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Herbs help create nourishing and satisfying meals.

February 23, 2012

Infusing Flavor With Herbs

A wonderful transformation is taking place in kitchens across America as interest in authentic regional and ethnic cooking styles blossoms. Home chefs are giving their dishes a healthy twist with fresh herbs and discovering that less fat and sodium does not mean less flavor. Herbs can complete a dish with exotic and multidimensional flavors, while exciting a variety of our senses. With innovative chefs leading the way, herbs are helping us create nourishing, satisfying meals that are as delicious as they are healthful.

While it is not difficult to incorporate herbs into your cooking, most experts agree that doing it well is an art.  Seafood Department Coordinator Dan Humphrey says, “Milder fish like tilapia, sole or halibut don’t need a lot of seasoning. I recommend not to using too much seasoning because it’s easy to overwhelm the mild flavor of the fish.” Dan says that dill, tarragon, fennel, parsley, or basil are good herbs to use with fish. He also recommends the “Fish Blend” from Herbal Garden which is sold in the Produce Department.

An herb’s flavor comes from its aromatic oils. Chefs consider fresh herbs far superior to dried herbs for most purposes because these oils tend to rapidly breakdown and lose flavor. Understanding how to maximize the aromatic properties of herbs is an essential part of using them effectively. Deli Department Coordinator Chef Ken Chaffin advises, “Overcooking tends to dull the flavor of fresh herbs, so I generally recommend not exposing them to high heat. The best thing to do is add them during the last moments of cooking or right before serving,” While using herbs in cooking is not new, innovative chefs have recently begun exploring how the principles of aromatherapy can be used to maximize the full sensory benefits of herbs. Ken adds, “The vast majority of what we consider taste is really the aroma of the food.”

Ken points to groundbreaking chef’s like Chicago’s own Grant Achatz who developed the salmon recipe below. “This salmon dish features a ‘ginger vapor’ which is created by pouring boiling water into a bowl of fresh cut ginger which is placed alongside the salmon when it is served. The resulting vapor perfumes the air which dramatically alters the experience of the meal.” Ken adds that the effect is easy to create, and if nothing else, adds a very unique element to a meal. In addition to ginger, Ken says the effect can be created with or without the water using a wide range of items including cinnamon sticks, garlic, or fresh mint. Since dining should appeal to all senses, why not use the delicious flavors and aromas of fresh herbs to create a complete aesthetic experience for the mind, body and soul?

Marinated Prime Rib

3/4  cup dry red wine
1/2  cup chopped onion
1/4  cup lemon juice
1  tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1-1/2  teaspoons snipped fresh rosemary
1/2  teaspoon dried marjoram, crushed
1/4  teaspoon garlic salt
1/4  cup water
1  4- to 6-pound beef rib roast
Fresh rosemary sprigs for garnish

For marinade, stir together wine, onion, water, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, rosemary, marjoram, and garlic salt in a bowl.

Place meat in a plastic bag set in a shallow dish. Add marinade; close bag. Marinate in the refrigerator for 6 to 24 hours, turning occasionally.

Drain meat, discarding marinade. Place meat, fat side up, in a large roasting pan. Insert a meat thermometer into center, not touching bones.

Roast in a 325° F. oven to desired doneness, allowing 1-3/4 to 3 hours for rare (140° F.), 2-1/4 to 3-3/4 hours for medium (160° F.), or 2-3/4 to 4-1/4 hours for well-done (170° F.). Transfer meat to a cutting board. Cover with foil and let stand for 15 minutes before carving. If desired, garnish with fresh rosemary. Makes 12 to 16 servings.

Salmon with Ginger Aroma

4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 piece (about 2 inches long) ginger root, peeled, chopped
1 tablespoon each: sweet rice wine, sake
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
4 fillets salmon, about 4 oz. each
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 heads baby bok choy, chopped, about 31/2 cups
1/4 teaspoon salt

Ginger vapor:

2 large unpeeled ginger roots, thinly sliced

Whisk together the garlic, chopped ginger, rice wine, sake, soy sauce and sesame oil in a small bowl. Pour all but 1/4 cup of the marinade over the fish fillets in a plastic food storage bag or shallow pan. Reserve remaining marinade. Refrigerate fish 2-3 hours.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bok choy; cook, stirring often, until almost tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt; keep warm.

Prepare a grill or heat a grill pan or skillet. Remove the salmon from the marinade; discard that marinade. Cook salmon, turning once, until cooked through, about 3 minutes per side.

Meanwhile, for the ginger vapor, heat water to a boil in a teapot or medium saucepan over high heat. Place the sliced ginger into four large bowls on the table. Divide the salmon and bok choy among four smaller bowls; drizzle with the reserved 1/4 cup of marinade. Place the smaller bowls inside the larger bowls with the ginger. Carefully pour the hot water into each large bowl to just cover the ginger.

Vibrant Herb Combos

Poultry

• Rosemary and thyme
• Tarragon, marjoram, garlic [and onion]
• Cumin, bay leaf, and saffron (or turmeric)
• Ginger, cinnamon, and allspice
• Curry powder and thyme

Fish and Seafood 

• Cumin and oregano
• Tarragon, thyme, parsley, and garlic
• Thyme, fennel, saffron, and red pepper
• Ginger, sesame, and white pepper
• Parsley, cumin, and garlic

Beef 

• Thyme, bay leaf & onion
• Ginger, dry mustard, and garlic
• Dill, nutmeg, and allspice
• Black pepper, bay leaf, and cloves
• Chili powder, cinnamon, and oregano

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