Ask Karen!
Preserving Basil

The Question:

“Karen- reading your most recent post on freezing swiss chard…how would I freeze fresh basil to keep for use in the winter months. I live in Pennsylvania and winter months are a drab!

Thanks-
Lori”

 

The Answer:

Lori,

I don’t know.  Stop bothering me. 

Karen

 

Of course I couldn’t leave it at that because I know how Lori feels.  I’ve tried preserving basil before, always with disastrous results.  If you freeze it, it goes black, if you dry it … well it’s dried basil.  Not fresh basil.

So I headed over to my trusty Facebook page where (unlike Twitter) I always get a response, and posed the question.  How do you preserve fresh basil?  Also … do you think I should kiss Anderson Cooper on the nose if I should ever meet him.

I got a LOT of responses,  most of which suggested shaking hands instead.

As far as the basil goes, chopping up the basil, putting it in ice cube trays then filling the trays with either olive oil or water and freezing was the #1 suggestion. Then when you need basil is frozen, just pop them out of the ice cube trays, put them in a baggie.  When you need fresh basil, just grab a cube and add them to your concoction.

I have done this before, and it does taste like fresh basil, but there’s something slightly grotesque about it.  The basil still goes really dark, looks completely unappetizing and not at all like something Anderson Cooper would approve of.

One reader however, had a suggestion that really intrigued me.  It’s based on the French way of preserving herbs, which is to dry them in salt.  You take a container (the wider the better) and lay down a single layer of basil (or whatever herb).  Then you cover the herb with a layer of Kosher or Sea Salt.  Single layer your herb, and layer with salt.  Repeat until your container is full or your herbs are gone.  Refrigerate.

Karen Klein-Schaffer told me she takes it one step further by filling the container with olive oil at the end.

Since my basil plants were on their last, spindly legs, I took them out, removed all the leaves and gave the last two methods a try.  I wanted to get it done quickly enough that you could salvage your basil plants and try the method this year.

I also looked up both method on Google Images to see what the result would be like.  Low and behold there were only before pictures and they all looked beautiful.  Like mine …
Basil 1

 

No one posted a picture of the after though.   Maybe because after just 5 days the fresh basil looks like this …

 

Basil 2

 

I have no doubt it tastes like fresh basil, but I still wasn’t getting the FRESH basil leaves I wanted.  Leaves for topping pizzas after they’ve cooked.  Leaves for Caprese salad.  Leaves for regular old salad.

The basil dried in plain salt seemed to fair the best in terms of colour retention, but it still looks like something you’d send back at a restaurant.
Basil 4

 

This little experiment has led to two conclusions.

One.  If you want fresh basil for the winter, buy a countertop basil plant, keep it alive as long as you possibly can and when it dies throw it out and buy another one.

Two.  I’m definitely gonna go with the kiss on the nose.

 


42 Comments

  1. Raymonde says:

    There is another way! Just wash and dry your herbs (if you want to make a kind of pesto, you can chop them), add a little bit of oil and toss, just to make sure everything has a thin coating of oil. Put in freezer jars and pack tightly, then add oil to make sure there’s no air left (that’s what makes basil turn black), put down plastic wrap right on the oil to cover it and close the jars. Every time you use some, add a bit more oil to make sure your basil is never in contact with any oxygen. You can keep it in the freezer for at least 6 months and in the refrigerator for a pretty long time (it really depends on your fridge and how some people in your family use it…) 😉

  2. Alisha says:

    I’ve had an incredibly long and crappy day. One in which I couldn’t muster even enough energy to like the people I can tolerate on a good day. This post has essentially turned that all around – for both the hilariously failed Basil and for the nose smooches that are coming Anderson’s way. Just in time for bed. Maybe I can carry this fuzzy happy feeling all the way into tomorrow. Would taking it all the way to Saturday be a bit of a stretch?

    • Karen says:

      Alisha – I love comments like that! I should have been a therapist. They must feel pretty good about themselves those therapists. ~ karen!

      • Alisha says:

        I probably owe you some monies for that session hey? I was in a decent mood all day! And at lunch I turned on the tv at work and who’s lookin’ back at me but Anderson Cooper and it made me giggle evilly to myself. I felt like I was keeping a secret from him.

  3. gloria says:

    I’m with you on that first conclusion. Every year, I dig up my best-looking basil plant. Pot it and bring it in the house. I baby it and keep it going as long as I can, usually until sometime around February when it gasps and keels over, every useable leaf plucked. But by then, I’m planning my next garden and buying seeds and starting them in salvaged, plastic pastry containers, so I get over it pretty quick. As for conclusion #2, you’re on your own there.

