When using fresh herbs in cold dishes, they should be at room temperature. When preparing a dish that requires a lengthy cooking period, you can use a small, tied bunch of fresh herb sprigs. This bundle is generally known as a bouquet garni and customarily contains parsley, bay leaf, and thyme. Herbal combinations can also be minced and added to a meal immediately upon completion of cooking, and as a garnish before serving. This French practice is referred to as fines herbes. It contains chopped fresh chervil, parsley, tarragon, and chives. This blend is good on mild flavored cuisine like salads, scrambled eggs, and dishes containing poultry and fish.
There are no hard and fast rules when cooking with fresh herbs. Start to experiment using small amounts to see what you like. Here are a few ideas that will help you get started:
Try not to mix two very strong herbs together. Try mixing one strong and one or more with milder flavors to complement both the stronger herb and the food.
Usually, the weaker the flavor of the food (like eggs), the less added herbs are required to get a nice balance of flavor.
Dried herbs are more concentrated than fresh, and powdered herbs are more concentrated than crumbled. Each herb is slightly different but a starting formula is: 1/4 teaspoon powdered herbs is equaled to 3/4 to 1 teaspoon crumbled or the equivalent of 2 to 4 teaspoons fresh.
If chopping fresh herbs, chop the leaves very fine because the more of the oils and flavor will be released.
Start sparingly with the amount of an herb used until you become familiar with it. The aromatic oils can be less than appetizing if too much is used.
Usually extended cooking times reduces the flavoring of herbs, so add fresh herbs to soups or stews about 45 minutes before completing the cooking time. For refrigerated foods such as dips, cheese, vegetables and dressings, fresh herbs should be added several hours or overnight before using. Note: Fresh Basil is an exception. If you add it to salad dressing overnight or longer, it becomes bitter.
For salsa, hot sauces and picante, add finely chopped fresh or dried herbs directly to the mixture.
Make herbal butters and cream cheeses by mixing 1 tablespoon of finely chopped fresh herbs to 1/2 cup margarine, butter, cottage cheese, low fat yogurt or cream cheese. Let it set for at least an hour to blend the flavor; then taste test on a plain cracker or a melba round. You will gain a great feel for the dimensions of what the flavor will be good with by taste testing in this manner.
Flavor vinegar for use in cooking and in vinaigrettes. Bruise one cup of leaves for every 2 cups of white wine or delicate vinegar. Allow to steep for two weeks.