I haven’t given up on my dream of an herb garden. I have tried growing my own herbs and spices a couple of times but in both occasions failed miserably. Oh well, that’s trial and error for me, and one of these days hopefully, I’ll never get to the “error” bit.
In the meantime, there is no shortage of dried herbs and spices in my pantry. But herbs that have dried out for a while continually lose their flavor, so I still indulge in buying fresh herbs when I can or whenever I have a specific recipe in mind. However, for as long as the color of my thumb fails me, I have to content myself with store-bought fresh herbs for now.
What is not perfect with this set up is that herbs I buy from the stores do not come in little quantities equal to if I picked the leaves off their stems myself from the (metaphorical) backyard. I have to buy them in bundles, which is usually way, way more than what is required in any given recipe. After a few days, I am often left with a few wilting herbs that I wish could have stayed with me a little while longer.
Over the years, I have searched far and wide around the world (wide web) and found different ways of prolonging their shelf life for just a little while longer. Thanks to miracle technology called refrigeration and freezing, you can keep the herbs technically fresh for a few more days, or weeks even. Freezing has always been a good answer to many questions in the kitchen and beyond and herb preservation is no exception.
You can freeze herbs as they are, soaked in water or in olive oil. These methods are fairly easy, and the preservation theory is more or less the same, although results vary.
To begin process for any of the three methods, carefully pick out the leaves from the stems and roots, wash and pat dry. You may chop them up if you like.
FREEZE HERBS FRESH
Simply put your herbs in sealed containers and label them carefully. I usually use smaller reusable zip locks for this purpose because I cook recipes in small amounts and would rather avoid constant handling and thawing of frozen food items whenever possible.
If I can’t use up chives in one go, I go for this simple method to prolong their shelf life. Chives don’t dry so this leaves freezing as my best bet for these herbs.
FREEZE HERBS WITH WATER
After washing and stripping the leaves from the stem (patting dry may not be necessary), place them in a sealable container. I use small containers with lids but many similar how-to’s have suggested the sensible use of ice cube trays to control portions.
Once herbs are arranged, half-fill container of choice with water. At this point it may be difficult to completely immerse herbs in water (they would tend to float). Leave that be for now and place container with herbs in the freezer. After a few hours, or as soon as semi-frozen and herbs are set in place, add more water in the container to fully immerse herbs and avoid freezer burn.
Frozen herbs that have been blanched before freezing last longer. So if you have the time to spare, go for this option. To blanch, simply dip herbs in boiling water for a few seconds and then straight into cold water and freeze.
FREEZE HERBS IN OLIVE OIL
Although this is significantly more costly than the first two methods, it is believed that since the distinctive flavors and aroma of herbs come from their natural oil, preserving them in fat (like oil or butter) preserves their authentic flavors better.
To freeze herb in olive oil, I can use the same re-sealable freezer bags (see method 1) and fill them with oil.
Normally, you can infuse olive oil with herbs and store in room temperature for a day or refrigerate for a few days, but for storage that's a little longer than that, freezing is the way to go. The threat of botulism, caused by a harmful bacterium that thrives in an environment where oxygen is absent, is very real so it’s best to always err on the side of caution.
One other thing to factor is that not all herbs are created the same and some are better dried than frozen or vice versa. It is said that the freezing method works best for soft herbs such as basil and parsley. I’m not the best person to tell you which ones are exactly better what so additional research can help. Moms may be able to, too. We all know most of them are better fresh but it’s either using up all 8 kinds of herbs while they are fresh for the day or going to the grocery store every day of the week (which really just takes us back to wonders of a backyard garden). Start getting a feel of which type of preservation (be it drying or freezing or anything else) you like best and enjoy your fresh herbs longer, they just got a reprieve.