Here’s a little primer on using fresh herbs versus dried herbs.
I prefer fresh herbs for many dishes, especially recipes that call for delicate herbs, such as basil, dill weed, chervil, chives, cilantro, mint, parsley and tarragon, which fade quickly during long cooking times. The best time to use delicate herbs is at the end of cooking or as a garnish. Stir in during the last 5 to 10 minutes, but no longer or the flavor diminishes significantly. Chopping helps releases more flavor components, a rough chop or fine mince, either is fine. These freshly chopped herbs awaken the taste buds and have a pleasing aroma.
Always use fresh herbs in cold preparations, such as salsa and guacamole. Dried herbs won’t reconstitute properly without heat and moisture, and the flavor is muted.
Dried herbs are concentrated in flavor and are best for long, slow cooking times, such as our Mediterranean Lamb Shanks. These hearty herbs include bay leaves, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory and thyme. The moisture and heat of the liquid in a slow-cooked, roasted, or baked recipe rehydrates dried herbs and the flavor infuses the liquid, meat and vegetables nicely. A garnish of the matching fresh herb or one of the fresh herbs in a mélange, coarsely chopped or minced, further brightens and enhances any dish.
Rule of Thumb: Dried herbs are more concentrated in flavor, so use 1/3 less than fresh herbs. For example, if a recipe calls for a tablespoon of fresh herbs, use 1 teaspoon of dried herbs.
Shelf Life and Storage
Unfortunately, fresh herbs are highly perishable. Once separated from the root, they begin to wilt and dry out. The method I use for storing most of my fresh herbs is to gently rinse them in cold water, shake the excess water off (or use a lettuce spinner), strew atop a couple of sheets of paper towel, loosely roll it up and store in a sealed plastic baggie. Most herbs will last 3-4 days.
Don’t buy fresh herbs without plans to use them immediately; they’re expensive, especially in the winter, when brought in from outside sources. Notice the size of fresh herb bundles as the growing season progresses – they can be huge – especially basil, which is the ideal time to scoop them up and make several batches of pesto for the freezer!
Dried herbs have a longer shelf life, though not indefinite. Store in dry, dark places, such as a spice drawer or cupboard. Countertop spice racks are not ideal because of the exposure to light. If you are uncertain about the freshness of a dried herb, or spice for that matter, open the jar and give a sniff. If the aroma is weak, the herbs are past their prime and need to be replaced. My go to source is Penzey’s, https://www.penzeys.com which has a store a few miles from my home. They are also have a mail-order business. For those herbs (and spices) that I use infrequently or in minute amounts, I buy the 2 ounce jar.
Use Both Fresh and Dried Herbs
Maximize flavor by using a combination of both fresh and dried herbs. Start with dried herbs in slow-cooked recipes like soups, stews, and sauces, while sweating the aromatics. The dried herb infuses the dish with a subtle flavor. Just before serving, stir in a good handful of freshly chopped herb(s) for a bright, fresh flavor.
Photos of herbs were taken at Stew Leonard’s in Norwalk CT.