Photo via Flickr member icrontic
I consider fresh herbs one of the most powerful flavor tools in a chef’s repertoire. Fresh herbs add a sense of place, rich aroma, and delicious flavor to any food. But if the chef is a superhero, there comes a kryptonite with the use of fresh herbs: they’re not available year round.
So what to do when fresh herbs aren’t available?
You need not eat blandly when fresh herbs are out of season: you can preserve them for later use. Traditionally, herbs are dried. While this is a fantastic way of preserving and getting use out of your herbs year-round, it does dilute and slightly change the flavor. Plus, it takes quite a bit of time and space.
So I would like to present a simple and easy alternative: preserving fresh herbs in olive oil. It’s as simple as mixing your fresh herbs with olive oil, putting it in the freezer, and letting it chill out until you’re ready to use them.
Why preserve herbs in olive oil? There are many advantages of preserving herbs in olive oil. To name just a few:
- Preserving the herbs in olive oil will discourage discoloration, keeping your herbs vibrant. After all, we eat with our eyes first, and green herbs are far more appealing than drab olive.
- The fat from the olive oil will form a protective layer around the herbs, which will keep them from suffering freezer burn.
- Since many recipes that call for herbs also call for olive oil, you’ve got a leg up on your recipe. You can simply pop your olive oil infused with herbs into a soup base, stew, stir fry, or braised dish and it will act as part olive oil, part bouillon cube. You can even measure out common increments in advance.
Freezing herbs in olive oil: The basics – Before you get started, here’s what you need to know.
Photo via CakeSpy
What types of oil work best? In general, olive oil will be the best choice, because the flavor works best in cooking. You can use other oils, but keep in mind that you’d want to freeze the types of oil you’d like to cook with. For instance, while you can freeze your herbs in peanut oil, is that going to impart the flavor you’d like on baby asparagus? A little forethought can go a long way in this project.
That being said, freezing any oil will slightly reduce the flavor. Not only will the freezing have an effect, but also, the herbs will impart a flavor on the oil, and will likely become the dominant flavor. Because of this, I would suggest that this is not the time and place for your top shelf olive oil–a solid, middle of the road, mild-flavored olive oil is a good suggestion here.
What types of herbs work best? In general, you’ll want to stick with heartier, hard herbs when it comes to freezing. Even with their olive oil armor, they’re going through a cryogenic freezing of sorts, so herbs with a strong constitution and sturdy structure will work best. Rosemary, oregano, sage, and thyme, would all be examples of hearty herbs.
Softer herbs, which you’d use to finish a dish, such as tarragon or licorice root, may not fare quite as well, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth a try. They might just impart a slightly more subtle flavor.
Photo via flickr member wordridden
Herb mixes – Why stick with just one flavor? Herb mixes can work beautifully in olive oil, too. You could combine the herbs that constitute herbes de provence (a mix that often employs savory, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, and oregano), an Italian spice mix, or a simple mix such as parsley-sage.
Preserving these herbs in advance ensures an easy and seamless addition to recipes later. But remember to label the frozen herb mixes, because I promise, you will forget!
How do I store the herbs? You can store the herbs in the freezer in a number of ways. To name just a few:
- An ice cube tray, for small servings
- Cleaned-out plastic yogurt or ice cream containers
- Cupcake liners in a tin
Once the herbs have frozen in your vessel of choice, you can transfer the solidified units to freezer bags for long-term storage. Tip: be sure to mark the container with the contents and amount of olive oil per unit for easy use in recipes later.
Inspiration – What are some of the dishes you could make with your custom herb mixes? Here are just a few inspiring examples.
Photo via flickr member lablasco
Vegan and Gluten Free – Did you know that herbs preserved in olive oil are vegan and gluten-free? A stir-fry such as the one pictured above, featuring vegan chorizo and beans, could be sauteed using olive oil-preserved herbs.
Photo via Flickr member wonderlane
Skillet potatoes – Skillet potatoes will benefit from being fried in an olive oil which has been infused with herbs and thawed before cooking.
Photo via Flickr member yandle
Marinade – Once thawed, your herb-infused olive oil will be 100 percent full of flavor. That means it’s a fantastic addition to a marinade for meats before grilling or oven cooking.
Photo via flickr member suavehouse
How to freeze herbs in olive oil. You’ll need:
- Olive oil
- Fresh herbs
- vessels for freezing: ice cube trays, freezer-safe plastic containers, cleaned-out yogurt or ice cream containers
- Freezer bags, for long term storage
- Decide which herbs you’d like to use. Bonus points if they’re fresh from your garden, but this is not necessary.
- Chop them finely or slightly more coarsely to your taste, but consider that this is the size they will remain in the finished dish later.
- Place the herbs in ice cube trays or the vessel of your choice, filling each cavity ⅔ full with herbs.
- Pour your olive oil on top of the herbs, making sure they are completely covered.
- Cover with plastic wrap, and freeze until fully set–several hours or overnight.
- Remove from the cavities, place in labeled plastic bags, and store for up to 6 months.
To sum it all up? Fresh herbs are often the best, but they’re not available all year round. By freezing fresh herbs in olive oil, you can easily preserve the delicious flavor of fresh herbs to add flavor and depth to your cooking all year long. Just remember to measure out common increments so you know how much olive oil you are adding to your recipes.
How do you preserve herbs?