One of the greatest boons to my cooking skills was the discovery of fresh herbs. Thyme, tarragon, sage, rosemary, chives, oregano, cilantro and parsley just to name a few. They pack so much flavor, add a lovely green kick to any dish you are making and can elevate a meal from average to ethereal. The problem with them is that they are hard to keep fresh… if you don’t know the secrets. If you throw a bunch of fresh tarragon in the fridge, wrapped in a damp paper towel like many people will suggest, it will turn into a bruised, blackened, slimy mess in just a day or two. The tarragon in the photo above is nearly a week old and it never saw a day of refrigeration. In this post I will share with you some tips and tricks to keep your herbs fresher for longer, which will save you money and thyme.
In my experience, every herb prefers to be stored in a slightly different way. Below I will name some common herbs and how I choose to store them.
Parsley: This very common but often overlooked herb is one of Ina Garten’s favorites. Most people don’t know that it not only lends a beautiful visual element to a dish, but it also packs a ton of flavor when it’s fresh. It’s the primary ingredient in Argentinian chimichuri sauce and is even used to flavor soup stocks, beans and other brothy things.
To store fresh parsley, cut a few millimeters of the ends off under running water like you would a bunch of fresh flowers and then put into a glass with water that goes an inch or two up the stems (but not any higher because it will start to rot). Keep this bouquet of parsley on your kitchen counter, away from direct sun, for up to a week. Trim the stems again a few days later, change the water & clean the glass every other day and it will stay fresher longer.
Thyme: This herb’s aroma reminds me so much of Thanksgiving. Hard winter squash, mushrooms, game birds, pork roasts, chicken stock and stuffing all benefit from a hearty helping of thyme. The greatest thing about thyme is that it can stand up to extended periods of cooking without damaging the flavor. You can add it directly to a dish cooking on the stovetop, use it in your braising liquids, or even deep-fry it for a lovely, flavorful, crunchy garnish.
To store fresh thyme, put it in a small glass of water filled to just above the bottom of the stems. I find that trimming thyme ends doesn’t do much for it, but it can’t hurt. You can store this either on the counter or in the fridge. It should keep for a little less than a week before it starts to dry out naturally. You should also change the water and clean the glass every other day to prevent bacteria from growing. Once it starts to go, take it out of the glass, cut off any parts that are turning bad, and lay it flat or hang to dry. Thyme keeps much of it’s flavor once it’s dry. The best way to store thyme, though, is by growing it in a pot. Grow it in partial sun, water it occasionally and take cuttings often to promote new growth.
Tarragon: This herb is one of the most delicious and hardest to find fresh. I have walked through many high-end farmer’s markets only to find that nobody has any. I do occasionally find some, usually when things like fresh fish are in season, which tarragon is a lovely compliment to. It has a unique almost anise-like aroma, but I like it much more than anise. It pairs well with many flavors such as lemon, asparagus, fennel bulb, tomatoes, beets, eggs, carrots and grapefruit. It also pairs terribly with some flavors, such as basil, oregano, sage and rosemary. Needless to say, it’s an herb best used by itself without any other herbs.
To store fresh tarragon, treat it just as you would parsley. Trim the ends under running water and keep in a glass with a little water which should be changed regularly. You will find that your tarragon will continue to grow in the glass of water, getting bigger and bushier before it finally bites the dust. Another great way to store tarragon that’s on it’s way out is by chopping it and mixing it with some soft butter, then freezing it. You can use this butter in various dishes and sauces throughout the year.
Cilantro: Also known as Coriander, this is one of the most polarizing herbs. Most love it, quite a few hate it. I’ve heard that genetics have a lot to do with cilantro intolerance but I am lucky to not have any issues with it. I LOVE cilantro. I add it to anything I cook that is Mexican or Thai inspired. It has such an interesting depth of flavor and is best used fresh, not cooked. Roughly chop the leaves (you can eat the stems, too, unlike it’s cousin parsley) and add it at the last minute to your dishes.
To store fresh cilantro, trim the ends of a fresh bunch and put in a glass of water much like you do with parsley and tarragon. Keep your cilantro in the fridge and it should last for several weeks this way. Change out the water occasionally although you don’t need to do it as often as the refrigeration seems to thwart bacterial growth in the water. You will find, however, that it loses some of it’s punch over time so it’s best to use it up quickly even if it still looks nice.
Chives: Chives are extremely versatile and delicious, much like it’s cousin the Onion. They are fresh, pungent and lovely when thinly sliced and scattered over a dish. They are more delicate than a regular onion and are best used fresh, not added to a dish and then cooked. I like to mix them with softened butter and serve a little scoop over a nice filet mignon. If you’ve never had chive butter on a steak, you should get on that.
To store fresh chives, wrap them in a small plastic sandwich bag and keep in your refrigerator. You can chop as much as you need off the end of the whole bunch, then put it back into the bag and return to the refrigerator. They should keep a week or longer this way.
Basil: There is no greater indication that summer is in full swing than fresh basil at the market. This classic Italian (or Thai) herb has a powerful, pleasing aroma that is an excellent compliment to many other flavors. The classic pairing is with tomatoes, although you can use it in a zillion other ways. It’s also great with fish, mozzarella, eggs and zucchini. Basil is notoriously hard to grow, for me at least. It turns black within 2 days of being outside and I can only assume we don’t have the right climate for it here. Basil should be added fresh to dishes at the end of cooking, or used in cold dishes and salads with a healthy pour of olive oil and vinegar.
To store fresh basil, keep it in a glass on the counter like you would with parsley or tarragon. Do not put it in the refrigerator as it is sensitive to cold temperatures (maybe that’s why I can’t grow it). If you can find fresh basil with the roots still attached, it’s even better and will keep for up to 2 weeks on your counter top if you change the water regularly.
Rosemary: This woody, weedy, showy herb has a lovely, strong and unique flavor due to it’s high oil content. It’s best used during cooking and I can’t imagine using it fresh outside of a cocktail flavoring in full sprig format. It pairs well with all sorts of flavors, such as blackberry, other italian herbs, duck, garlic, pork, potatoes, beans, carrots, eggplant and lamb.
To store fresh rosemary, trim the ends and put in a glass of water like cilantro and store in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can store it in a plastic bag as this herb is pretty hearty and won’t bruise or rot too easily. My favorite way to store rosemary, however, is in a pot of dirt, growing in my back yard. It’s very easy to grow and can quickly get out of control, so be sure to cut it back and use it often.
These storage methods are purely based on my own experience, so please feel free to chime in below in the comments and let us know if you have any tips or additions of your own.