There’s nothing quite like the scent of fresh herbs, just harvested from your own garden. Almost any dish can be enhanced by adding herbs, any many chefs insist fresh herbs are the best option. However, if you don’t have access to fresh, or if you want to keep herbs available in your kitchen, dried herbs are a good alternative. You just have to understand how they compare to fresh and how to substitute them.
What makes an herb fresh?
Fresh herbs are best if they’ve been harvested at the right time of day. Wait long enough for the dew to dry from the herb’s leaves, but be sure to get to them before the sun reaches full strength. This ensures they won’t be wilted. You also have to harvest them at the right time of their growing cycle. The best time for most herbs is right when you start to see flower buds forming. Ideally, you should harvest on a day when the herb has gotten plenty of sunshine over the past day or two.
When you harvest herbs, place them in a container that allows for lots of air flow, such as a woven basket. The air helps them to stay fresh longer–herbs will wilt quickly if you stuff them into a plastic bag.
How do I store fresh herbs?
Whether you grow your own herbs or buy fresh at the supermarket, you can store them for a few days before use. Cut the ends off the stems, as you would do when you buy fresh flowers. Place the herbs in a glass of water as if they were flowers you were putting in a vase, then loosely cover the exposed top parts with plastic wrap. Store the herbs that way in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use them.
How can I dry herbs?
If you’ve grown a lot of herbs, you may want to dry them for later use. These dried herbs will probably be more flavorful than those you buy already dried. You can dry many herbs by tying the stems together in bunches of about six and placing them upside down in a paper bag. Punch a few holes in the bag, then tie it shut and hang it in a warm room with lots of air circulation. It should take about two weeks for your herbs to dry.
If you have herbs with a high water content, such as mint, tarragon, basil or chives, you’ll have more success using a dehydrator or freezing the herbs in airtight containers.
How do I store dried herbs?
Whether you dried your own herbs or bought them already dried, store them in airtight containers. Press-to-close bags work well for this, or small canning jars. Keep the herbs in a cool, dry, dark place. If you can store your dried herbs whole and only crush them when ready to use, you’ll preserve more flavor.
How do I use herbs?
When you’re ready to use fresh herbs, remove them from the water and shake them off. Use kitchen shears to snip the leaves into tiny pieces and add them to your dish. If the stem is soft, you can cut it up and add it, too.
If you’re using dried herbs, remove them from their airtight container and make sure they’re still bright green–if they’ve lost their color, they’ve lost their flavor, too. Crush the whole leaves into bits and add them to your dish.
Whether dried or fresh, add herbs to a cooked dish toward the end of the cooking time. If you’re adding them to a cold dish, like a salad, add them right away and let them chill.
How do I substitute dried herbs for fresh?
When herbs are dried, the loss of water content makes them shrink. This means more flavor is packed into a smaller portion. In general, you should figure one teaspoon of dried herb is equivalent to one tablespoon of fresh.