Cooking With Herbs – Which Herbs are Best to Cook With?

Cooking with herbs is rewarding and enjoyable. Often herbs will add a different taste to a dish other times they will complete a dish. There are many herbs to choose from and some recipes require certain herbs to be used. However each herb has a unique flavour and it’s good to experiment on your own as well.

parsley on a chopping board - cooking with herbs
cooking with fresh herbs can greatly enhance many dishes.

Simply adding a few leaves of herbs to soups, stews and sauces can make a huge difference when cooking. And once you are familiar with the different flavours of herbs, it’s easy knowing which ones to add to your meals.

Cooking With Herbs – Experimenting

A good way to experience the unique flavour of herbs is to make a herb butter. This can then be melted over boiled potatoes or spread on toast, so you can familiarise yourself with the taste. Simply chop up the leaves of a herb such as sage, parsley, thyme, chives or mint and mix into softened butter. Allow the butter to re-set and keep it in the fridge. Once you have sampled the taste of the herb you can then go on to experiment by adding it to dishes.

The following herbs are commonly used in cooking. Why not try adding a few herbs to the next time you’re cooking one of these dishes?

  • Basil – great with Italian food, such as pizza, pasta and roasted vegetables. Basil is an essential ingredient in tomato sauce and can be added to oil to make a delicious salad dressing.
  • Chives – this herb is delicious made into a herb butter and is also wonderful when added to a potato salad and fish dishes.
  • Coriander – this herb is most commonly added to Asian dishes including Thai and Indian. Both the leaves and the seeds can be used – the leaves have a tart, fresh taste and the flavour of the seeds is more concentrated and earthy.
  • Dill – a traditional herb associated with fish, it can also be used with meats and vegetables and adds a distinctive anise flavour.
  • Rosemary – this can be roasted with potatoes or vegetables or added to a roasting joint of meat.
  • Mint – It can be added to any summer dish, made into a herb butter to melt over fresh new potatoes, or added to salads to provide an added zing. Fresh mint sauce – made with vinegar, water and chopped mint leaves – is delicious with roast lamb.
  • Parsley – this common herb is great with fish. You can also make a creamy parsley sauce to add to potatoes or fish.
  • Sage – traditionally used as an ingredient in stuffing recipes, it can also be used with fish. Try adding sage leaves to the skewer when barbecuing fish to give it a kick.
  • Thyme – this herb makes a fantastic herb for marinating. It also works well with fish. Why not try laying sprigs of it over you roast while it’s cooking?

How to Use Herbs in Cooking

The best flavours are gained from leaves harvested before the plant has developed flowers. Once herbs have developed flowers the flavour of the leaves will diminish and the growth of new leaves will slow or stop completely. Existing leaves may even become bitter, woody, or yellowed. You can prevent flowers from developing by regularly harvesting the leaves of the herbs. If you find there are too many leaves to use fresh, dry or freeze some to use later. You could also preserve the herbs in butter or oil.

Different Ways to use Herbs in the Kitchen

Adding a few leaves to dishes or using herbs as a marinade for meats and fish is the most common method of using herbs. There are other ways to use herbs too. These include:

  • Bouquet Garni – tie the stalks of a fresh sprig of parsley, marjoram, thyme and a bay leaf and add to your soup or stew while cooking (remember to remove it when you serve the dish up!). You can also tie dried cut herbs in muslin and place in stews in the same way. The water will absorb the flavours of the herbs and add to the flavour of the dish.
  • Herb Tea – make a refreshing brew by pouring boiling water over a handful of fresh chopped herbs and leaving to steep for 5 minutes. Try this with thyme, sage, lemon balm, mint or a Lavender flower.
  • Herb vinegar or oil – simply add a few sprigs of your chosen herb to white wine vinegar or olive oil and leave for a few weeks so the flavours can be absorbed. Then use to make a delicious herby salad dressing. Herbs that work well with this include rosemary and thyme.

However you use herbs in the kitchen, there are plenty of new and exciting ways to experiment to add new flavours to your cooking. Once you have started using herbs in cooking you’ll be hooked and you’ll soon become an expert.

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