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Autumn’s here and the time is right for thyme … and other herbs.
Does your cooking seem one-dimensional? Do you feel as if you’re in a rut in the kitchen? For me, the best way to pull myself out of the humdrum kitchen blues is to focus on a fresh herb.
Herbs in general are the exclamation points at the end of your sentences, no matter the recipe. Think of the sage in your cornbread dressing, the oregano in your pizza or the rosemary with your lamb and potatoes. I could only imagine the horror of going without.
There is a balance to be found when using fresh herbs. If you’re used to dried herbs, take into consideration that they are usually more potent than the fresh. Fresh herbs lack the intensity and therefore you may need a little bit more than you think. Be careful, though. Overloading fresh herbs can make a dish taste like dirt.
An often overlooked herb we tend to keep stocked is fresh thyme. I’m going through a bit of a phase where I tend to overuse it, but I’ve got plenty of plates to go before I shift focus. I make a sauce for just about everything and sprigs of thyme always up the pizzazz. When using fresh thyme you should incorporate it early in the process, maybe shortly after softening your onions. Thyme needs time to release its natural oils, which so greatly enhance its flavor.
Soup season is upon us. This aromatic opens up the profiles of a hearty soup or stew. I love it with anything tomato based and it pairs well with its kissing cousin, oregano. The leaves usually fall off the stem and some of you would find it barbaric to not fish them out before serving. I’m no barbarian, I just never minded tossing the stems along with each errant bay leaf I come across. Fancier readers may choose to use thyme and other herbs in a bouquet garni, a cheesecloth sack of herbs used to season soup. I would definitely fish that out before serving.
Roasted chicken is a certain friend of thyme. If you’re not using the herb when cooking almost any kind of chicken then you’re missing out. Strip the leaves from the stem to sprinkle on, or better yet tuck whole stems under the skin of a roasting chicken. For smoked meats this little herb is great on almost anything. You can even throw a sprig or two onto the coals for good luck. Summon up your inner “Scarborough Fair” and take a stab at parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, because it isn’t just a lyric. There is magic in that combination.
Rosemary and thyme are wonderful when infused in olive oil. I did that once for Christmas gifts a long time ago. Make sure everything from the bottle to the herbs is clean and dry to avoid spoiling. It normally takes a couple of weeks to really feel the impact of the process but you can get to the church on thyme by simply heating the mixture up over medium-low heat for a few minutes. Allow it to cool before bottling. It looks fancy to see the herbs (and easier to distinguish from other infused oils), but probably reduces your chances of any foodborne illness if you strain the oil and discard the herbs.
The medicinal properties of thyme have been studied for centuries, as the flowers, leaves or oil can be taken orally to treat a plethora of ailments. WebMD says it’s used to treat bronchitis, whooping cough, sore throat, colic and upset stomach, as well as the fun ones like flatulence and bed-wetting. Even the oil has been used in mouthwashes and liniments, to fight fungal infections and cure baldness. There are some big “maybes” in there. Desperate thymes call for desperate measures. Rub some on your head the next time you’re at the supermarket. Email me the results.
If you want to make your harvest of fresh thyme last, follow these simple steps for drying. First, you should harvest them in the morning on a Monday after a half moon, just before they begin to flower. Tie the stems together and hang them in a cool, dry place for a week or two. You could use a dehydrator and have your stems ready in two days. Or strip the leaves and dry them on a cookie sheet, stirring every once in a while. They will gain potency.
Now that you’ve dried your thyme you could make your very own herbes de Provence. That’s actually just a fancy term for an herb mixture typical of Southeast France (and can vary), but some marketing genius began commercially producing these mixtures in the 1970s. It’s easily made with dried herbs, though fresh are not unheard of. If you’re making a large amount dry is the best route. Of the many variations you’ll see on the internet we gather the truest form will at least contain thyme, rosemary, savory and marjoram. The Americans at some point added dried lavender flowers.
Here is a perfectly fine rendition of herbes de Provence that will instantly elevate your Provençal cooking … though you still may have trouble pronouncing the word “Provençal” (Pruh-vuhn-sul). If you have trouble finding savory try substituting sage. Use any size you wish, this is simply a recipe of ratios.
3 units of dried thyme (the star of the show)
2 units of savory
2 units parsley
2 units oregano
1 unit of rosemary
1 unit of marjoram
Stir and enjoy!