How to Freeze Fresh Herbs
Have you ever had pesto sauce on pasta or a sandwich? Chances are that pesto was made with fresh basil leaves, not dried flakes from a can. Those who grow herbs in their own home gardens know that meals seasoned with fresh herbs taste infinitely better. If you're just learning to cook, taking this step will put you on the foodie fast-track. Not to mention, home gardens are extremely eco-friendly.
Unfortunately, the growing season doesn't last all year, so it's crucial to know how to preserve fresh herbs so that you can cook with delicious home-grown seasonings even when the weather is frightful.
Drying and freezing are the two main methods of preservation. It's important to note that certain herbs are better dried and others frozen. "Hard" herbs like rosemary and sage work best dried while "soft" herbs -- those added at the end -- such as basil, parsley, mint and dill, are best freeze-dried.
Here are tips for freezing fresh herbs.
Method 1: Ice Cube Trays
By far the most popular method for freezing herbs is using ice cube trays to portion individual herb blocks for easy-access cooking. Be sure to rinse your herbs thoroughly, and then finely chop using a food processor, adding roughly two tablespoons of olive oil per three packed cups of herbs.
Transfer the processed herbs to ice cube trays, pressing the leaves down. Freeze until solid, and finally, remove the blocks and put them into a large freezer bag. The cubes should keep up to six months.
You can also substitute the olive oil for stock or water in your ice cubes, but the oil will add more richness to your meal. Your choice here depends on the type of meals you cook and your dietary needs.
Expert tip: When freezing in ice cube trays with water, fill the tray cups 3/4 full for the first night, then top off the next day and freeze overnight to avoid floating bits of herbs that can lead to freezer burn.
Method 2: Vacuum Sealer
Wash your herbs, but be sure to let them dry completely before vacuum sealing; otherwise, they will turn to mush. If you are vacuum sealing herbs with sharp stems, wrap them in paper to avoid puncturing the bag. Fill bags with single-use quantities of herbs; opening and resealing bags will negate the positive effects of vacuum sealing like protecting from oxidation, dehydration and bacteria growth. Label and date your contents and freeze.
Method 3: Cookie Sheet
The simplest way to freeze your herbs is to strip the leaves off the stems, spread them on a cookie sheet and pop it in the freezer. Remove as soon as they are frozen; place them in a freezer bag; label and date, and then freeze. Since the leaves are frozen individually, you can remove the exact amount you need.
The Big Chill: Freezer Settings
According to an article on the 'science of freezing foods', fruits, vegetables and herbs should be stored at 0° Fahrenheit or lower to maintain top quality. Storing foods at higher temperatures increases the deterioration rate and can shorten the shelf life of your herbs.
Purchase a freezer thermometer to monitor the exact temperature. The freezers on standard combination refrigerators achieve a range of -15 to 15° Fahrenheit, so achieving the correct freezing temperature should be a piece of cake.
Freezing is a great method for storing your homegrown herbs long term. What other ways do you preserve your hard-earned produce?
Sarah Kellner writes on home appliances for Home Depot. Sarah provides tips to homeowners on topics ranging from décor to managing the efficiency of appliances, including refrigerators. You can view a selection of Home Depot refrigerators on the company's website.
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