Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Plain food can be enhanced by any number of herbes, which are the leaves and stems of plants [usually roots and fruits and nuts of plants are considered spices]. Fresh herbes should be bruised or twisted before being added to cooking foods, the exception being herbe bundles or bouquet garni which is often tied together and suspended from the handle of the cooking pot to aid in its removal prior to serving.
Some herbes, bay [laurel] leaves in particular, benefit from being bruised and "fried" in a little oil, graisse or butter, which releases the oils of the herbe and intensifies its flavor. There may be times when you do not want to intensify the herbe--adding it at later stages in cooking may give a more elusive flavor.
Dried herbes should be crushed in the hand before adding to the pot. This will release more flavor, as will toasting in a dry pan or frying in the oils and fats at the beginning of the preparation of the dish.
Adding herbes at the very end of the cooking process is necessary when using herbes like basils, which darken with cooking and can spoil the looks of the dish.
National cuisines use different combinations of herbes--begin to experiment with not only local herbes, but be sure and lay in a supply of unusual herbes from your traveling merchants when given the chance. Bon appétit!