Herbal Preservation


    [steps on the bathroom scale, it reads 230 lbs.] Oh bother.


    [grunts as he squats down to pick up toy from stairs, jeans ripping sound] Ohhh, bother. [walks backwards back up the stairs]


GUEST: Waitress

AB: [reading elegantly-bound restaurant menu to himself] Carbonara, that's ...
WAITRESS: [hands him cheesy, laminated, yarn-bound 'Lite Bites' menu] I thought you might like to see our 'lite' menu.
AB: Oh. Thank you.
W: [leaves]

    Oh, bother.

The Kitchen

    [AB is reading "Lose a pound a day the old fashion way diet"] We Americans looove food ... a lot. Which may explain why so many of us are starting to push maximum density. [tosses the stick of butter he was nibbling on aside] To combat this, [tosses away partially-eaten diet bar] we go on diets. I hate diets. I hate them a lot.

[Titles of Books]
How To Loose Weight Now
The Phat Diet
The Beer Diet
The East Cobb Diet
The Two-Way Diet
The Mega Big Diet
Think Thin

    What we need are strategies for getting flavor into our food without, you know, having to unwrap a stick of butter. Not that there's anything wrong with a stick of butter, but you get the point.
    I nominate herbs. They're fat-free, almost calorie-free, they're tasty, aromatic, pretty, cheap, easy to grow, and they can elevate just about any dish they touch. Of course, there's more to herbally infusing your cuisine than just dropping these things on a plate or in a pot. So stick around, as we get to the essence of all things herbal, here on ...

HerbCo: Duvall, WA - 10:19 am

    If the leaf of a plant contains essential oils that can be used to add flavor and/or aroma to a food, we call that leaf an herb. If the essential oils come from other botanical parts, say bark, or roots, pods, berries, seeds and the like, that is spice, okay? Now, I like spices. I like them a lot. In fact, they're a whole other show. But herbs have a few distinct advantages. I mean, for one thing, spices grow... [looks to his left (east) then turns to his right (west)] Over there. Way, way, way over there, like on the other side of the planet. Most of them, at least. Whereas herbs, well heck, in this country, at least, anybody willing to shovel a little dirt into a pot can grow their own herbs. Maybe not on, you know [gestures to herb farm] this scale, exactly, but enough to keep yourself into some fresh goodness all throughout the warm months.
    Another thing about herbs is that you can use them in either a fresh or dry state. You can't do that with spices. Spices generally have to be dried.
    Now there are probably two, maybe even three hundred different types of culinary herbs grown around the world. But here in America, I really think we need to know how to handle the Big Ten. [musical flourish, "Alton Brown's Big Ten Herbs" graphic appears] What are they? Well, let's start right here.

    Although all members of the onion family are technically herbs, only chives count in my book. The secret to their use? Snip them with scissors. Never cut them with knives. Too much bruising. They get along especially well with white foods: potatoes, pasta, eggs and white fish. [buries face in chives and inhales deeply] Oh, nothing smells like spring like chives!


    Like its cousins, basil and thyme, mint comes in a plethora of different flavors. For instance, chocolate mint, peppermint, apple mint, spearmint, like this. It is unique in the herb world in that plays equally well in savory and sweet applications. For instance, tabouli salad and mint chip ice cream. Yum!


    And here we have my favorite: thyme. Now, this is common thyme, and it's a very subtle, flexible herb, despite the fact that the tiny leaves can be a beast to harvest. Excellent with meat and seafood, it's a classic bouquet garni participant, and excellent in citrus-based desserts, as well.


The Kitchen

    Who among us can say that at some point in our lives, we have not opened the crisper drawer to find that our fresh herbs had decomposed into a primordial ooze capable of supporting the life of something that looks like this. [Holds up toy monster, it roars] I, for one, admit that it has happened to me. But it won't happen again. Why? Because I know how to properly store my herbs. Here's how.

