Season Holiday Cooking With Fresh Herbs

Posted November 9, 2007 2:26 p.m. EST
Updated November 13, 2007 1:14 a.m. EST

If you're looking to enliven your holiday staples, skip the recipe overhaul and think minor tweaks with greenery.

Fresh herbs are a fast and simple way to enhance tried-and-true recipes, even ones already heavily seasoned with dried herbs. Switching to fresh can give a dish a whole new feel and flavor.

"Fresh herbs offer a dramatic difference in flavor and texture," says David Kamen, an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York

To illustrate his point, Kamen has students make the same recipe twice, once with fresh herbs, once with dry. He says his students are amazed at the difference fresh herbs can make.

If your recipe calls for dry herbs, use twice the amount of fresh sturdy herbs, such as rosemary, sage and thyme. For tender herbs, such as parsley, chives, dill and tarragon, opt for three times the quantity when using fresh.

Jerry Traunfeld, author of "The Herbal Kitchen," suggests starting with three easy cool weather herbs.

"In the winter, rosemary, sage and thyme are still in the garden," he says. "These three herbs make sense with foods that you cook in the winter: root vegetables, roasts, heartier dishes."

These classic herbs blend well with many traditional holiday foods. For example, try a few sprigs of rosemary in your mulled cider, or chop the leaves and mix them into in gingerbread or butter cookies.

And don't hesitate to experiment with fresh basil, dill, parsley and other herbs generally used in summer. Most grocers stock a wide variety of fresh herbs all year.

Here are some suggestions for making the most of fresh herbs:



Stuff sprigs of rosemary, sage and thyme beneath the skin of the turkey before roasting. This prevents the herbs from burning and allows the flavors to penetrate the meat as it cooks. Aim for as many 3-inch sprigs as pounds of turkey, and divide the herbs up under the skin of each breast and thigh.

Or beat together 2 tablespoons each of chopped fresh parsley and chives with a stick of softened butter. Put in a pastry bag and squeeze between the skin and meat before cooking.



Separate the leaves from the stems of several sprigs each of rosemary, sage and thyme. Place the stems in the hot gravy for several minutes to infuse it. Strain out the stems, then add 1 tablespoon of chopped leaves per cup of gravy.

Or simply place the whole sprigs of rosemary, sage and thyme in hot gravy for 10 minutes, strain and serve. "You don't have to take the stems off so it's really easy," says Traunfeld.



"Ham likes sweet and spicy," says Kamen. He adds bay laurel leaves (not California bay) to his ham glaze. Gently simmer a half or whole leaf per cup of glaze.

Or add 1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves per cup of honey Dijon sauce to add a licorice note to your favorite glaze. For a more savory ham, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of chopped rosemary, sage and thyme per cup of glaze.



Traunfeld turns to sauteed wild mushrooms, such as chanterelles or porcini, and fresh marjoram for his favorite stuffing. Frozen or reconstituted dried mushrooms can be used if they aren't available fresh. The marjoram offers a milder flavor than its close relative oregano.

Both sage and thyme offer classic flavors to stuffing. For 12 servings worth of stuffing, chop 1 to 3 tablespoons fresh herb leaves and fold them into your stuffing. Also add 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley for bright flavors.



Fold chopped fresh chives and grated cheddar cheese into biscuit batter for a tasty quick bread.

Rosemary, sage, thyme and dill are among the few herbs that hold their flavor well when baked, says Gary Allen, author of "The Herbalist in the Kitchen." He suggests adding 1/4 cup of chopped rosemary or sage leaves to biscuit batter or dough. Thyme and dill have mild flavors, so use 1/2 cup of either per dozen biscuits or rolls.

If you don't have time to make fresh bread, flavor the butter instead. Use a food processor to mix 1 tablespoon of chopped chives and 1 teaspoon of fresh squeezed lemon into a stick of softened butter. Reshape in wax paper or place in dishes, then refrigerate to harden slightly before serving.

Using the same technique, add roasted garlic and finely chopped rosemary leaves to softened butter.



In a food processor, blend any tender herbs into softened butter, then add that butter to mashed potatoes. Basil, parsley, chives or dill work well. Use 1/4 cup of herbs (except basil, use 1/2 cup) and 6 tablespoons of butter per 2 pounds of potatoes.

Infuse parsley and fresh bay laurel into warm milk before adding to mashed potatoes. Use two parsley stems and half a bay leaf per pound of potatoes. Discard the stems and mash the milk into the potatoes. For layered flavor, Kamen suggests folding chopped fresh parsley into the finished mashed potatoes.

For a unique North African flavor, chop fresh mint into softened butter and add about 1 teaspoon per serving of mashed or roasted potatoes.



Bundle 4 sprigs of thyme with string, then let them simmer in cranberry sauce along with finely grated zest from one orange. Or simmer 1/4 cup each of chopped parsley and rosemary with a 2 cups of whole berry cranberry sauce.