Ditch drying—freezing herbs keeps their fresh, vibrant flavor alive.
Sometimes you have more herbs than you can handle. You over-bought at the market or the handful of plants that started off as little sprouts have grown big and bushy and the fragrant leaves just keep coming. Tradition would have you tie those herbs in bundles and hang them upside-down to dry to use as the season fades. And that method works great with hearty, woodier herbs such as rosemary or thyme, which keep a lot of flavor even when dried. Leafier herbs, such as parsley, dill, basil, or mint, tend to fade fast when dried. They fade because they contain so much water, and as the water evaporates it takes some of the flavor with it.
Luckily, there is a way to keep way more of the flavor: freezing. And even luckier, there are two effective ways to freeze herbs. Neither is particularly difficult and both give decent flavor when you go to use the herbs; as is often in life, the method that requires slightly more effort also delivers slightly better flavor. Since the way you can end up using them is slightly different, I’ve been known to freeze herbs using both methods so I have options (full disclosure: I have a large free-standing freezer I feel compelled to fill).
Whichever method you chose, know that the herbs won’t be pretty when all is said and done. They won’t be suitable for salads or garnishing.
Method 1: Just Freeze ‘Em
- Rinse the herbs clean and spin them dry. Lay them on layers of paper towels and gently roll them up to make sure they are fully and completely dry. Excess water will form ice crystals which will break down the herbs more.
- Spread the clean and dry leaves in a single layer on a baking tray or cookie sheet. This will prevent them from clumping together and help them freeze evenly, so don’t be tempted to pile them on.
- Cover with plastic wrap or waxed paper and place the tray(s) of leaves in the freezer. Don’t worry too much about covering them—if you freezer is clean and you won’t be moving things around, you can even put them in uncovered.
- Leave in the freezer until the leaves are frozen through. Depending on your freezer this could take as little as a couple of hours; leaving them in overnight is a safe bet.
- Transfer the frozen leaves to airtight, freezer-safe containers or resealable plastic bags; feel free to pile them together, since they’re already frozen, they’ll be fine.
Herbs frozen this way can be added to dishes much like fresh herbs—just know that they will be wilted when the defrost. Crumble them into soups or stews before serving or use anywhere else you would cook herbs—in sautées, stir-frys, salad dressings, sauces, or in marinades.
Method 2: Freeze ‘Em In Cubes
- Start with clean herbs, and either chop them fine and put them in ice cube trays (silicone trays make getting full cubes out easier) or purée them with just enough water to make a purée and pour that into the cubes.
- If you’ve chopped the herbs, cover them with either water or olive oil.
- Freeze the trays until the cubes are frozen through—give them at least 8 hours.
- Transfer the cubes to airtight, freezer-safe containers or resealable plastic bags.
Herbs frozen this way retain an incredible amount of their fresh flavor. They’re great for the same uses as above—although the amounts are less flexible that herbs frozen individually.
However you freeze herbs, they’ll be best used within six months. They’ll still have flavor for several months on, but you start risking them taking on an “off” flavor from their extended stay in the freezer.