Proper Herb Storage

    The goal: supply moisture but not too much air. We have here a long roll of paper towels. We will spritz that with just a little bit of water. Not too much. Then, lay on the herbs. You can do as many different types as you like. I've got dill and oregano and basil here. And then, very lightly, roll it up. If you remember our lettuce show, you'll remember a procedure a lot like this, but this one's a little bit different.
    Now, of course, this will dry out really quickly in the refrigerator. And of course, too much air, too much decomposition. It's a bad thing. So, we will add some plastic wrap to the party. And this will just fold over this way, and this way, to make an airtight seal. This bundle goes straight into the refrigerator, but not where you think.
    The crisper drawer may be a dandy place for stashing hardier produce, but it is way too cold down here for herbs. I have much better luck with these guys up on the very, very top shelf. Now, if you're looking for long-term storage solutions for notorious wilters, like tarragon, chervil and cilantro, take your cue from florists. Just cut the end off of the bunch, put it down in an inch of water, in just any plastic container that's got an airtight lid. This, you could just keep stashed in the door. I've managed to keep cilantro for up to a week.

    Now, when it comes to getting the flavor of fresh herbs into food, you basically have two ways to go. The first is infusion, and this is a method that can be used for any food that cooks inside a water-based liquid environment. And to do it, the French use something called a bouquet garni. You probably remember Ken from an earlier episode. This is a bouquet garni. It's basically just a tied-up ... Let go, Ken! ... uh, little bundle of herbs, [wrests bouquet garni from Ken and tosses the doll behind him] tied up with a string. This is cute, but it's really not the best way to go, because there's not much opportunity for water flow around this. And of course, you can only include things that you can actually tie up with a piece of string.

Bouquet Garni

    Not so when you're using a tea or herb ball, which come in all different shapes and sizes. And the other benefit to this is that you can include things like peppercorns and garlic, which is very nice, indeed. So just close up all of your bouquet garni items there, and we'll clip that stem off, cause we don't really need that any more. There we go. Seal it, and then just drop this right into the pot with a chicken that we have poaching here. We're just starting. I'm going to hook this [chain and clip] around [the pot handle] to keep that captured.
    Now, it's pretty important, when dealing with an infusion like this, that you get the herbs in while the water is still cold or cool. If we put this in during the very end of cooking, it's not going to have any time to extract any flavor out. So, if herbs are going to go in and come out later, put them in early. That sounds like a good rule.

"Fines Herbes" is another seasoning blend consisting
traditionally of parsley, chervil, tarragon and chives.


    Dill, a.k.a. dillweed, is actually a member of the carrot family. And I think of it as a very sneaky herb, because it's so often confused with fennel, which it tastes nothing like. Although it was first cultivated in India, it has been most embraced by the Scandinavians, probably because it goes so well with beets and potatoes, especially when served cold.


    Rosemary, which may be the most identifiable herb flavor in America, comes from an evergreen shrub of Mediterranean origin, that can grow up to 15 feet in height if left untrimmed. In fact, a lot of landscape architects will use it as a natural deer barrier. It turns out deer just hate this stuff. They won't walk through it and they won't eat it. Probably because it tastes so good with them! [chuckles]


    I never make pizza or spaghetti sauce without true, or Greek, oregano. It also works and plays well with eggplant, chicken and red meat. Mexican oregano, by the way, is a member of the verbena family.


The Kitchen

    The easiest way to get herbal goodness into food is, of course, to simply put the herbs in the food and leave them there. This is best done at or near the end of cooking, or even at the table once the cooking is over with. The challenge comes down to the fact that we've got to do some slicing and dicing here. And that can be a problem, because if you over-hack on herbs, they basically turn into a puddle of brown, gooey, green stuff. Not good eats.
    Now, plenty of technologies have been developed to help us around this problem, but they usually range from ridiculous [sets aside multi-bladed gadget] to medieval [sets aside two-handled rocking chopper] to just plain crazy. [shows plastic yo-yo-esque pod] And look at this. This is... [pulls chopper's cord in and out] It's like mowing the lawn inside the house. [sets it aside]
    Some people even attempt to take a perfectly good tool, like this pizza cutter, and use it for cutting herbs. And that just makes a good tool look bad. Nope. As far as I'm concerned, there's one tool for disassembling herbs, and that's a good, old-fashioned chef's knife. Now, I prefer something in the eight-inch range, but anything from six to ten will definitely do the job.
    Now there are two approaches for cutting up herbs, and they depend on the size and shape of the leaf.

