Monday, January 12, 2009

Bittman's Pantry Bootcamp Part 3

As you might have noticed from my two earlier posts (lemons & limes and bread crumbs), I've become a bit obsessed with Mark Bittman's article, "Fresh Start for a New Year? Let’s Begin in the Kitchen," from Tuesday, January 6th's New York Times. Today I tackle his pantry peeve #7. . .

OUT Dried parsley and basil. They’re worthless.

IN Fresh parsley, which keeps at least a week in the refrigerator. (Try your favorite summer pesto recipe with parsley in place of basil, or simply purée some parsley with a little oil, water, salt and a whisper of garlic. Or add a chopped handful to any salad or almost anything else.) And dried tarragon, rosemary and dill, all of which I use all winter; mix a teaspoon or so of tarragon or rosemary — not more, they’re strong — with olive oil or melted butter and brush on roasted or broiled chicken while it cooks, or add a pinch to vinaigrette. Dill is also good with chicken; on plain broiled fish, with lemon; or in many simple soups.
I used to be a major offender of Bittman Edict #6
OUT Spices older than a year: smell before using; if you get a whiff of dust or must before you smell the spice, toss it. I find it easier to clean house once a year and buy new ones.
But once I started cooking at home more frequently, I've run through my spices pretty quickly. For example, in the six months since we've moved to California I've already gone through at least two bottles of dried basil.

But I have never had good luck with store bought fresh herbs. They come in too large a bunch to actually use while their fresh and they go funky in the fridge after not very long. I've had some success freezing parsley for throwing into cooked recipes, but it becomes too floppy soggy to use in anything that isn't thoroughly cooked.

At the Henry's in Yorba Linda fresh parsley cost $1 for 8 oz., or $0.13 per ounce. The only fresh basil available was Jacobs Farm Organic and cost $2.97 per ounce (the same can also be said of dill, chives, mint, rosemary, tarragon, and sage). Henry's sells bulk dry parsley for $1.50 per ounce and basil for $0.44 per ounce. They also sell The Spice Hunter bottled dry parsley for $14.74 per ounce and basil for $13.30 per ounce. Wowza. Clearly fresh parsley is much more cost effective, at $1.37 less per ounce than Henry's bulk dry price and $14.61 less per ounce than The Spice Hunter. Fresh basil costs $2.53 more per ounce than Henry's bulk dry basil, but it costs $10.33 per ounce less than The Spice Hunter.

One cost effective solution to the problem of too large bunches of store bought fresh herbs going funky before you can use them is to grow the herbs yourself. Basil and parsley are both easy to grow in containers. Burpee's basic Sweet Basil seeds come 400 to a packet for $2.95. Burpee's basic Plain (Single Italian) Parsley seeds come 750 to a packet for $2.95. Basil and parsley are now classified as Container Garden Priority #1.

Click here to return to Gnomicon home page


Terri said...

Growing your own is handy, and to keep fresher in the fridge, Donald washes his parsley and then keeps it out on the counter in a glass with water - like you might with plant clippings.

Rebecca said...

You can also keep the herbs in the water in the fridge - that's worked for me too.

Also, when you buy fresh herbs, you are paying for the water in the herbs. So, although the fresh herbs seem cheaper than the dried, you can't compare the price by weight.

I also try to coordinate my cooking so that I can take advantage of what herbs I've purchased. But, I agree that growing your own is the best option - I need to get that organized for spring!

Sarah said...

I agree that comparing the price of fresh herbs to the price of dried herbs is like comparing the price of grapes to the price of raisins. Price aside, how do you convert measurements of dried herbs in recipes to the equivalent fresh herbs? Anyone know of a chart or table or something to help out those of us making the transition from dried to fresh?

Sarah said...

Check out the conversion chart over at Spice Advice:

Re: Basil and Parsley

1 tablespoon of fresh basil leaves = 1 teaspoon dried basil leaves

1 tablespoon fresh parsley = 1 teaspoon dried parsley leaves