Freezing Beats Drying — Preserving Fresh Herbs

Probably the best reason to grow your own herbs is that the flavors of fresh herbs are far superior to dried. In fact some herbs, such as chervil and cilantro, lose nearly all of their special flavors when dried. I recommend drying only those herbs that you prefer to sprinkle at the table (perhaps some basil for your pizza) or that you plan to use in teas.

I have frozen fresh herbs since I started cooking with them, but about 15 years ago I took a class from Madeline Hill, one of the most famous herbalists in America. It’s her method I follow, and I can’t imagine there is a better way to preserve the flavors of herbs. A small amount of oil coats the tiny pieces of herb leaf, protecting them from freezer burn and trapping some of the flavorful oils released during chopping.

Place 2 firmly packed cups of clean, dry herb leaves in the bowl of a food processor, and process for 3-4 pulses. Add 1/3 cup of canola or corn oil and process for several more pulses until the mixture is the consistency of soft butter. It is possible to use olive oil with some herbs, such as basil or rosemary, but be mindful of the flavor that olive oil may add to future recipes.

Store the herb mixture in good quality freezer containers that will allow very little headspace; oxygen is the enemy of flavor in the freezer. To use the herbs in a recipe, allow the container to thaw very slightly, and scoop the amount you need from the container. Use about one-and-a-half times as much herb paste as you would dried herb. For example, if the recipe calls for 1/2 tsp. of dried herb, use 3/4 tsp. to 1 tsp. of the frozen herb paste.

What’s in my freezer right now? As you can see above, I have sage, chervil, and tarragon, but I also have two or three containers of rosemary, basil and parsley.

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