    [voice over] Large, uniform leaves, like basil, can be cut into razor-thin strips called chiffonade, which is French for 'razor-thin strips.' Just stack the leaves on top of each other, say 8 to 10, then roll them up tight and lay them on the board, seam-side down. Then slice through them, not straight down. Down bruises. Across does not.

    This [chiffonade] is a great cut for making last-minute herbal additions to salads, pizzas, heck, even dessert. Of course, not every herb can be easily stacked and rolled. So for things like tarragon, chervil, cilantro and parsley, try this.

    [voice over] Start by gathering the leaves between your fingers, so you've got more leaf than stem. Then lay them on the board and, again, slice across, not down. When you're done, you'll have a uniform, large chop. For a fine chop, spread them out and then rock the blade, back and forth, through the herbs, as few times as possible. If you spread them each time, three passes should do the trick.

    Now that's [cut up parsley] more like it. Of course, if you were to add some minced garlic to that, you'd have what the French call Persillade. Mmm. And if you were to add citrus to that ... [sniffs citrus] Ah! You'd have what the Italians call Gremolata. Either of which make very nice last-minute additions to sautÚ dishes, as well as soups and sauces.



Little Five Points Pharmacy: Atlanta, GA - 12:30 pm

GUEST: Lady #1, Lady #2, Gentleman #1

    [dressed in a pharmacy jacket behind the counter] Fascinating. Did you know that before science-types learned how to synthesize chemical compounds, most drugs were derived from plants? Yup. Even seems that most of the herbs that we cook with were originally cultivated for their medicinal values. Wow.

[AB is reading, "Giant Book of Traditional Herbal Medications]

AB: Good morning. What can I do for you, Ma'am?
LADY #1: [hands AB a written prescription and an asthma inhaler]
AB: Oh, an inhaler. Wow, these things are expensive, aren't they? Ya know, the Banckes' Herb Book of 1525 says that [hands her a small bunch of rosemary] rosemary will take care of your asthma, and it will rid you of bad dreams, and your teeth of worms ... just in case that's a problem. Bye bye.
L1: [ leaves]

AB: Yes, Ma'am, what can I do for you this morning?
LADY #2: [hands AB a written prescription]
AB: Thank you. What do we have here? [reads prescription] Hiccups. Aren't they a pain? But you know what? [crumples prescription and tosses it over his shoulder] You don't need these expensive pills. [hands her a small bunch of mint] Take this bunch of mint and call me in the morning. Oh, and that's good for abscesses, too. Let your dentist know. Bye bye. Bye.
L2: [leaves]

AB: Yes, Sir, what can I do for you?
GENTLEMAN #1: [ hands AB a prescription]
AB: [reads prescription] Oh. You know, this is nothing to be embarrassed about. Happens to everybody. So they say. But you know, medieval man, when he needed a little motivation, [tosses away crumpled prescription] didn't pop pills. He chomped some chives. [hands him a small bunch of chives] Go ahead, give them a try! Also very good for male pattern baldness.
G1: [who is bald, glares]
AB: Not that you have a problem with that. Just, yeah, dig right in.
G1: [ takes a bite and leaves]
AB: There ya go. Bye bye, now.

The Kitchen

    Whenever I come into a big ol' bunch of quality herbs, say at summer's end, I start thinking about making up a batch of Good Eats herb bomb number nine. That's just my word for dried herbs. Now, technically, any herb can be dried, but heartier herbs like oregano, bay, sage, thyme and rosemary, tend to hold onto their essential oils, even after they've given up most of their moisture. So I try to stick with those.
    The biggest problem with dried herbs is that they're usually ugly and brown. That's because, as they age, enzymes inside the leaves break down the chlorophyll, okay? And that's why they turn dark. But this chemical terminator can be stopped with a quick dip in ... [pot of boiling water] Each bunch goes in for about 5 seconds. One, two, three ... watch your fingers ... four, five. And then we stop the cooking process with ice water. One, two, three, four, five, and then straight into your trusty salad spinner. [pumps spinner] Good for your fine washables, too! But that's another show.

