I got a few mint sprigs from a friend of mine some years back. I thought she was doing me a favor. As it turns out, my friend doesn’t like me. She didn’t warn me that planting mint was asking for trouble. It takes over everything. It’s found its way onto every terrace of my garden and even onto the side walkway. As I can only put mint in my tea so often throughout the day, I’m at a loss as to what to do with my overgrown minty freshness.
Executive Chef Raymond Southern of The Back Bay Hotel’s Stanhope Grill embraces spring by sharing some of his five “can’t-live-without” springtime herbs and expert culinary tips to quickly liven up any meal this season. As it turns out, mint is one of them, along with rosemary, sage, basil and tarragon. Chef, come on over. I can hook you up.
“Sage and rosemary are great perennials that are strong enough to be re-planted inside close to a window in the cold Boston wine, and tarragon, basil and mint start as seedling in your window during the first months of spring and soon are big and bold enough to be moved outside. Of course, if you are not a gardener, these fresh herbs are available at your grocer year round.”
“Store herbs in air-tight containers in the refrigerator with a damp paper towel on the top and bottom. This keeps them fresh and helps them last longer.”
Fresh vs. dried
“Here’s my rule of thumb: any time I am braising or stewing something, I would usually use a dried herb because they slowly re-hydrate as you’re cooking and the flavor maximizes. Always add fresh herbs at the last minute when you’re cooking. It gives the maximum impact of the fresh smell and flavor.”
Cooking suggestions for the Fab Five
Mint (pictured above): “Basil, mint, rice noodles, thinly sliced vegetables… Add some shrimp or chicken with rice vinegar and you have a great Thai noodle salad. Add it to your yogurt or fruit salad in the morning and dieting won’t seem so bad anymore.”
Rosemary: “Big flavor for big meals! Think braised lamb shanks with rosemary and red wine sauce, winter squash risotto with rosemary. Use this great herb as you simmer or braise your meal, but do it in a way that you can remove it before serving. Either tie it up in a cheese cloth or strain the sauce first. Rosemary adds a great flavor to any big bold sauce, but the leaves and stalks are bitter and tough to chew on.”
Sage: “Sage is a distinct flavor – my favorite use of all time is in Veal (or Chicken) Saltimbocca. The meat is pounded thin and spread with whole sage leaves on top, then a thin slice of proscuitto. Lightly dredge flour and pan-sear this great Italian treat.”
Basil: “’The King of Herbs!’ Pesto, of course – thrown a bunch of basil, a few cloves of garlic, a piece of Reggiano cheese, some pine nuts, salt, pepper, lemon and olive oil in your blender and you are good to go! Chicken with pesto, pasta with pesto, roasted vegetable pesto salad… The possibilities are endless! Add it at the end of any meat, fish or pasta sauce, and you can smell and taste the flavor transformation right away.”
Tarragon: “The hidden gem! This is the most underutilized herb ever. In your seafood, chicken and pasta dishes, replace basil with tarragon for a truly unique taste. Every time I do this at home, the first two questions are, ‘What is that taste? Where can I get myself some?!’”
What’s your favorite spice to add a quick and easy flavor? Leave a comment and let me know!