Seasoning - What's It All About?
Whenever I read 'season to taste' in recipe instructions, I automatically assume that I must add a pinch of salt and pepper. For years I hadn't even considered stepping outside the comfort zone - just a little - and 'seasoning' with herbs and spices. Oh how I had been missing out! I now realise that seasoning is all about improving the taste of a dish; there are a multitude of herbs and spices out there that can be added to help achieve this.
Over the last 20 years, a huge interest in cooking with herbs has grown. Herbs alter the smell and flavour of dishes, and react differently with different ingredients. For example, rosemary in shortbread tastes mild and buttery; whereas its flavour is intense when roasted with a leg of lamb. Popular herbs readily available in the supermarket include coriander, basil, parsley and mint, to name only a few.
Dried or Fresh Herbs?
Do you feel like a 'cheat' if you venture into the dried herb section at the supermarket? I used to think that 'real cooks' would turn their noses up at dried herbs. But when I got thinking about the practicalities and qualities of using dried, I found that there is most definitely a place for both dried and fresh in the kitchen. Think what would happen if you added fresh herbs to a slow cooked dish... they would lose their flavour and become limp; dried herbs have the opposite reaction and actually keep their flavour and intensity. For this reason, dried herbs are ideal for recipes where the cooking time is longer than 30 minutes.
Fresh herbs have their own qualities. They are fantastic to use for both flavouring and garnishing. Think salads, fish, sauces, pasta... even ice cream and cocktails! The key to fresh herbs is 'seasonality'. Stick to fresh herbs that are in season for the best taste sensations.
For using fresh herbs:
- Fresh herbs suit fish dishes brilliantly! This is due to the fact that fish requires little cooking
- Use 3-4 times as much of fresh herbs as you would dried if opting for fresh
- Tear basil to avoid bruising
- Generally, only use herb leaves. Except for coriander where the stalks can be used - these are full of flavour!
- Hardy fresh herbs can be added at the start of a dish. Leave delicate fresh herbs (basil, coriander, mint, parsley, etc) until the end, or to garnish
- Finely chopped fresh herbs will add more flavour. The Cole & Mason Hachoir and Board are ideal for this task
- Only buy or cut fresh herbs when you are close to cooking your chosen dish(es). Or store them in a fresh herb keeper. I love the Cole & Mason Fresh Herb Keeper for this
- A pestle and mortar work better than a food processor when making pesto, salsas and the like. This is because they crush and extract the flavours better
- When buying fresh herbs, choose bright, non-yellowed and non-wilted ones
- To remove leaves from a woody stem, hold at its tip and run finger and thumb down the length
- Pick herbs and remove flower stalks regularly to encourage fresh leaf growth
- Avoid storing herbs on windowsills in direct sunlight or near draughts - they don't like this very much!
For using either or both:
- Fresh and dried herbs can work beautifully together. Think about tomato pasta sauce - dried oregano can be used from the start of cooking, and basil added as a flavoursome garnish on serving
- Use a combination of herbs with salt and pepper to rub into joints of meat before cooking. The combination will give a fabulous taste sensation! Sage, rosemary and thyme go well together
- Taste your dish before serving. Take a little bit out - season - then decide if you would like to add the seasoning to all of the dish. Use the little bit that you've taken out as an 'experiment' piece. Remember to sip on water between tastes, to refresh your tastebuds for testing
Looking After Fresh Herbs
If you're planting a herb patch, make sure its as near to the kitchen as possible for convenience. The Great British weather may put you off venturing up the garden and you don't want to miss out on all that flavour!
Fresh herbs love sunshine and well-drained soil, but lots of herbs are happy to grow in the shade too such as coriander, parsley and chervil. Be warned though, although most herbs can be stored in cool temperatures, basil hates the cold! Watch it turn black if you dare to store it in the fridge!
Fresh herbs can be frozen. Rub some oil into an ice cube tray (or similar) then place whole or chopped leaves inside. Cover with a small amount of water then freeze. Alternatively, to make life super easy, use a Cole & Mason Frozen Herb Mill - so convenient and easy to use, enabling herbs to be milled straight into/onto dishes.
You can grow herbs indoors, but if you're like me, I always end up accidentally killing them... this is always down to under or over watering. The clever Cole & Mason Herb Keeper mentioned earlier is the solution, with a hydro pad that only allows the herbs to take the water that they need.
The Cole & Mason Cut Herb Keeper is a great way to divide and store cut herbs. It has an easy access lid, and a window indicator to tell you when to top up or change the water. This is available instore and coming online soon.
For more great seasoning products by Cole & Mason click here.
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