve collected 3 easy ways for you to freeze your herbs:
Chop & freeze. This is the most straightforward thing to do, but also the highest risk of freezer burn. Store chopped herbs in portions in small zipper-lock bags, flattened, with the air pressed out as much as possible.
Frozen, covered with water. Chop herbs and place portions in an ice-cube tray, cover with water. Freeze, than transfer cubes to a zipper-lock bag to store. Tip: I use this method to make what I call lemonade starters – I place lemon slices and mint leaves in my muffin tray, fill holes with water and freeze.
Frozen, covered with oil. Preserving herbs in oil yields the best results in my experience – the method reduces some of the browning and the oil-based cubes also melt faster compared to water-covered cubes. Use the ice-cube tray slots and cover chopped herbs with a neutral vegetable oil or a mild olive oil. When solid, transfer cubes to a zipper-lock bag to store.
You can store the different varieties separate, or you can prepare herb mixes for foods you make often (think pasta sauce).
Have you tried any of these methods? How did they work out for you? Which are your favorite herbs to preserve? Let me know!
Title image ‘Close-up of basil plant’ via Freepik