Pantry Essentials: The Simon and Garfunkel Edition
One of my friends and I were texting and he randomly asks me, “What is the point of parsley?”
That’s actually a really good question.
I don’t love parsley myself, but I understand how it is meant to function in a dish. It has an herbaceous but neutral flavor. Chewing on a sprig of parsley, especially the curly stuff, can make an excellent palate cleanser. Good parsley, Italian flat leaf parsley, actually has a distinct flavor though if used in conjunction with other herbs, it can help to enhance their flavor instead.
Parsley can also be used when making purees and coulis with other herbs or leafy greens, like spinach, to give it a brighter color. Its herbaceous qualities also make it useful when making stock, in a sachet along with thyme, bay and peppercorns.
But what about the rest of them? Sage? Yeah, the Thanksgiving herb. Turkey gravy and corn bread stuffing. Or a sour cherry and cider glazed pork loin stuffed with sage and pecans. Sage tends to be wide, flat and usually a little fuzzy, best lightly chopped or chiffonade to not bruise the leaf overly much.
For me sage is all about the deserts of New Mexico and the mountain high country I call home. I think of fresh sweet corn, red onions, roasted chilies, sage and some juicy pork carnitas. Or a sage and mesquite smoked trout, cooked barely medium, flesh still pink and juicy. Serve them with buttermilk drop biscuits, with sage, scallion and a nice sharp cheddar in them.
Rosemary looks like a pine tree, which pretty much is exactly what it is. It has a deep boquet, an almost floral quality to it. Excellent with beef, infused into a demi glace with some green peppercorns and red wine, with a nice blue cheese, mushroom and potato hash on the side. But also very good with lemon, garlic, white wine and chicken.
The beef and red wine bring out some of the deep, earthy qualities, likewise the mushrooms. But using something lighter, with a more neutral protein like chicken, you can bring out the brighter, almost floral aspects of the herb.
The needles are tough and difficult to eat without much chopping. While they can look beautiful as a garnish, there’s no point in putting something on the plate that isn’t actually edible. Rosemary that is mixed into something needs to be minced finely, either by hand or in a spice grinder.
And then what does that leave us with? Never enough of it in a day. Thyme and thyme again, we ask ourselves these questions. How does the thyme slip through our fingers so easily? Okay, I’m done.
Thyme is one of those herbs you found in almost every savory dish, stockpot, soup kettle or ‘herbed such-and-such’ out there. I personally love the smell of thyme as it steeps in a pot of chicken stock. Thyme is present in anything from cajun blackening spice to minestrone. It is one of the essential herbs for poultry, as well as in sauce-making.
Except that thyme is on those teensy little sprigs with the teensy weensy little leaves that take forever to strip off, especially when the recipe calls for two full cups of fresh thyme. I doubt you’d make anything on a scale that recipe required, but still. The secret ninja tip with thyme is to freeze it. Lay it out flat on a towel, on a plate. Let it freeze for about an hour, the leaves fall off with ease and the thyme is little worse for wear.
So there we have it, the folk song essentials of an herb garden. That’s just four of them. What about oregano versus marjoram, or coriander and cilantro? Next time! Or in the comments section below….