Wilted to Wonderful: Herb Rescue

By Caroline Russock

When using fresh herbs in a recipe, you’ll often have some left over. Even if that roast lamb recipe calls for three tablespoons of rosemary, chances are you'll end up with half a pack of aromatic branches wilting away in your fridge. And of course, there's the tragedy of those sad bouquets of parsley and cilantro from last week’s roasted chicken dish going limp in your crisper drawer.

All of this herby overage is enough to drive a home cook to the shelf-stable spice rack. But with a little know-how, extending the life of fresh herbs is easy. Brandon Fortener, product development chef at Kroger, has countless uses for leftover herbs.

"I like to take advantage of those woody stems that you're not going to eat and save them for stock or soups, or bruise them up a bit and toss them into oil when I'm frying up some chicken."

Amped-up stocks and herbed chicken are just a couple of Chef Fortener’s great herb-rescue ideas. Here are four more to explore:

Tip #1: Treat Herbs like Fresh Flowers

Much like gladiolus and gerbera daisies that can brighten up a room for days or weeks at a time, fresh herbs last longer when their stems are immersed in water.

“Cutting the stems and putting them in a glass of water can double their lifespan, and keep leaves vibrant and flavors fresh,” says Fortener.

If fridge or counter space is limited, consider wrapping stems in a damp towel and storing them in a shallow container with plenty of room to breathe.

Tip #2: Freeze Herbs for Later

The freezer might seem like the last place you’d want to stash excess herbs, but with a little prep, the icebox has plenty to offer.

Holding herbs by the stems, dip them in to a pot of boiling water for just a few seconds. Next, purée the leaves in a high-speed blender or food processor. Transfer the purée to ice cube trays and freeze to harden. To keep the cubes from scenting other items in the freezer, toss them into an airtight container after freezing.

"These little blocks of flavor will stay fresh in the freezer for months, providing extra brightness to soups and sauces,” says Fortener.

Tip #3: Transform Your Herbs

Everyone knows that pesto is a great way to put a big bunch of basil to use, but this pasta topper is only the beginning when it comes to fresh herb sauces. Try spinning parsley into a Spanish salsa verde (recipe below), or toss fresh cilantro leaves into chimichurri (recipe below). You also can use these bright green condiments to top steaks, sauce veggies and swirl into soups.

Compound butter is another freezer-friendly herb saver. To make your own, simply mix finely chopped herbs into softened butter, wrap it, chill and break it out for roasting chicken or simply spreading on toast.

Tip #4: Create an Herb-Infused Cocktail

You don't have to be a master mixologist to work fresh herbs into your cocktail rotation. Basil, rosemary and even thyme can be muddled and mixed into refreshing drinks or infused into neutral spirits such as vodka or simple syrups.

“For an infused spirit, just insert washed stems of herbs into a bottle of your favorite alcohol (vodka works well) and let steep for a few days until the flavors shine through,” says Fortener.

Another solution is to combine herbs and citrus—these flavors work equally well in cocktails and cocktail-friendly snacks such as warm olives tossed with rosemary and orange zest or rosemary popcorn (see recipes below) .

So the next time a recipe calls for fresh herbs, buy with confidence.

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