Our Complete Summer Herb Guide
It’s a particularly exciting week for us here at CCKS!
Chef Contos and her husband Acoy are back in Vermont (traveling from the Yucatan, where they are in the process of constructing Amor y Canela, their new cooking school) for a week of full-on teaching and private events.
They will be preparing a variety of cuisines in this week’s menus and, as always, their preference is for local, sustainable, and delicious ingredients. This time of year, when Vermont gardens are overflowing, that means an emphasis on fresh produce and fresh herbs.
Chef Contos is a master at adding flavor and sophistication to any dish – from the simplest roast chicken to the most complex curry – and for those of you who won’t be joining her in class this week, she wanted to share her enthusiasm for one of summer’s greatest culinary assets!
You may have seen the term “Fine Herbs” and wondered why all herbs aren’t fine.
The term refers to delicate herbs such as chives, chervil, parsley, tarragon, dill, cilantro, basil, and mint.
Resinous herbs are more resilient and have a flavor that may remind you of a walk through a Pine forest (or a Simon and Garfunkle hit) such as sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and marjoram.
All of these herbs are available dried or fresh. Typically, dried herbs are used early in the preparation of a dish so their flavor has time to infuse the soup, stew or braise that you are preparing, while fresh herbs are used at the end of cooking so their flavors remain distinctive and bright. A sprinkle of cilantro on sweet potato nachos, ribbons of basil on a pizza margarita, or dill and cilantro on a Thai-inspired sandwich.
When you return from the market, rinse your herbs well and dry them with paper towels or spin them very gently. For herbs that are in bunches and have long enough stems, put them in a jar or small pitcher with water. Time in the fridge will help evaporate excess moisture and keep them supple. Ready to cook? Take out your bouquet and be inspired!
As always, a sharp knife is a chef’s best friend. Often, a recipe will call for chopped or minced herbs. Do you need to remove every leaf from the stem? Sometimes yes and sometimes no.
For soft herbs such as parsley or cilantro, you can shave the herbs off the top of the bunch as you hold the base of the stems in your opposite hand. The stems at the top are delicate and should not negatively affect your dish.
Basil leaves can be picked off the stem, stacked (7 or 8 leaves works well), rolled like a cigar, and sliced. These fragrant green ribbons add just the right amount of flavor to each bite of a tomato and fresh mozzarella salad.
For resinous herbs such as rosemary, thyme, or sage, picking each leaf and then chopping the desired quantity is preferable. The stems of these herbs are essentially twigs…not a welcome texture to any dish.
And, not unlike everything edible, salt can be an herbs best friend. This recipe for a Tuscan Salt blend is a Chef Contos favorite!
Yields about 1 cup
2 lemons, zested
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 cup kosher salt
½ teaspoon (or more to taste) red pepper flakes (We like Aleppo!)
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Place a rack on the middle shelf. Zest two lemons in a shallow oven-proof dish. Mix salt in with the lemon.
Crush the garlic with a garlic press into the salt. Remove leaves from rosemary stems and chop fine. Add the chopped rosemary to the salt.
Juice one lemon into the salt. Mix the salt, lemon zest, garlic, rosemary and lemon juice to blend, using your fingers or a fork to break up the salt as much as possible.
Place the lemon salt in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the moisture is absorbed. When the salt is cool, again use a fork or your fingers to break up any junks. Add red pepper flakes to taste. Store the salt in a clean, dry Weck jar.