Monday, 8 February 2010

Freezing herbs: don't do it

I don't usually like to write about disasters - unless it's in the context of being useful. For example, I don't think you need to know that the other week I made a fillet of pork with figs and marsala, and that it was bland, pointless and bad, unless I was also going to write about a recipe for pork fillet that was delicious and handy.

But I undertook, for the sake of this blog, an experiment with freezing herbs at the beginning of last week and I thought I would share the massively disappointing results with you. It all started when Giles mentioned casually to me the other week that his mother used to make a lot of gravalax and kept bags of dill in the freezer to make it with - and a small light went on over my head.

The ebb and flow of herbs through my kitchen occupies me greatly. From my garden I can harvest Savoury, which is sort of like thyme but not quite, and Sage, which I have to scrub in hot water to get rid of the strong smell of cat wee (there are approximately 2.5 cats per house in our street and collectively their favourite place to crap and piss, and murder song birds, seems to be our garden). From Sainsbury's up the road I can get parsley and sometimes coriander - but they only come in those pots, which I don't want because you get one handful out of them and then they sit next to the sink slowly dying, despite my best efforts.

For anything more exciting - mint, dill, scented thyme - I must go to Waitrose.

And herbs are vital because they make boring things interesting. Cous cous with tomato and cucumber: boring. Cous cous with tomato, cucumber, parsley and mint: interesting. But as I stand, hungry, in larder doorway, knowing that what is going to really liven up my lunch is a packet of fresh mint, I am not going to actually get in the car to go and fetch some. So the idea of freezing herbs seemed just marvellous - I would have an array of magic leaves at my fingertips to snazz up a bowl of grains.

I was cackling with joy as I drove to Waitrose on my mission to buy a range of herbs to freeze. I thought I would grow famous as the woman to bring a frozen herb revolution to the UK. I could write a cookbook "Cooking with frozen herbs".

But, alas, there's a reason why people don't freeze herbs and that's because when you take them out of the freezer they collapse and die in a brown, stinking heap. Well - mint and coriander do anyway. I've still got bags of dill, sage and thyme in the freezer, which I now don't dare release from their frozen idyll. I really, really thought it was going to work because when I looked at the frozen herbs in the packet they looked fab - caught at their most fresh and perky, but the freezing process seem to do unspeakable things to them, once you release them from the sub-zero clutch.

So that's that. Don't you feel depressed now? Because I do. That's why I try not to write about disasters.


  1. For any herb that's ... floppy (for want of a better word), like parsley and coriander, you can blitz them roughly in a food processor and put them in ice cube trays with water

    Then you can just chuck the herb-cubes in hot stuff

    It's not always what you want (it's never replace freshly chopped herbs) but for stews and things, s'alright

  2. Now that's a good idea. I was also thinking maybe blitzing them with oil, in a kind of pesto (although not with garlic, pine nuts), therefore preserving them for a bit? Although whether that's more of a palaver than just buying fresh herbs is up for debate.

  3. Isn't this the same thing that happens when you freeze people? The main issue with cryogenics? Fingers crossed for the Dill and Thyme. Perhaps the tiny leaves will fare better.
    Love the blog, BTW.

  4. Good point - you freeze some bloke with an incurable brain disease and wait 50 years for advances in science to be able to cure it. One day - hurrah! - you've got a cure and you bring your patient up to room temperate but he wilts and goes brown and dies, smelling vaguely of compost.
    I'm so pleased you like the blog! That makes me v happy.

  5. I buy the pre-frozen herbs etc from Waitrose, they do coriander which sounds like it's been done the way the first commenter describes. they also have chives, lemongrass, chilis and chopped shallots. So handy. Here are the chives at Ocado:

  6. Thanks Erin, this is really helpful. I wonder why I haven't come across these on my regular stalkings of the halls of Waitrose?

  7. They're brilliant - they also do lime leaves, chopped garlic and ginger. Which means you can create a pretty decent thai curry from your freezer - it's been my saviour many times.

  8. fresh is always best (^-^) Love the blog.
    Check out my baking blog and tell me what you think:


  9. Sorry to be commenting months late, I'm just having a browse through some of the older entries I missed as I'm bored.

    It's the water content that's the issue with freezing. I think dill might be ok though, my bf's mum keeps dill in the freezer, though I'm not sure that it's not already dried before it goes in. Freeze drying could be the answer, but I don't know how many of the essential oils would survive or whether they would be removed too. Also I'm not allowed to put food things in the freeze drier in the lab for h&s reasons :)

    Sticking anything in oil is a bad idea as you risk botulism. Under oil the atmosphere is anaerobic (devoid of oxygen) which allows bacteria to grow and fermentation to occur. I learnt this the hard way when I decided to submerge the outrageous amount of garlic i had acquired in oil last year. It started fizzing gently over a few days, which I thought was part of the charm. When the bottle felt like it might take off I decided to do some reading about it, and eventually threw it out. Ok so maybe not the 'hard' way as I didn't actually get botulism, but some things are best left to the professionals as they have to be double sure not to kill us.