Saturday, November 20, 2010

Choppin' Herbs - fine or not?

I'm never quite sure what to do when a recipe calls for chopped mint,
chopped cilantro, or other fresh leafy herbs. How do I decide between 
chiffonade vs. a coarse chop vs. a fine chop? On television I've heard
Michael Simon tell a sous chef "only one pass", which presumably means
he wants the herbs coarsely chopped. What should I be thinking about
 when I'm about to cut up leafy herbs for a recipe?
No matter the application  this going to boil down to a matter of preference.   In terms of functionality on the "Chopping Spectrum" you're basically operating between lightly (or not) chopped herbs and finely chopped herbs.  

Lightly chopped herbs, when mixed into something - let's say whole tarragon and mint leaves into a beet salad- provide powerful but periodic bursts of herby aroma.  So you'll get a little variety from bite to bite, and variety is the "herb of life".

Finely chopped herbs, on the flip flop, if used in a preparation like a risotto, will disperse flavor more evenly.   Giving a more subtle affect that pervades a dish. 

For me, I tend to chop on the lighter side for drier applications (beet salad, chickpea salad, roasted potatoes, etc). Where I'll chop a little finer for preparations with a higher moisture content. (risotto, soup, fricasee, etc)

Everything else is in between.  And of course I often make exceptions to my own suggestions. 

P.S.- The "only one pass" they were talking about I would think refers to rocking your knife across a pile of herbs only one time on a cutting board.
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