Those who know me may have noticed that I really like salt. Not just any salt though. “Kosher salt is for cooking and iodized salt is for cleaning” is my mantra. I collect salt, and treasure it like some people collect sand from the various beaches they have visited. My former JCC students liked to joke about my affinity for salt. If a student asked me to taste their creation, another would mutter that I would probably suggest more salt. They were almost always correct.
It’s not that I especially like salty food or have some metabolic need for salt. Properly salted food just happens to taste better because salt enhances the food’s flavor. Then there is butter — Julia Child had it all figured out, “if you are afraid of butter, use cream.”
A gift subscription to Cooking Light magazine appeared in my mailbox after Christmas. I have subscribed to the publication in the past and have found light cooking to be a real bummer. Less butter, less cream, less salt equals less flavor and a recipe that is less likely to be cooked in my kitchen. However, there was a message that was worth listening to: If you are going to remove the butter, the cream or the salt, you need to add flavor boosters in their place. I began to reflect on flavor and it led my back to my mother’s kitchen.
My mom was an amazing gardener. She was the president of the garden club, a member of the Herb Society of America, a professional herb garden designer and she could really cook. Since she specialized in herb gardens it was only natural that we had our fair share of herbs in the family garden. My mom did not cook with an abundance of butter or cream, but her food always had great depth of flavor. With her experience in the garden, she knew that herbs have the power to transform a dish from non-descript to fabulous. She may not have known, or cared, that in addition to being terrific flavor boosters, herbs are full of healthy antioxidants and a tremendous amount of Vitamin A.
Using herbs in your cooking requires following a few simple guidelines. Fresh herbs that you have grown yourself — even if it’s just a patio container, will taste fresher and better than the prepackaged grocery store version. Herbs with soft leaves such as basil, chives, cilantro, dill, chervil and lovage, should be added at the end of the cooking process because they lose much of their flavor when exposed to heat.
Herbs with tough leaves and stems such as thyme, rosemary, bay leaf and sage, can stand up to heat without losing their impact. Be sure to match the flavor intensity of the herb with that of your protein when pairing herbs and ingredients. The strong flavor of rosemary would overpower a mild piece of tilapia. The delicate nature of chervil or even lemon thyme would be a better choice.
Leg of lamb, which has a strong and distinct flavor, combines beautifully with either fresh rosemary or sage. Try adding chopped soft leaf herbs like parsley, cilantro, tarragon or chervil to a simple tossed green salad with champagne vinaigrette and you will learn to love flavorful food all over again.
While there is no chance that I am ever going to give up my treasured salt or flavorful butter, using them in moderation and training myself to rely more on fresh herbs makes great flavor sense.
For the recipe and instructions for cooking the above dish, Omelette aux fines herbs, please subscribe or purchase a copy of NNY Living at your local Big M Supermarket.
Boo Wells is chef and owner of the Farm House Kitchen, a catering company and cooking school in Sackets Harbor. Contact her at email@example.com or www.thefarmhousekitchen.com.