Here in the northeast there is one word, when mentioned in the autumn, makes anyone who has any sort of plant in their charge, sit up with ears pricked.
That word is…frost.
The mention of night temperatures dipping below the freezing mark will send avid gardeners scampering to cover their precious charges with blankets of burlap, flower lovers rushing to their blooms with plastic bags and twine in hand, and farmers briskly chugging around on tractors to pull in the last of the corn in their fields. In a pinch, I myself have been known to drape a couple yards of neon orange polar fleece (don’t ask) over my outdoor potted containers in preparation for a fall cold snap (…save the tomatoes For The Love Of God!!).
Thankfully there is an upside to this, and that is that one can find one’s self quickly in possession of armfuls of herbs to get creative with. Suddenly I have beautiful, aromatic bunches of parsley, tarragon, thyme, chives and sage that will be ruined overnight if not harvested at once.
If I get busy straight away, I have a chance of preserving a little bit of summer’s flavors to brighten up the hearty cooking that will come months down the road when the only things growing outside are icicles.
Preserving fresh herbs can be a challenge however. How do you keep the fresh flavor and color intact? Like a cure for hiccups, everyone has the favorite methods they swear by: drying, freezing in oil or ice cubes, infusing vinegars and oils, freezing individual leaves and bagging them up later. All work well, but the one I like best is herb butter. Anywhere you would use plain butter, you can substitute a fresh herb butter to complement whatever you’re making; a little pat on top of meat or fish, perk up potatoes, rice or veggies, finish a pan sauce…you get the idea.
It’s quick and easy to make. The ratio of chopped herbs to butter is very broad so don’t stress…it’ll be great no matter what. Depending on how much herbaceous herbage you have, multiply as necessary. Here you go:
- 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, soft room temperature
- roughly 1/4 c fresh herbs, chopped fine
- a pinch of salt
- a few drops lemon juice (for freshness)
Whip the butter in a mixer or food processor until smooth and lightly fluffy. Add chopped herbs to the butter and transfer to a sheet of parchment or freezer paper. Form a roll, using a bowl scraper or ruler to help press the paper in to about a 1-1/2 inch roll. Twist the ends and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks or freeze, well wrapped for up to 6 months. Depending on your use, you can also make smaller rolls to pull out of the deep freeze as you need.
Here are some great flavor combinations to get your creativity flowing:
- Thyme, rosemary and black pepper (add a touch of red pepper flakes – awesome on steak!)
- Tarragon and parsley (your seafood dish will love you)
- Parsley, thyme and garlic
- Chives and garlic (Po. Tay. Toes. Oh yeah)
- Mixed herbs – a little of everything
The sky’s the limit. You can’t go wrong so have fun and happy cooking!