Author’s Note: I originally wrote this post for ActivelyNorthwest.com, and am reposting here for my NotesOnDelicious followers.
As we enter into the second half of winter, the days slowly get longer and the temperatures start to tick up. But unfortunately, the selection of produce at local farmers markets and groceries hasn’t changed much at all. By now, the winter recipe rotation has been cycled through several times over, and those hearty winter meals that provided comfort during the first cold days can seem a bit, well, boring. Fortunately, there is a simple trick to add new life those same winter dishes: fresh herbs!
Yet for many, the thought of using herbs during the winter seems counterintuitive. But there is nothing like a hit of fresh herb, used to flavor a recipe at the end of cooking, to perk up the flavors in the dish. Fresh herbs add a layer of complexity and freshness, reminding us of the vibrancy of spring on its way.
Cold-tolerant herbs such as rosemary, thyme and parsley are available at many farmers markets during the winter. Venture to Asian markets, and an abundance of mint, thai basil, dill and cilantro are easy finds. And of course, most grocery stores stock a variety of herbs in those ubiquitous clamshell containers.
But for many, once that first bit of herb is used the challenge becomes: what to do with the rest? Here are a few tricks for using herbs in winter cooking, plus advice on how to best store herbs and preserve them for use throughout the cold months.
Using Fresh Herbs:
An excellent companion to chicken, pork and root vegetables, rosemary can be quite pungent so a little goes a long way. Mince together with a clove of garlic and the zest of a lemon for a quick rub to season pork tenderloin before grilling, to stuff under the skin of chicken before baking, or to flavor diced squash before roasting. Rosemary branches also make an excellent skewer for grilled vegetables, turkey meatballs or chicken tenders; simply strip most of the leaves from the stem and skewer the meat or vegetable, then grill or roast in the oven.
Much like rosemary, thyme is a natural companion to chicken, pork, and root vegetables, but also lends a nice flavor to eggs (try it in your scrambled eggs or frittata). Strip thyme leaves from the branch and toss with wedges of onions, fennel bulb and a tablespoon each of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then bake in a 350-degree oven for 40 min for a fantastic side dish. Minced fresh thyme leaves can also be added to your favorite vinaigrette as a great complement to roasted beet or pear salads.
Parsley is the secret to adding that “fresh” flavor to brighten up rich soups, stews, braises and roasts. Add at the very end, before serving, as the tender leaves won’t hold up during long cooking. Parsley also makes for a great “base” to other herb flavors. Try blitzing in the food processor with some olive oil, garlic, chili flakes and add an herb of choice: fresh marjoram or oregano for an Italian “salsa verde” marinade for steak; cilantro and lime juice for a Mexican sauce for chicken and fish; or add toasted walnuts and lemon juice for a quick parsley pesto for boiled potatoes or white fish.
To store fresh herbs: Tender herbs like parsley, mint, dill and basil are best stored in the fridge. Either wrap loosely in paper towel and place in a zip-top bag or, if you’ve got room, they will last even longer if placed upright in a glass of water, covered loosely with a plastic baggie and stored in the refrigerator door. Rosemary, thyme and sage will keep for several weeks if placed in a glass of water and left in a cool spot (windowsill, etc.).
To freeze herbs: Tender herbs can also be frozen in ice cube trays. Simply mince together and submerge in broth, water or olive oil then add to ice cube trays to freeze. Remove from tray once frozen and store in a zip-top bag for an easy flavor boost to soups, stews and sauces.
Almond & Herb Crusted Chicken
Chicken marinade ingredients:
- 1.5 cups lowfat buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2-3 pounds chicken breasts and/or thighs, skin removed (either bone-in or boneless are fine; cooking times will vary, see below)
- 3/4 cup sliced almonds
- 2 slices whole wheat bread
- 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped rosemary
- 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped thyme
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup flour
Whisk together buttermilk, mustard, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt and place in large bowl with chicken. Toss to coat, cover, and marinate at least 2 hours, or overnight.
Preheat oven to 400-degrees
Whirl together crust ingredients in a food processor until finely ground. Place on a large, rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for 5-8 minutes until just golden. Place crumbs into a large, shallow bowl and add the flour to a second bowl and set aside.
Line the baking sheet with foil and place a cookie cooling rack on top (to create a raised “rack” above the baking sheet). Spray rack with cooking spray.
Remove the chicken from the buttermilk and set onto a large plate, reserving the buttermilk mixture. Piece-by-piece, toss chicken lightly in the flour, shaking off any excess, then place back into the buttermilk, turn to coat evenly, then place into the mixture of crumbs and turn to coat all sides. Place on the prepared baking rack. Repeat with remaining pieces.
Bake the chicken 45-55 minutes for bone-in chicken, or 25-30 minutes for split boneless chicken breasts. They will be done when no longer pink inside, and an instant-read thermometer registers 165-degrees.
Let cool for 10 minutes before cutting. Serve with additional minced parsley, a squeeze of lemon, or honey mustard on the side.