Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Freezing Culinary Herbs

Last year I dehydrated my chives before frost killed them all. They were tasteless when I cooked with them... Bleck!

This year I decided to freeze as many of my culinary herbs as I can IF they do well frozen, or at least do better than dried. In general, I prefer not to rely on the freezer for food preservation, and have managed to whittle down what I do freeze. However, I enjoy cooking with herbs so my winter options are limited since none are available in my garden after the first hard frost. Nor do I have an available windowsill to grow them inside over winter.

So far my frozen list includes basil, chives, thyme, flat leaf parsley and rosemary, but I may also freeze dill, oregano, marjoram, sage and tarragon as the summer wears on. Fresh frozen herbs are used in the same amounts as fresh herbs, whereas dehydrated herbs tend to have concentrated flavors and require a lesser amount. (Parsley is the exception... dried parsley has no taste at all in my opinion.) Frozen herbs will NOT be suitable to use as a garnish, as they will be wilted after thawing.

Opal Basil, chopped and in water
There are a couple of ways to freeze herbs. If you would like cubes to just drop into a dish, you can freeze them in water in an ice cube tray... but there's a trick to it. Chop the herbs by hand or in a food processor, and put some in each cube. Then add water BUT only half-way full. (The herbs will have a tendency to float.)

Freeze the tray, then after it's frozen, add enough water to fill the cubes to cover the herbs. Refreeze, and when solid, remove to an airtight container, label, date, and store in the freezer.

You can also use olive oil instead of water, as I did with the spicy globe basil in the photo above. I chopped the basil in my mini chopper with EVOO, filled the cubes and froze in one pass. They are back in the freezer to get very solid, and them I will vacuum-seal them, just 3-4 per bag so I'm not opening many at once for use.

Here is another option, and less messy: I'm choosing to freeze many of my fresh-cut herbs in thin layers on a cookie sheet, then vacuum-seal in small portions not more than 1/4" thick. That way I can pick out a section to use, and chuck the rest back in the freezer awaiting their inclusion in another fabulous dish!

I like to use sprigs of thyme rather than thyme leaves in many dishes, so I opted to freeze thyme in short sprigs, and vacuum-sealing small amounts of frozen sprigs. Same for rosemary. When rosemary is frozen on the stem, it it much easier to remove the needle-like leaves to chop if that's your preference.

Chives... What you see on the cookie sheet above was a clump of fresh cut chives about 1-1/2 inches in diameter before I trimmed the tiny thin ends and snipped them. (Much more than in an expensive fresh-pack at the store, by quite a lot.)

I found that taking the frozen snipped chives from the freezer (on the jelly-roll sheet) to take a photo allowed them to thaw just enough to be slightly wet. So I put half in each bag and refroze before trying to vacuum-seal.

After with the experience of the chives thawing while trying to take a photo, I decided to snap a photo of the flat leaf parsley leaves IN the freezer! (They are on 3 mesh dehydrator screens, stacked.) You will notice I snipped most of the stems off.

The parsley did much better that way, staying frozen for the few moments it took to vacuum-seal them.

Harvesting portions of my herb plants in mid-summer encourages the plants to generate new growth, and I will have more to put by later on... and still plenty to use fresh now.

Note: I froze some of the opal basil flat like the thyme (as well some in water cubes) for some comparisons later this winter.


  1. I love your blog. I have utilized both drying and freezing to preserve my herbs, both with less than satisfactory results. My experiment this year with some of my harvest is preserving with salt (or Herbes Salees), as demonstrated in another blog I'm a fan of:
    Part 2 is further into the blog...Diane

  2. Thanks, salt preserving herbs is next on my list!

    Floyd is nearby, and in fact I'll be stopping there at the co-op next week. The community is working to get a USDA approved community food processing facility; I missed the meeting last week but I'd bet Rebecca was there.


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