I picked up some herbs this past week from a new farmstand at my market. Always curious, I asked the person who took my change how he likes to store fresh herbs to keep them fresh. This seems to be an on-going quest (or debate!) among us homecooks: Put the herbs in water or wrap in damp paper towels? Store the jar in the fridge or on the counter? Cover with a bag or leave open? Well, this young man's answer was none of the above and it totally took me by surprise.
For woody, tough-stemmed herbs, like the rosemary and thyme that I was buying, he recommends just putting them in an open basket or other container and leaving them out on the counter. They will gradually dry out over several days, at which point they can be stripped off the stems and stored like dried herbs.
He went on to explain that it's hard to keep these kinds of herbs truly "fresh" in the same way that putting basil or parsley in a glass of water keeps those herbs fresh. Rather than struggle with half-effective methods, it's better to just work with the herbs and find ways to preserve what you don't use right away, like this passive air-drying method.
I have tossed enough slimy, browned bunches of herbs that I have to agree, and I like the logic of accepting the inevitable and preserving the herb in the simplest manner possible. I've air-dried herbs before, but never with that being my intention from the moment I unpack my groceries. It felt strangely wrong to just leave those bundles of herbs on the counter! Like I was somehow not doing my job by keeping them fresh and green for as long as possible.
Still, I followed this farmer's advice with my herbs, storing them in small paper bags on the counter. They stayed fresh and green for a few days, long enough for me to use them in a few recipes I had planned. The remainder, which so often I end up throwing away, dried out after about a week and now resides with my spice collection. I'm definitely a convert to this new (to me) method of saving herbs.
Do you ever do this? Or do you have another way of keeping those woody-stemmed herbs fresh?
(Image: Emma Christensen)