The Fresh Herb Guide

Updated: Apr 16, 2021

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Fresh herbs or dried herbs? Should I use them, Which do I use, how do I use them!? If you're a regular reader of The Wooden Spoon Blog, you'll know I often talk about fresh herbs whenever possible. And so, it's time to dedicate a whole post to the subject!

Before we begin, I want to leave you with the words of the late chef Anthony Bourdain from his book, Kitchen Confidential, "that dried sawdust they sell in the cute little cans at the supermarket? You can throw that, along with the spice rack, right in the garbage. It all tastes like a stable floor. Use fresh!" -Anthony Bourdain.

And so, with those encouraging words of wisdom, let's begin!

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Why Fresh Herbs?

Throughout my experience as a chef, I can't begin to tell you how much of a difference fresh herbs will make to a dish. Don't just take my word for it though, try making my chicken wild rice soup recipe here, but instead use dried herbs. The difference will be profound, and I don't mean it in a good way. These dried herbs lack oils that disappear during dehydration, which contain fantastic flavor, ditch the dried herbs along with garlic and onion powder, and start using fresh!

Every time I make a dish with fresh herbs for people who are only used to dried herbs, their eyes light up with a great realization. It's at this moment when I am happy to have made others happy through my food. It's here where I've taught someone new about fresh herbs, and they are now one step closer to becoming an experienced chef.

How to Use Fresh Herbs

Fresh herbs are straightforward to use; I've come across numerous people scared of fresh herbs for simply not knowing how to use them.

There are two general areas that it will cover: stocks, soups, frying, and use in garnish and items cooked in the oven.

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Stocks, Soups, and Frying

Before we begin here, it's essential to know the term Bouquet Garni. Loosely and generally put, it is a collection of herbs often tied together and used to flavor a dish; we can also call these herbs aromatics.

In a soup or stock, it's as simple as tying the collection of herbs together, placing them in the dish halfway through the cooking process, and letting the flavors infuse into the dish. With dried herbs, you would add these at the beginning of the process so what little flavor actually in them can come out. If that's not a red flag, I don't know what it is. Herbs shouldn't need the extreme amount of extra time for flavors to come out.

Now using herbs in a frying pan is a little bit different. Again, you'd tie together the herbs, place them in a pan with a bit of butter or olive oil, depending on what your cooking, and add the meat. Throughout its cooking process, the herbs will infuse with any juices and sauce in the pan. At this point, you must begin spooning this liquid over the meat. This process helps to cook the meat and adds flavor as the aromatic's flavorings run through what your cooking.

As you can see, it's as simple as that—no measuring spoons required, not even a cutting board. Granted, the type of herbs in your Bouquet Garni will depend on the dish. Any recipe upon this website will have the recommended herbs to use. I love these fresh herbs because you can customize your Bouquet on your preference and dish. It's the perfect time to use The Flavor Bible, which you can read about here.

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Oven cooking

This one is a little different than the Bouquet Garni used in soups and stocks. Here you won't necessarily have a liquid that the herbs can infuse to. You'll need to chop off the herbs and sprinkle them on top along with olive oil or butter, depending on what your cooking. While this adds some flavor to the actual thing you're cooking, most of the flavor from the herbs will need to come from a sauce. This holds whether you're using fresh or dried herbs; fresh will have a more robust, more earthy flavor.

While oven cooking is a great way to cook, Sous Vide is an effortless way to infuse every flavoring an herb has to offer. You can read more about what Sous Vide is here.

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How to Overcome the Price

There is no way around the pricing. Fresh herbs are undoubtedly expensive, depending on where you shop. While restaurants can buy boxes and boxes of fresh herbs for dirt cheap, a home cook doesn't always have access to this opportunity. The best piece of advice I have for buying fresh herbs is to look at different stores. Herbs do cost different prices depending on the time of year and where you shop. Growing fresh herbs in your garden or a small pot by your window is also an excellent alternative to fresh herbs, and you can watch them grow!

And although it pains me to suggest it, I'm going to. Although fresh herbs straight from a garden are preferable, you can also freeze herbs to help them last longer. I would only freeze them for a month or two maximum. The herbs' texture will change, and so will the flavor slightly, but it is far preferable to dried sawdust herbs. With that said, once you begin using fresh herbs, you'll want to use them in everything you cook and will not need to preserve them.

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And with all of that knowledge and wisdom, I hope you're now running into your pantry and throwing out your dried spices. The amount of flavor you'll get from fresh herbs will blow both your mind and those around you if used properly. If this post hasn't convinced you to switch over, cook a dish with fresh herbs and taste the difference yourself.


Chef Olson

“The Flying Chef”


"Kitchen Confidential" by Anthony Bourdain

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