Here's how to handle your haul of fresh herbs like a pro. 

By Betty Gold
August 26, 2019
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What’s better than tossing a handful of fresh basil into marinara sauce, adding a pinch of just-picked parsley into a mortar and pestle for pesto, or dropping a few lush mint leaves into a muddled mojito? Indeed, adding fresh herbs is one of the easiest ways to enhance a dish—a sprinkle of cilantro, sage, or chervil will take make even the most bland food taste vibrant and full of flavor.   

The complaint we hear time and again when it comes to cooking with fresh herbs, however, is the knife skills portion of the prep work. We get it: nailing that perfect-looking chiffonade from a handful of harried basil leaves takes technique. We tapped Chef Samuel Gorenstein, the owner of Miami’s My Ceviche restaurant who was named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list (he’s also a two-time James Beard Foundation Rising Star), to walk us through the proper way to slice, chop, and chiffonade fresh herbs.

Quality comes first

For starters, Gorenstein recommends buying herbs that have a bright deep green color and a fresh smell. As soon as you get home from the market, wash them under cold running water and shake off any excess.

Store smarter

If you’ll be storing your herbs before you slice them, grab a glass or ceramic container filled with about 2” of cold water and place the herbs with the stems submerged in the water. Gorenstein says you can also wrap each bunch individually with a damp paper towel and store them in one of the drawers of your fridge. (Check on them each day to make sure the towel remains moist.) This procedure should keep your herbs fresh for about four to six days.

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How to chop, slice, and chiffonade herbs

For larger soft-leaf herbs like basil, mint, or cilantro, Gorenstein recommends a slice or chiffonade. Here’s how:

  1. Pick the leaves off of the stems (save the stems to add flavor to a sauce or stew, or chop them very finely to add a more pungent flavor to the dish).
  2. Pat leaves dry with a paper towel. Make sure they are completely dry to avoid bruising.
  3. Arrange leaves in a small pile and use the chef’s knife slice to your desired thickness by making a swift motion with your hand.
  4. Avoid doing more than a single cut per strip to avoid bruising of the herbs.

For herbs with smaller, stronger leaves like parsley, the chef recommends chopping:

  1. Pat leaves dry with a paper towel. Make sure they are completely dry to avoid bruising.
  2. Remove the thicker part of the stems by making a cut, just before the leaf bunch ends. Thinner stems are OK—they will add a stronger flavor.
  3. With your hands, form a little ball by pinching the herbs together.
  4. Use the chef’s knife to slice very thinly across by making a swift cut. If you desire a smaller cut, turn the herb pile 45 degrees and cut again by making a swift motion with your hand.
  5. Avoid cutting with the knife more than two to three times to keep the herbs fresh and free of bruises.

Recommended knives

To avoid bruising the herbs and retaining optimum flavor and texture, a sharp, medium-sized knife is key. “I like using an 8-inch Chef’s Knife, like this one from Wüsthof, because it gives me more control,” says Gorenstein. “I am personally not a fan of larger blades for everyday tasks like chopping, dicing, or slicing veggies and fruits.”

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