Herbs are plants, or parts of a plant, that are used for their aromatic or flavoring properties. To start with, fresh herbs are preferred over dried. Their flavor will be more intense so less will be required.
- To preserve their flavor, fresh herbs should be chopped or minced as close to their time of use as possible. Being fresh they need minimal cooking time to draw out their flavor so are typically added at the end of the cooking time. If you are using fresh herbs, and a recipe calls for dried, a good rule of thumb is to triple the quantity of dried herbs required.
- To prevent wilting, fresh herbs should be wrapped loosely with a paper towel, placed inside a plastic bag, and stored in a refrigerator at ~40F.
- The advantage of dried herbs is that they are convenient to purchase and can be kept for up to 3 months. Dried herbs due to their less intense flavor, need to be added early in the cooking process to draw out their flavor. Dried herbs should also be crushed or ground to allow their flavor to be more easily extracted. If a recipe calls for fresh herbs, a basic rule of thumb is to use approximately 1/3 some fresh herbs required.
For maximum flavor, dried herbs should be sealed tightly and stored away from heat. Since everyone has different tastes and cooking styles, I would recommend initially buying herbs as needed, and in the smallest quantity available. Otherwise, youll end up with a lot of herbs with minimal flavor. In time you’ll have a better idea of what you should keep on hand.
A few of the most commonly used herbs are:
- Italian (flat leaf) parsley
Spices are the barks or seeds of plants which have an intense flavor. Spices are best when purchased whole (not ground) since they will retain their potency for up to 6 months. Spices should be stored in sealed containers in a cool, dry spot, away from direct sunlight and heat.
A notable exception to the 6-month shelf life is whole peppercorns, which will retain their flavor indefinitely, being released only when crushed or ground.
Similar to fresh herbs, spices should be used (whole spices being ground) as close as possible to when they will be utilized (which explains why better restaurants offer freshly ground pepper after your entree has been served).
Some of the most used and versatile spices are:
- Whole black peppercorns
- Cayenne pepper
- Cumin (ground)
- Curry Powder (a spice blend)
- Ground Ginger
- Kosher salt ( or sea salt)
- Dry Mustard
- Red pepper flakes