As an avid gardener of herbs, I’m always looking for ways to prolong my enjoyment of the uses and functionality of the herbs growing in my gardens and cooking with herbs is one of the uses that gives me a lot of pleasure. Being dissatisfied with lost flavor and aroma in many dried herbs, I’ve found that freezing herbs is an outstanding method to preserve flavor, fragrance and colour. In a recent blog post on freezing basil, I outlined the steps involved in creating a ‘basil paste’; a coarse mixture of chopped basil and enough olive oil to make a paste which is then frozen and, when needed, a chunk can be broken off for use in soups, stews, pastas etc. – this is the same method I use in creating a variety of ‘bouquet garni’ pastes for meat, fish, chicken and pasta dishes.
For anyone living in a northern climate or not having access to winter indoor growing conditions, this is the next best thing to freshly picked herbs. Freezing herbs is a wonderful method of preserving the flavor and colour of a wide variety of savory herbs, and freezing is the preferred method for such herbs as basil, chervil, chives, dill, fennel and parsley as drying these herbs will cause them to quickly lose their flavor. I like to freeze a variety of individual herbs for use on their own, but also to create variations of the ‘bouquet garni’ used in traditional French cooking by mixing a pestled combination of herbs with olive oil; this aromatic paste is then layered, labeled and then frozen thus ensuring an ample supply of tasty herbal choices for winters’ comfort dishes.
The customary bouquet garni of classical French cooking is a method of cooking, not a recipe and therefore is open to adaptation. In a recipe calling for a bouquet garni, the chosen fresh herbs are either tied together into a bundle with butchers twine or a leek leaf, or tied into a cheesecloth bag and then dropped into the dish as it simmers. The bouquet garni shouldn’t be confused with her cousin, ‘fines herbs’, which is finely minced herbs that are then sprinkled on top or stirred into the dish, usually cold foods such as deviled eggs and salads or foods that cook quickly like fish or frittata and need a splash of colour or flavor burst. Bouquet garni are used in slow cooking dishes in which the flavor of the herbs is drawn out by the simmering liquids to mix flavor with the other ingredients. By wrapping the sprigs, the entire bundle can be quickly and easily retrieved and discarded when finished.
In old school French and Italian cooking, fines herbs was simply minced parsley – curly or flat leaf; in today’s contemporary kitchen, fines herbs has evolved into a chopped medley of chervil, chives, tarragon and parsley. The bouquet garni was traditionally a mixture of bay leaf, marjoram, parsley and thyme which would be adjusted to suit the dish or individual taste.
Whatever method you prefer to use, herb blends should be subtle in taste – it’s always easier to add a bit more that to try to remove a flavor! With that in mind, certain herbs are considered ‘primary’ due to their strong flavor: basil, oregano, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme are all considered to be predominant in taste and as a general rule of thumb don’t mix well with each other. Aside from that, there are no ‘rules’ to follow in creating your own flavorful bouquets – just let your taste buds lead the way! Here are some of my favorite freezer herb combinations, with the same steps used for all to create herbal ‘bouquet garni’ paste:
1) Pick, wash and pat or spin dry fresh herbs.
2) Coarsely chop with a chef’s knife, food processor or blender.
3) Add enough olive oil to make a paste that will hold together.
4) Layer in a zip lock bag to a depth of approximately 1/2″.
5) Label the bags and freeze.
These recipes are for individual dishes but are easily doubled or tripled for freezing.
For poultry, stuffing, turkey or chicken soup and bean dishes:
- 3 sprigs sage
- 2 sprigs marjoram
- 2 sprigs parsley
- 1 leafy celery top
- 1 sprig lemon thyme
For fish and seafood:
- 2 sprigs basil tops (or 4 mature leaves)
- 2 sprigs parsley
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig of either dill, fennel or tarragon
For meat dishes and stews:
- 2 sprigs marjoram
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 1 sprig savory
- 1 sprig lovage leaves or 1 leafy celery top
For tomato and pasta dishes:
- 3 sprigs basil tops
- 2 sprigs oregano
- 1 sprig marjoram
- 1 sprig parsley
Freezing herbs in this prepared ‘bouquet garni’ method makes it quick and easy to add the flavor of fresh herbs (almost fresh!) to your favorite dishes and gives an even greater satisfaction to the joy of growing your own herbs. Bon appetite!
Lorna Kring is an avid lifelong gardener with a passion for creating custom, personalized gardenscapes with a distinctive affection for landscaping with herbs.
Photo. Asya Vlasova