Herb vinegars and BUTTERS
Preserve your homegrown herbs in oils, vinegars and butters that can be used to enhance marinades, sauces and dishes.
Vinegar is a great preserver of foods and can be used to extract flavours and preserve summer herbs. Your herbal vinegar can then be used to make salad dressings, sauces and marinades. Choose a vinegar that won’t overpower your herbs, such as red or white wine vinegar or cider vinegar. Malt and white vinegar can be too harsh in flavour.
Individual herbs or a mix can be used, and spices and fruits can be added if desired. Before adding to the bottle, the herbs and spices should be lightly crushed to release their flavour.
Preserve the flavour of French tarragon for winter use by making a tarragon vinegar. There are two ways to make it: one is to steep the herb in vinegar for 2-3 weeks; the other, for those who can’t wait, is to heat the vinegar and leaves, then let it sit for a couple of hours. The latter can be used straight away, but the first method will give you better flavour.
To make tarragon vinegar using the first method, lightly crush a large bunch of tarragon leaves and place in a sterilised jar (don’t use a jar with a metal cap as it may react with the vinegar). Pour in 500ml of white wine vinegar. Seal, shake the jar and place in a cool, dark room for 2-3 weeks. Shake the jar from time to time. Strain the liquid into a sterilised bottle and seal.
Use this method for other herbs too. Store your herbal vinegars in a cool, dark place and use within 6-8 months.
Care should be taken when making herb-flavoured oils, as they can contain harmful bacteria. Unlike vinegar, which inhibits the growth of bacteria, oils provide the ideal environment for many microbes to thrive. Store-bought herb oils contain chemical preservatives, which inhibit these microbes.
When making your own herb-infused oils, you can reduce any risk by using dried herbs. Fresh herbs, especially garlic, pepper and lemon peel, contain moisture, which support bacterial growth. Use fresh herbs, though, when making an infused oil for immediate use. These are ideal for salad dressings, drizzling over pasta, for basting food on the barbecue, or as an appetiser with bread and dukkah. Try making basil oil, rosemary oil, chilli oil, or an aromatic lemongrass oil.
Keep fresh-herb oils refrigerated and use within a week. Oils with dried herbs should be used within three weeks.