Want to use your herbs to the fullest this spring? We've partnered with Sara Forte of Sprouted Kitchen to share our tips, insights and favorite recipes using herbs.
Consider fresh herbs as if they were the edible equivalent of wine: They all have delicious properties on their own, but the magic happens when they’re paired correctly with another item. The wine world has its port-with-Stiltons and Champagne-with-oysters, so what should be shacking up with rosemary or tarragon?
Thankfully, flavor pairings with herbs can be much more forgiving than wine-and-food pairings, though there are still some herb-food combinations that will rain on your palate’s parade. Below, we map out a guide that will hopefully ensure you know what works (and doesn’t) with certain herbs, and also some practical tips on how you should be prepping and storing them.
The Basics Herbs:
Parsley and Cilantro: These two tend to be the most widely available fresh herbs at nearly every supermarket produce section, and visually can be a bit tough to distinguish between. Parsley – the flat-leaf kind, which is the one you should use in all culinary applications instead of the curly variety – has more squared-and-pointed leaves, and is generally sold with its stems cut. Cilantro, on the other hand, has rounded leaves and is shelved with the roots still intact to preserve freshness. It also has a much more prominent smell in comparison to parsley.
In terms of flavor, these two herbs are in no way interchangeable. Parsley has a grassy flavor that doesn’t add a whole lot profile-wise, which is why it’s a go-to garnish for many cooks: It adds a pop of green to otherwise color-challenged dishes without piling on extra or conflicting flavors. Feel free to use parsley liberally – especially in dishes that also call for other herbs, as it will help accentuate other flavors. Seafood in particular gets a nice note when parsley is incorporated, as briny shellfish gets rounded out with its grassy notes.
Cilantro, however, has loads of flavor, and, as you likely know, it’s one of those love-it-or-loathe-it tastes. (Cilantro dissenters often note how the herb tastes like astringent soap.) It’s most commonly used in Caribbean, Mexican and Latin-influenced cuisines, and tends to pair quite well with acids – especially citrus. (See our Roasted Sweet Potato with Avocado Chimichurri Recipe at the bottom of this article).
Storage Tip: Both parsley and cilantro can be stored in a small jar or glass of water, with their stems/roots submerged.
Basil: Thanks to its popularity in Italian cuisine (and being fairly easy to grow), basil has become a universally-known and used herb. Basil has an anise-like flavor that differs depending on the variety (Genovese basil is the most common, with big tender green leaves, while the purple and Thai varieties offer up different complexities). No matter the variety, basil + tomatoes + cheese = success, no matter how you plate it. Not to mention how well meats like chicken, fish or pork tenderloin will pair with basil. That said, heavier meats like beef or lamb will cause the basil to get lost in the mix, unless it’s part of an acid-spiked salsa verde or pesto.
Storage tip: Roll up your basil leaves in dampened paper towels, wrap them in plastic wrap or a plastic bag, and store in your refrigerator’s cooler drawer to extend the bunch’s shelf life.
Live.Love.Lux Tip: Extend the freshness of your basil and other herbs by storing them in an Electrolux refrigerator with Luxury-Close Humidity-Controlled Crisper Drawers.
Rosemary: The heartiest of the common herbs, rosemary’s massive aroma and flavor – think pine trees with a hint of mustard – are perfect for big, bold flavors where the other “basic” herbs would fall short. Lamb and rosemary are food-world best friends, and there isn’t a braise, stew or roast that wouldn’t benefit from a few sprigs of diced rosemary. A little goes a long way, and be sure to mince the leaves finely (to get them off the stem easily, just pinch and drag your fingers down the stem) in order to avoid big, fibrous bites in the final dish.
The Upper Class:
Tarragon: What began as a favorite herb among French chefs has quickly become much-loved world-wide. As the prominent herb in Bernaise sauce, tarragon is a gentle herb with long, soft leaves (visually, it looks like a limp rosemary) with a licorice-with-a-bitter-bite taste. It can run the gamut of culinary pairings, but with its French roots you’ll often find it in egg dishes – omelets with fines herbs especially – in French restaurants. Because of its bitter element, it should be used sparingly to avoid blanketing your dish with its flavor.
Chervil: Also very French, chervil is more nuanced than parsley, despite their close physical resemblance. Toning down parsley’s grassiness with a more prominent floral anise profile, chervil is often combined with other herbs as opposed to standing on its own as the star herb of a dish. Roasted fish and vegetables especially benefit from a sprinkle of minced chervil – especially if there’s a splash of wine or vinegar as a part of the dish, with the anise flavor playing off of the acid quite nicely.
Storage tip: Similar to parsley, store with the roots in water.
Sage: This fuzzy, oval-leafed herb has become synonymous with Thanksgiving, becoming an often-suggested ingredient in stuffing and compound butters that coat the turkey. In America, it isn’t utilized much beyond that November sprint, but it’s been a staple in British and even Irish kitchens for quite a while. Sage has a peppery bite and a toothsome quality that melts away when used in braises or gravies, and any roasted protein (save for fish) is a good platform for a chiffonade of sage.
Storage tip: Like basil, sage can “bruise” or darken if you apply too much pressure to its leaves, so be delicate and store it wrapped up in paper towel or in a plastic container.
The Not-Really-Herbs Herbs:
Chives: Thanks to their softness and gentle flavor, chives are essentially an herb in utility, but technically, they’re an onion … consider them a shrunken down scallion, if you allow us to take that non-scientific liberty. Their mild onion-and-garlic flavor doesn’t wallop dishes, and, because of their delicate structure, they’re easily minced and are the perfect green accompaniment to rich foods like deviled eggs and cream-based pastas.
Fennel fronds: That dill-like part at the top of your bulbs of fennel is an added bonus with this vegetable. Pluck them off the top, pinch the strands off and sprinkle them over the top of your roasted fennel for a dual-dimension of flavor – or mix them into dips and sauces for that tinge of anise.