28 July 2014
How to dry fresh herbs
Drying herbs at home is actually really, really easy. All you need is a place to let your herbs dry undisturbed and a little patience.
If you have lots of fresh herbs -- whether you grow them yourself, get them spontaneously through a CSA, or have good access to cheap farmer's market deals or foraging -- you should absolutely dry your excess so you can use them all winter long. It takes very little work, produces MUCH higher quality dried herbs than you can buy at the supermarket, and takes advantage of the super-cheap summer harvest. Give it a try!
I like to dry my herbs in the laundry room, because that's how I roll. Actually, a lot of blog stuff gets done in the laundry room. It has good light via multiple windows, which means the top of the dryer is very frequently where I set up my photo shoots. Yes! Secrets of foodblogging revealed!
So. Drying herbs.
Generally, you want to spread herbs out to dry, so they get good air circulation. You want them to be out of direct sunlight, so the sun doesn't bleach them and their oils don't evaporate. And you want to put them somewhere where they'll be undisturbed for at least a week. You have a choice of several different methods by means of which to do this.
First, the plate method.
This is the simplest possible way to dry herbs. Just spread your clean herbs on a plate and leave them alone for about a week, or until they are entirely crispy and crumble easily between your fingers. No elaborate drying screens necessary!
This method works really well as long as you can ensure your herbs remain undisturbed. If you have an inquisitive cat, for instance, this might not be the best choice for you. But if you can put them in a room (a laundry room, perhaps?) with a door you can keep shut, you're probably good to go.
Second, the hanging method.
Here, you'll separate your clean herbs into a series of small bunches and hang them somewhere to dry. Then just leave them alone for a good week, or until they're completely dry through.
I usually attach all my bunches of herbs to a wire hanger and hook it over a plant hook in the laundry room ceiling. (In case you were wondering, this is sufficiently above the windows to eliminate the direct sunlight issue.)
"Attach" can mean securing the bunch with a twist tie and then wrapping its ends around the hanger wire, or it can mean gently separating each bunch of herbs in half up to the tie and sliding that over the hanger, so the herbs fall to either side and the tie rests on top of the wire. Lots of other methods can work well too. Give it a try and see what's most practical for you.
When your herbs are dry (by either method), carefully pick the leaves from the stems, working over a cutting board or plate to catch all the fragments. For some herbs, this takes more effort than others. Greener and more delicate herbs are easier to process; dill, for instance, generally crumbles right off its stem. Woody herbs like sage and thyme can take a bit more care, since you don't want to end up chewing on an inedible stem later. But unless you're harvesting an entire field's worth of dried herbs, you probably won't have too much trouble.
Next, crush, grind, or chop your dried herb leaves to your preferred texture. I usually roughly chop mine with a chef's knife. A mortar and pestle or spice grinder can come in handy if you want a finer texture. Do what works for you.
Finally, funnel your finished dried herbs into jars and store them until needed.
Hooray! You just saved a bunch of herbs from melting into a puddle of swampy goo in the bottom of the crisper! And you'll also be able to keep your money instead of shelling out for yet another jar of dried basil in mid-January.
Are you drying any food this summer? I keep meaning to build a solar dehydrator, but it hasn't happened yet. Any other less usual methods of food preservation in the house?
And hello to all the excellent women I met this past weekend at BlogHer! So nice to meet all of you! I have a stack of business cards and a whole lot of new blogs to visit and twitter feeds to follow...as soon as I take a day or two to nap. :)