Habits of Highly-Effective “Deal With This” Kitchens: Pt. 1 – Fresh Herbs

Preface: This is just the beginning of an ongoing series of habits. Highly-effective habits, if you will, that any “Deal With This” kitchen should strive to embrace. Habits are what make these techniques and skills become more automatic. When that happens, you’re thinking about what new food awesomeness might be possible, instead of thinking, crap – I’m bored, stuck and not feeling good about eating another frozen pizza (oh sure – those Totino’s cheap party pizzas can get addicting for a buck a pop… but so can gas station burritos. Besides, the nations of the world will unite in perfect harmony before you pass that stuff).

So consider this part of your curriculum. We’re here because we want culinary moments, not afterthoughts. And by “we” I mean you. You want to be a hero in the kitchen, moving with deftness and resourcefulness. You want your friends and family to be treated and inspired. And by “you” I mean, well, you.

Habit #1 – Embrace Fresh Herbs Boldly and Often

Start out simple… Pick one that you “sort of” know. Take basil for example. Pretty often you’re eating something that could benefit from a hit of fresh basil (basically anything that even remotely resembles an Italian dish). Then – after you get a feel for what basil brings to the party – next time you’re in the store – pick up a new bunch of something else. Try chives next. Throw ’em on mashed potatoes or other starchy side dishes right at the end (you don’t really want to cook chives). Then pick up some fresh thyme, and so on. Get a feel for each one. Don’t be afraid to mess something up.

A really good way to know different herbs is to throw them on something fairly bland like mashed potatoes, or fried or scrambled eggs and A/B them. It will give you a great comparison, and you can try these flavors in a more controlled environment. You’ll start to have other ideas pretty quick on where to use these minced up flavor bombs.

Cooking with them… The tougher the leaves, the more (or less) they need to be on heat. I.e., Rosemary is pretty stalky. Even though you may mince it pretty fine, you’re not wanting to throw it over your eggs at the last minute (unless you like eating birdseed). Let it sit in the butter for a moment before you add your eggs to the pan. Or throw some on your lamb chops before you grill (see pic). With tender herbs like basil, it’s just the opposite. You’re better off throwing some on right when you’re about to sit down and scarf.

Think of it this way:

Now, this is by no means an exhaustive list. This is only to help you get started with a few wins right out of the gate. And there is certainly a much larger herb world out there.

Dried Herbs?… Hmmm, well you can safely assume from the title that I prefer fresh herbs to the dried flavorless flakes commonly purchased in the jars at the supermarket. There are some exceptions, of course (you knew I would say that). If you want to dry your own herbs, for example, you will be greatly rewarded. I would not, however, recommend drying any of the first four from the above list.

Drying your own herbs is a snap. Leave them out on the counter in a small bowl. Either on the stem, or minced up. In 1-3 days, they will be dry. Rocket science. Transfer them to an airtight container, and them make your guests smell the greatness of your housemade proprietary herb rub as you sprinkle some over those ribs you’re about to throw on the smoker.

Buy or Grow Them?… Yes.

Nearly every grocery store has some herb pouches tucked somewhere around the vegetable section. You just have to know where to look. Typically you’ll find most of the herbs from my chart.

There are few things as satisfying, and as simple as growing your own. Buy plant at store, dig hole in ground, pop the plant out of bucket, put in hole, push soil in around to fill in hole. Add water. Done. It takes a couple of weeks, but herbs are funny – they grow quicker after you start clipping off a few stalks. Next thing you know, that plant is loaded down. When you’re hauling in clippings from your rosemary, thyme and sage bushes (like the piles in the photo from my very simple garden) – realizing that you saved $4 a pop from the paltry little herb pouches from the local H-E-B – you can’t help but to announce “now, deal with that!” even though there’s nobody in the kitchen with you.


One Response to “Habits of Highly-Effective “Deal With This” Kitchens: Pt. 1 – Fresh Herbs”

  1. Jason says:

    On the deck we now have:
    -cilantro (my #2 for fresh growing)
    -rosemary (unfortunately an annual in the north – I use to have a small bush of rosemary in Houston – at grocery prices it was probably worth $1000)
    – basil (my all time fav)
    – mint (always in a pot if you know what is good for ya)
    – parsley (the one fresh herb that is affordable in the store but you always need)

    I need some thyme (I almost made a “Back to School” reference there) but they were all out.

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