To freeze herbs, place chopped leaves in ice cube trays,
cover with water, freeze, then store in freeze bags.

The Kitchen

    Although basil comes in about two-dozen varieties, sweet or Italian basil is the most common. Which makes sense, because basil is most often thought of as an Italian ingredient. Why? Well, because it gets along with cheese and tomatoes so well! Now, basil should always be added as close to the end of cooking as possible. Ideally, it should just be shredded fine and served raw.


    And here we have the only member of the daisy family to be considered an herb: tarragon. Most associated with French cooking, it gets along very, very well with eggs, shellfish and, as we shall soon see, vinegar.


    Sage's fuzzy, oval leaves are potent and earthy, and can dominate a dish unless used sparingly. Although sage defines holiday stuffing, the leaves can also be fried in butter and used as a sauce.


The Kitchen

    Most of the instructions that you see for drying herbs at home require that you spread out all your greenery on window screens or hang them up from racks made out of coat hangers, and, you like, leave them for a month in an empty room. So you need a lot of space, you need a lot of time, and you still end up with herbs covered in dust and little bitty dead bugs. Luckily, that is not going to happen to us. [Camera tilts slightly to look at air filters covering table with herbs laid out on them] They're air filters. You know, furnace filters, from the hardware store.
[Camera pans slightly to look at all the filters]
    You see the logic, don't you? Wait, wait. [stacks herb-covered filters] And then ... [places one more empty filter on top] One more on top. See what I'm getting at? No. Okay.
    We have here what would appear to be a plain, ordinary, innocent box fan. But it's more. Much more. [straps stacked filters to front of fan with bungee cords with hooks, sets the fan up in normal position and turns it on] Let this run, blowing nice, herbal air into the room of your choice for 12 hours. Then flip the pack around the other way, strap it back on, and go for another 12. In 24 hours total, this is what you'll have ...
    ... [shows dried herbs on the filters] perfectly dried herbs. So crisp that [snaps a leaf] they're like potato chips. Now as far as harvesting goes, just take these in your hand, over a flexible mat or a piece of paper, and rub. And just pick out the stems as you go. There. And as for storage, just go with a sealable tin. You want to keep these away from light. There. And repeat. You can either mix them up or keep them in separate tins. What to do with this? Well, a lot of things. But consider these options.

Try dry herbs in soups, stews, tomato sauce, and bread doughs.

    If I have a favorite herbal trick, it's got to be herb vinegar. Now, you can make herb vinegar out of just about any herb, but my personal favorites are tarragon and chives. You're going to need about 12 stems of both for a batch of this.

12 Stems Each Tarragon & Chives

    Of course, if they were conventionally grown, odds are good your herbs have some chemical residue on them, and if they were grown organically, odds are good they've got a couple of bugs on them. So they're going to need a bath. But not just in water. Because there's a good chance your herbs are also harboring spores.
That's right, microbial eggs that could survive the acid bath to come, and wake up later to wreak havoc in your system.

    Luckily, there is one common household agent ready to neutralize them: bleach. That's right. One teaspoon of common household bleach in two quarts of water, and you can say "Hasta la vista, las esporas." So, right in they go, and just let them soak for just a few seconds. And then move them to rinse-water. There we go. In the meantime ...

