We've all encountered a recipe calling for chopped fresh mint or basil only to wait until the last minute to cut them so they don't turn black, right? Well, it turns out there is an easy solution for this: blanching. During some recent recipe testing in the Chatelaine Kitchen, we discovered how wonderful this simple and quick technique is for keeping fresh chopped herbs vibrant and green.
How to blanch herbs
Firstly, blanching herbs is terribly easy! Bring a pot of water to a boil. Drop the herbs in, and flash boil. About 15-30 seconds for tender herbs, and 30-45 seconds for heartier herbs. Spoon out the herbs and immediately run them under very cold water. Drain and dry well.
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The benefits of blanching herbs
There are three key benefits to blanching herbs: the process will help them maintain their vibrant colour and resist the tendency to turn black while mellowing the flavour. This technique is perfect for recipes where you want your herbs to remain bright - either as a garnish or as a main component in the dish. It is also ideal for make-ahead meals, when you need to prepare an entire dish in advance (such as for a fruit salad or salsa). It is also the perfect fix for pesto or herb-based soups where a vibrant green colour is vital to the appeal of the dish.
How to freeze herbs
Blanching remains an ideal step to take before freezing herbs. If your herb garden is overflowing (what a wonderful problem to have) be sure to blanch and freeze your herbs so you'll have lovely, vibrant herbs all year long.
Guide to blanching common herbs:
Blanche mint for 30-45 seconds. The main benefit is that it will not turn black once partly cooked. Blanch the leaves whole, prior to chopping. Mint is a very hearty herb, so it will retain its shape beautifully when blanched taking on an even more vibrant green colour. And, it will become slightly more delicate in texture, removing a bit of its woodiness. Blanching does subtly mellow the 'minty-ness' - so you may need to increase the quantity you use. Once rinsed, transfer to a paper towel to let dry, and then store in the refrigerator. Try adding blanched mint to your next fruit salad.
Blanche thyme using the entire sprig for about 45 seconds. Like mint, blanching thyme removes a bit of its woodiness, making the texture more delicate - however slightly more subtle in flavour. Blanched thyme is ideal for soups and chowders where the leaves are added whole but you want them to remain green.
Basil is a very delicate herb and should only get blanched for between 15-30 seconds. Because of its thin, soft nature, it loses its shape quickly. Blanched basil is only a candidate for dishes where the herb is meant to be well-cooked or pureed, such as a sauce or pesto.
Much like basil, cilantro is a very delicate herb. It too should be blanched for a maximum of 30 seconds. Cilantro likes to retain water, so it needs adequate time to drain or give it a slight squeeze to remove excess water after blanching. Blanched cilantro is perfect for soups and salsas.
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