Fresh herbs from the garden provide much more flavor to your recipes than those purchased at your local grocery store. Even fresh herbs purchased in the produce section do not have the rich flavor of the ones grown in your own garden. There are ways to preserve herbs so that you can continue to enjoy those hearty flavors in your recipes.
1. Oil or Butter
One of the best ways to preserve herbs is by making herb oil or butter. Wash the herbs, discarding leaves and stems. Remove moisture by using a salad spinner or by patting dry with a paper towel. Place herbs in a food processor, adding one-third cup oil for every two cups of leaves for herb oil, or one-half cup butter for every two to four tablespoons of leaves for herb butter. Pulse the food processor, scraping the sides often, until a chunky paste develops. Place paste in zip-top bags in desired quantities, flatten and freeze flat.
2. Air Drying
One of the most common methods used to preserve herbs is to air dry them, although this can take considerable space and time. Tie about four or five cleaned stems together and hang upside down in a dark, warm area that is well-ventilated. It can take between two and four weeks for the herbs to dry completely. Leaves should crumble easily between your fingers.
3. Oven and Microwave Drying
A quicker method for drying to preserve herbs is in the oven. Place herbs in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place in an oven that has been preheated to 180 degrees Farenheit. Heat for four hours with the oven door open in order for moisture to escape. Stir the herbs occasionally throughout the process.
If you prefer using a microwave, wash the herbs and pat them dry. Lay the herbs to the side for about an hour to be sure there is no moisture remaining. Place them on a paper towel and cover them with a second paper towel in the microwave. Heat on high for two minutes. Turn the towel and reheat for 30 at 30 second intervals until they are brittle.
If you are storing in zip-top bags, squeeze out all air and place in a dark, dry place. Watch the herbs closely in the microwave as they can catch fire if heated too quickly.
4. Ice Cube Trays
Ice cube trays are perfect when you want to preserve herbs. Chop the herbs into small pieces and sprinkle them into ice cube trays. If you want accuracy in your recipes, measure the amount in each tray equal to the amount most commonly used in cooking, such as a half or whole teaspoon. Cover with water or stock and freeze. Once they are frozen, pop them out and store them in zip-top bags, removing as much air as possible. Simply remove a cube from the bag and toss it in the food that is cooking, there is no need to thaw as long as the additional liquid is accounted for in the recipe.
These simple tips can help you preserve herbs so that you can enjoy their freshness long after the growing season has passed. The fresh, pungent taste of fresh herbs adds a uniqueness to your recipes and you can enjoy their flavor throughout the year.
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