Drying herbs for winter
September is an excellent month to dry herbs to use during winter. Dried herbs add flavor and turn an ordinary dish into a culinary delight.
As we start to prepare ourselves for what advertisers call the Pumpkin Spice season, we start to plan heartier meals, roasted root vegetables and crockpot favorites. Just because we are grilling less outdoors and snipping fewer fresh herbs does not mean our meals should be any less tasty. Dried herbs add flavor and turn an ordinary dish into a culinary delight, and September is an excellent month to dry herbs to use during winter.
Here are a few tips when drying your herbs to maintain maximum flavor:
- Harvest herbs in the morning after the dew has evaporated but before the sun is too bright. You want to capture all of the essential oils in your dried herbs and they tend to evaporate when the sun is too hot and bright.
- Harvest herbs before flowers develop.
- Discard any damaged leaves.
- Hang herbs to dry in small bunches (large bunches can mold) or laid on screens in a dark well-ventilated area.
- Herbs will not dry properly with high humidity and may even mold.
- Allow seven to 10 days for herbs to dry completely. They should sound crispy when crushed.
- Use a slow oven method for quick drying. The temperature should be held between 77 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Gas ovens work best for this method, as the pilot light keeps a steady temperature near 90 F.
- The oven method could take between 24 and 48 hours, depending on the type of herb.
- Freshly dried herbs are best as they lose quality with age.
- Glass bottles are the first choice for storing dried herbs. Store in a dark cupboard.
- You may also use plastic bags or tins, but whatever you choose, be sure your containers are clean and completely dry before putting herbs in them.
- Store herbs away from direct sunlight in glass or plastic and for only about a year, as they begin to lose their potency.
- Some herbs can be stored in the freezer or frozen into herb ice cubes. Add the cubes to soups and stews.
- Dried herbs are stronger than fresh herbs.
- Powdered herbs are stronger than crumbled leafy herbs.
- An approximate guide when using dried or powdered herbs: 1/4 tsp powdered = 1 teaspoon dried, 1 teaspoon dried = 2 teaspoons fresh.
Here are a few herbs that compliment meats:
- Poultry: garlic, oregano, rosemary, savory, sage
- Beef: bay, chives, cumin, garlic, marjoram, rosemary, savory
- Lamb: garlic, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, thyme
- Pork: coriander, cumin, garlic, sage, savory, thyme
Add herbs to meats at the beginning of the cooking process. Add herbs to soups and stews in the last 30 minutes of the cooking process. This helps the herbs retain their flavor. As you experiment with herbs and herb combinations, remember to start out adding a few herbs at a time—you can always add more.