12/13/07 | How To Dry Herbs
[ Currently Eating: Pizza For Breakfast ]
Happy Holidays to everyone! This will be the last post before I take a mini-break until mid January or so of next year. Yep, even Cheap Eaters need a break once in awhile…
I’ve always been interested in homemade dry herbs. The problem is that because we don’t grow too many of them (besides the rosemary bush out back), we don’t really have any extras – whatever we buy we tend to use up rather quickly. However, this past Thanksgiving I did buy a small packet of Sage and used just a few leaves. The rest sat around in the fridge until I realized this might be a good time to try drying it.
My brother had mentioned he dried herbs in the microwave so I decided to try that route. Before I tried it out, I did some research about tips on drying, preserving and the different ways you can do it. Here’s a summary of some of them:
1. Herbs dry the best when they’re harvested right BEFORE they flower. I couldn’t control this so much since I wasn’t harvesting them out of my own garden, but rather buying them pre-packaged at the market. However, if you do try it, they say the best time to cut them is in the late morning before the sun gets hot.
2. Air drying herbs indoors is the easiest and perhaps best way. Attics, barns, garages will work and keep the herbs out of the way. However, it takes a longer time – and also drying them in the direct sun is not good for the color / flavor. I didn’t go this route, but will probably try it in the future.
3. If you already have one, you can use a food dehydrator to speed up drying the herbs. The drying times and temperature can range depending on the humidity – I think it’s usually 1-3 hours. I didn’t try this either – because I don’t have a dehydrator.
4. Another route is to try using the residual heat from the pilot or oven light. I think you can just pick the leaves off of the stems, layer on paper towels and leave it overnight.
5. Less delicate herbs like sage, parsley, thyme hold up well to air drying and microwaving. Delicate leaf herbs like basil, mint and tarragon are more difficult – they have a lot of water in them so they need to be dried quicker to prevent mold. I read you can try drying them by hanging in a paper bag with holes punched in it and the top closed w/ a rubber band.
6. You can freeze some herbs instead of drying. You just put the leaves in ziplocs and toss them in the freezer. Also, I’ve heard of the “basil ice cube” method – sort of reminds me of making ice cubes of chicken stock. I’m going to try that later probably. Herbs that can be frozen – dill, fennel and chives and probably quite a few others.
7. Microwaving herbs can be an “instant gratification” method – but you’ll lose a bit of flavor and fragrance. I think they said it’s best when you want to do preserve just a small amount of herbs. I went with this method because I figured everyone has a microwave.
Ok, so the method with microwaving is to basically wash the herbs and pick off the leaves from the stem. You sandwich the herbs in one layer between paper towels (i used one sheet of towels but other sites said to use 2) and put that on a microwavable plate. Then you also put a small dish of water in the microwave. Always a good idea to make sure there is a bit of extra liquid in the microwave when doing something like this.
Microwave it on high for a few minutes and check to see how dry the herbs are. You know they’re done when they feel dry and crumble easily. If not done, keep microwaving it on high in short intervals (30 sec is good).
Results are in the pic above. I found it took much longer than I thought. I think it was up to 5 minutes or so in 30 second intervals before I felt they were “done”. The leaves curled up a bit and changed color slightly – I suspect that they might have not curled as much if they were air dried naturally. The sage that I had also might have been a bit moist from sitting covered in the package in the fridge for so long. I actually found that I could only crumble the driest leaves. The rest – I found I could chop up as in below.
I ended up using the dried sage right away as part of a rub for some Cornish Rock Hens. So perhaps this wasn’t the best of tests. I did try and sample some of the dried sage versus a leaf of the non-dried. The flavor and fragrance was definitely not as strong or fresh in the microwaved version. But it wasn’t so bad. I’d like to see how it fares after storage for a few months. Oh, I also read to make sure you store your dried herbs in airtight containers away from sunlight and where bugs can’t get into them.
I’m definitely going to try this out with different types of herbs. I’m also interested in putting them in the freezer. If you’ve tried drying your own herbs with success, please leave a comment.
Ok, Happy New Year in advance!