What’s one of the biggest differences between a good cook and a great cook? They love herbs and they know how to use them. But let’s face it — getting those herbs just right can be intimidating. Not only do you have different varieties of herbs to choose from, but you also need to decide if you want fresh or dried. To get you started on your herbaceous education, here are seven of our favorite tips to master now.
1. Know when to use fresh vs. dried herbs.
When it comes to using herbs — fresh or dried— it’s all about timing. When you’re adding them to the dish is the biggest factor involved in deciding between the two. Dried herbs are best added while a dish is cooking, whereas fresh herbs are best added at the end. Of course, sometimes you have to substitute, which means you’ll need to use approximately 1 1/2 times the amount of fresh herbs as you would dried.
2. Learn the 3 keys to an indoor herb garden.
Water, light, and temperature — pay attention to these three factors, and your kitchen herb garden is sure to flourish. Ideally most herbs want at least six hours of sunlight per day. They should also be kept warm (from 65°F to 75°F), and if the air in your home gets dry, make sure to mist them to occasionally in addition to watering them.
3. Master the chiffonade.
You’ve seen those skinny strips of basil show up on restaurant salads and soups, but do you know how to make them at home? It’s easier than you might expect. Simply roll a few leaves up into a cylinder and slice them across the roll to create ribbons.
4. Learn to love dried herbs.
Some cooks might turn up their noses at dried herbs, preferring fresh in all cases, but if you know how to use them, dried herbs can be the best for your dish. The key to success is restocking your dried herbs regularly, and for an extra punch of flavor, try rubbing them between your fingertips, which will release any oil that’s left in the leaves.
5. Understand the lingo.
Do you know the difference between “minced parsley” and “parsley, minced” when listed in a recipe’s ingredients? The former means you should mince the parsley before you measure it, while the latter means you should measure the parsley and then mince it. Complicated, right? The good news is that with leafy herbs like parsley you’ll end up with about the same amount, so don’t worry too much about the order.
6. Embrace olive oil.
Not only will the olive oil help prevent some of the browning you might get from freezing the herbs in water, but it also means you can add the herbs directly to the dish you’re cooking. Simply drop the frozen olive oil-herb combo into a soup, stew, or veggie dish. Just make sure you’ve labeled which herbs are which in your freezer.
7. Strip your herbs the right way.
There are two main categories of herbs — ones with woody stems and ones with soft stems — and they require different techniques when it comes to removing the leaves. For woody stems, use a firm hand and zip your fingers along in the opposite direction from the way the leaves grow; for soft stems, pinch off the leaves close to the base. And don’t toss those stems — they can be used to flavor soups or broths.