If you watch cooking shows, they always have big, beautiful bunches of fresh herbs to work with. You and I both know that’s not always how it is in our own kitchens – even if you have an herb garden, maybe you got home after dark and don’t want to go out with a flashlight, or it’s been too dry or too cold for it to produce. If you don’t grow your own herbs, you have to buy them, and this can get expensive. Plus, fresh cut herbs don’t keep all that well, so ideally you should buy them the day you’ll use them, and it’s just not convenient to hit the store every day. Dried herbs work fine, but you do lose out on flavor.
One nifty little product can help you cheat and get fresh herb flavor in your cooking: herb butter. Herb butter is available commercially (Kerrygold makes a delicious one), or you can make it at home.
I do grow my own herbs, and I find that sometimes they produce far more than I can use. At other times, especially if it hasn’t rained in a while, there aren’t enough leaves (or they’re dry and crunchy) to make a meal. I balance this out by gathering large quantities when they’re available and preserving them in a variety of ways so that I can use them when the pickings are slim.
Last Sunday, I gathered a big pile of basil, rosemary, sage, lemon thyme, and oregano and turned it into herb butter.
It doesn’t look like much, and believe me, this was the best picture we could get. It’s kind of a queasy green color.
I didn’t measure any of my quantities, and I feel like this is something you should make to your own taste. I had a double handful of basil leaves, three 6″ sprigs of rosemary, twenty sage leaves, a handful of thyme, and a handful of oregano. That’s as exact as it gets, I’m afraid.
Before I went out to pick the herbs, I took out two sticks of unsalted butter and a whole bulb of fresh garlic. The butter needs to get close to room temperature. If you’re in a hurry, you can melt the butter in the microwave, drop the herbs into it, and put it back in the fridge to harden back up, but I find this makes it kind of weird. Not a bad option if you’re planning on using it that day, though.
I sliced the ends off the garlic and smashed it flat with my knife to remove the paper. The entire bulb went into my food processor, which I pulsed until the garlic was little more than paste. After removing all the stems from my other herbs, I added them one at a time, pulsing after each addition. I like my herb butter very smooth, so I run the food processor until the herbs are basically a slurry.
Finally, I added in the butter, which had reached room temperature and was soft. Blending the butter and herbs requires multiple rounds of pulsing and scraping the sides with a spatula. It’s okay to have a few little lumps of unblended butter – I won’t tell.
I divided the result into two small tubs, labeled them, and stuck one in the fridge and one in the freezer. The one in the freezer will keep pretty much indefinitely. I have no idea how long the other one will last – I always use it up before it becomes an issue. But I imagine it will keep for a good long time in a sealed container.
Herb butter is extremely versatile stuff. Just scoop out what you need and get going! I’ve used it as a base for sauces and to saute vegetables. A dollop on the top of a really good steak is fabulous. Smear a little on the outside of a chicken and in the cavity before roasting to get a crisp brown skin, great flavor, and an aroma that will bring everyone in the house running. I imagine it would be good melted on popcorn.
One of the nice things about this mixture is that it contains no salt. I really dislike buying herb blends that contain salt – I prefer to salt things myself.
You can make this with any blend of herbs you like, even if they’re storebought. I don’t recommend buying pre-pureed herbs (the kind in tubes) because they contain a bunch of other crap – sweeteners, preservatives, etc. I’m not one of those people that thinks preservatives are killing our children or anything, but I think you should always err on the side of fewer ingredients you can’t pronounce.