Common Practices but no Set Rules
You will find a few common guidelines to follow when cooking with herbs and spices but set rules have no place in something as personal as taste. Being unfamiliar or unpracticed using herbs or spices is easy to remedy and the process of refining your knowledge can often be an extremely enjoyable experience.
Start in Your Local Supermarket
A trip to your local grocery store or farmers market is a wonderful place to start your culinary journey. Most supermarkets have an extensive selection of fresh herbs and spices for your consideration. If the herbs are in not sealed in plastic containers pick the bunches up and breath in the unique fragrance of each individual plant. For a more intense experience lightly bruise a couple leaves to release the essential oils. The absolute best way to learn is to dive in and simply start, so gather up the herbs and spices which smell delicious to you and take them home.
Elevate Your Food
Most recipes usually call for some type of herb or spice, and those which do not specify seasonings can certainly benefit by the addition. Every professional chef knows that herbs and spices elevate good food to something unique and exceptional. So, take these few guidelines and make your memorable meals unforgettable.
- Herbs and spices should always enhance the ingredients you are preparing, not overpower. So add them sparingly; you can always add more but you canít take away.
- Fresh herbs are better than dried because the drying process will cause the essential oils to evaporate, colors to fade and plant volume to reduce. Plus there is nothing quite as inspiring as snipping fresh herbs from a convenient pot outside your kitchen door.
- Start with familiar recipes and simply add the herbs and spices that appeal to you. You already know how the dish turns out and will be in a great position to judge if the flavor is improved.
- Cold dishes require heavier flavoring than warm dishes.
- More subtle flavored dishes should be served before dominant ones or the taste will be lost.
- Make simple or relatively bland foods such as eggs or sandwiches and add chopped herbs for a new taste; try a different herb every time until you find favorites.
- Add fresh herbs at the end of the cooking process because herbs lose flavor rapidly if heated longer than about a half an hour. Bay leaves are almost the only herb which can stand up to long cooking times.
- Vinegar and lemon juice can speed up the development of flavor in herbs when they are added to sour cream or cold foods.
- Most herbs reach full flavor before they flower so try to use them before this point for optimum quality.
- Herbs and spices contain no fat and calories so they are absolutely perfect for people with health conscious diets.
- Freezing herbs either whole or in paste form is usually the best way to store them. This method preserves essential oils, color, nutritional value and flavor.
- The flavor of some spices can be intensified by roasting them. Coriander is one of the most popular spices which benefits from this process.