January 16, 2017

When attempting to kick a dish up a notch, most Austin culinary arts student and graduates look to spices and herbs to add more flavor. It seems there’s a proper seasoning for just about everything, doesn’t it? However, not everyone is familiar with what seasonings are best to enhance the flavor of their particular dish. Here are a few guidelines to consider when trying to decide the best method of flavoring your dishes.

Some should be added later
Many people jump the gun when it comes to seasoning their dishes because they’re under the impression that adding herbs before cooking is the best way to ensure the flavor seeps into the dish. However, there are many herbs that are better to add after your dish has come out of the oven or skillet, usually because extreme heat causes them to lose their flavor. A few herbs you should add when your meal is finished cooking include fresh ones like basil, thyme or cilantro. If you’re trying to quickly infuse flavor, like in a batch of olive oil you’ll be dipping bread in, fresh herbs are also the way to go. However, if you only have access to dried herbs, use a bit less than you would fresh.

Fresh herbs should be added to dishes after they're cooked.Fresh herbs should be added to dishes after they’re cooked.

Consider the meat when choosing an herb
Not all herbs pair with all meats – or vegetables, for that matter. For example, according to The Kitchn, chicken pairs best with herbs like marjoram, parsley and tarragon, while beef works well with rosemary and thyme. Fish, which typically has a lighter flavor than beef or chicken can benefit from stronger herbs like coriander, chili or jerk seasonings. You want to make sure that the herbs complement the meat, rather than overpower it. When it comes to adding herbs to baked potatoes or vegetables, The Kitchn suggests rosemary or thyme, as well as extra-virgin olive oil or butter.

How to use fresh herbs
If you opt for fresh herbs over dried for your meal, you need to make sure you’re using them correctly to get the most flavor out of them. As mentioned above, there are few situations that you would cook fresh herbs into a dish – they’re usually added at the end. Wash your batch of herbs and snip the leaves off of the stems. For cilantro and parsley, you can chop the stem up as well, but for herbs like basil, just stick with the leaves as they’re large enough to not need the stems. Taste the herb before you add it to your dish, as the season and state of the herb can affect the flavor and pungency.

“Use these herbs in small doses.”

Aromatic herbs
There are many herbs that get their flavor from the scent just as much as the taste itself. When you eat a dish with enough aromatic herbs in there, you’ll taste and smell them as you eat, enhancing the dish. A few of these notable herbs include coriander, tarragon, sage and mint. You can use aromatic herbs in fresh or dried form, but the fresh will always be much stronger than dried ones. It’s best to use these herbs in small doses, slowly adding more when you taste it, to avoid going over board. Remember, you can always add more, but it’ll be tough to take them out!

Sweet herbs
While most herbs are used in cooking rather than baking, that doesn’t mean that your dishes can’t benefit from some well-sprinkled sweet herbs. Some herbs may taste bitter on their own, but take on a distinctly sweet flavor once they’re cooked or baked into a dish. A few of these include tarragon, allspice, star anise and clove. Most of these can be baked into spice cakes and other sweets, but you can also add them to your rich stews, like beef or sauces to drizzle on a savory dish. Many sweet herbs are aromatic as well, so in addition to being able to substitute for sugar, a little bit goes a long way!