1 tsp. Bleach
2 qts. Water

    Heat 6 cups of white wine vinegar to 190 degrees. No, not in there [pot on stovetop]. In here [electric kettle]. Yep, I like using my electric kettle for this, because it is fast. And the faster we heat our vinegar, the less we stink up the kitchen. Why 190 degrees? Because that is the perfect temperature for extracting the maximum amount of good flavor from our herbs, here. The boiling point would be way too much, and we'd end up pulling out things like, oh I dunno, bark flavors and turpentine flavors. Not exactly what I'm after. 6 Cups White Wine Vinegar

    [checks thermometer in kettle] Bingo. Now, all you have to do is remove your thermometer, of course, and pour over the herbs. Now, let this cool, with a lid on, and park it in a nice, quiet, cool part of your kitchen, say your pantry, for two weeks.

The word vinegar derives from the French vin aigre meaning "sour wine".

The Kitchen

    [removes container of vinegar and brown, soggy herbs from cupboard] Hmm. That doesn't look very good, does it?

    Truth is, I never really imagined that these herbs would make it to the bottling process. They have given their all. That's why I sanitized a whole new batch of herbs and stuck them inside newly sanitized bottles. I'm going to give these away. And I'm pouring it through a sanitized funnel that's got a nice, clean piece of cheesecloth in it, just to get out any little bits and pieces of leaf that might sneak by.

12 Each
Newly Sanitized Stems
Tarragon & Chives

    Homemade herb vinegar will maintain its intensity for 5 to 6 months, in the refrigerator. If you leave it out here at room temperature, only about 5 or 6 weeks, so store wisely. Me? I always like to keep a bottle in the refrigerator with a pour-spout on it. You know, the kind they use in bars? That way, I can easily apply it to whatever I want.
    What kind of applications are we talking about? Well, this is the best thing that ever happened to homemade vinaigrette. It's great in mayonnaise. It's good on pork chops, in cooked greens, in marinades. Oh, and don't get me started on how fine this stuff is on homemade potato chips! That's another show.

The Kitchen

    Here we have the most misunderstood herb in America. Parsley. Despite what most folks think, it does have a purpose besides decorating side dishes in diners. It comes in two market varieties: Curly, and my favorite, flat leaf, a.k.a. Italian parsley. Which looks a whole lot like ...


    Cilantro. No, cilantro is not on my Big 10 list, but it is crucial to the cuisines of Southeast Asia, as well as Mexico, so it bears mentioning. Also, it bears mentioning because it's sometimes hard to identify. For instance, this young, tender cilantro looks a lot like fennel, but, when you go down to the bottom of the plant, and you pick some of the older stuff, it looks like this, which is a lot like flat-leaf parsley. And it's very easy to mistake them for each other, although they do not interchange well in recipes, so take a close look. Cilantro, flat leaf parsley. Got it? Lesson over.


The Kitchen

    [standing on scale] Wow, I've lost an ounce and a half already! Now I realize it would be crazy to attribute such a sudden and dramatic weight loss to the mere consumption of herbs, but at the same time, it would be crazy of me to discount the low-cal flavor infusion that herbs bring to other foods. You know, that's wrong, because that makes it sound like herbs just help out other flavors. The truth is, herbs are perfectly capable of playing first string.

    For instance, let's say that you whisked together 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of lemon zest, 1 teaspoon of honey, a pinch of kosher salt, two teaspoons of dark or toasted sesame oil, and 6 tablespoons of walnut oil, just until it came together into a nice, creamy emulsion. There. And let's say that you then folded in 2 quarts, or 4 ounces, of cleaned and picked Italian or flat leaf parsley, along with 3 tablespoons of toasted sesame seeds.

2 Tbs. Lemon Juice
2 Tbs. Lemon Zest
1 tsp. Honey
Pinch of Kosher Salt
2 tsp. Dark Sesame Oil
6 Tbs. Walnut Oil

4 oz. Flat Leaf Parsley
3 Tbs. Toasted Sesame Seeds

    Now, let this sit for about 30 minutes, and you have a really, really delicious salad. Or, you could let it sit [catches tossed bag of salad] for about 3 weeks in your refrigerator and it would still be delicious, because herbs like parsley don't wilt like lettuce when they get dressing on them. Shocking but true ... Good Eats, that is. See you next time. [digs into salad]

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Transcript by Elctrowolf

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010