  4. Susan says:

    A countertop plant is always fun and it smells great too. Way better than Anderson’s breath I’m sure!

  5. Moe says:

    Just curious, if it’s the air that turns them black, what about covering in oil and then vacuum sealing them?? Just a thought. I just got rid of my spindly basil plant or I would have tried this. ( can you tell I recently acquired a vacuum sealer and LOVE the darn thing?) :o)

  6. Emie says:

    What I do and it’s worked quite well so far is to heat up fresh tomatoes (or canned) in a pan and add a ton of basil. Heat it up for about 10 mins then freeze in ice cube trays. I usually make it very concentrated with basil so I can use 2-3 cubes in my dishes!

  7. Keith says:

    I have been preserving basil for years in a similar manner which you described. I do freeze the leaves in oil, and I never (really, never) had them turn black. They are all nice and green. My secret is to not chop them on a cutting board with a chef knife – that’s why they oxidize and turn black. The oil shouldn’t be added after the leaves are chopped, but with it. Here’s how you do it (so easy).

    Use a food processor. Place the cleaned, dried off basil leaves and oil together at the same time in the food processor. Turn on the processor and within a minute, you will have a slightly chunky-like paste. Fill each of the vessels of an ice cube tray with the mixture. Freeze, then pop out the green cubes of goodness and store in a labelled freezer bag.

    Try it, seriously, it works.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Keith – Thanks. I do believe your method works. What I was looking for was a way to preserve exact replicas of fresh, whole basil leaves to use for things like Caprese salad and topping pizzas. So the search continues. Actually it doesn’t … I’ll just buy basil plants. ~ karen!

    • sera says:

      correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that just freezing pesto?

  8. Karol says:

    You forgot conclusion # 3: Lori is a pain in the ass.

  9. Rose says:

    Query then. . . . how the heck to you ‘baby’ the basil plant? I’ve tried that several years in a row and my bought/grown plant has died EVERY time! Are we talking plant food? Plus I suspect that my windows are leaky and the cold air is killing it too, when I put it next to the window.

    • gloria says:

      Rose, I think I brought up the babying thing, so I figured I had some ‘splainin’ to do. I’m pretty sure the plants are pooped by the time I bring them in (which happens to be this past weekend) and have experienced a few really cool nights. But I always try to get them in before a real frost, which triggers them to croak completely. So if I get them potted and in the house before they realize it’s time most poor basil plants are buying the farm, there’s a chance I can keep it going, make it believe there’s still some summer left. I’ve never used plant food. You have to make sure you keep any flowers pinched off, which also trigger croaking. So I cut it back pretty hard when I bring it in, leaving new leaf growth though. Then find the best sunny window you have, even if it’s in the bathroom. My best window happens to be on the side of the house where the basil’s summer was spent outside, so maybe that’s why it feels at home there and will continue to grow, for a while at least. Until I can’t fool it any longer and it finally realizes that, hey, I’m on the wrong side of this glass. (basil plants are not the sharpest herbs in the potting shed) Ok, enough with the mixed metaphors and bad anthropomorphism. But basically, that’s what I mean by babying.

  10. Jodi T. says:

    Forget Basil… Let’s talk more about Anderson Cooper 😉

  11. Ruth says:

    Three: If you want to have fresh basil all year round…. move to Jamaica. We’ll take you. If that’s not possible, just go with Karen’s countertop basil idea.

    I prefer to have containers with dirt somewhere other than my kitchen, but hey… whatever tickles your fancy. 🙂

  12. Jake says:

    Who’s Anderson Cooper?

  13. lemur_lass says:

    I just tried out a new method myself, and so far, so good. I just washed my leaves, stuffed them in a canning jar, completed covered them in olive oil, and refrigerated it. To use them, you have to wait for the jar to come to room temp, but then pluck out whole leaves. They are still bright green looking.

  14. Pat Ogle says:

    Basil is easy to root too. Just place stems in water. I always have one planted and another one rooting. When my plant is done I plant another one.

  15. Barbie says:

    Buying the basil plant is EXACTLY what I am going to do! I have also tried every other way as well…..and yes they work for chopped….but not the nice leaves!

  16. Lynne says:

    When you smooch Anderson on the nose, can you give him a peck on the cheek for me too? Then…let’s go in search of George Clooney.
    🙂

  17. carey says:

    Oh my goodness! Seeing the “google photo” followed by your before/after photo nearly made me spit out my coffee! Thank you for showing us the REAL story, that saved me a lot of time…and salt.

  18. carey says:

    haha, i thought it said, ‘persevering basil’! ok, i’m a little out there today. but anyways, smack dab on the lips is where anderson should be kissed!

  19. sera says:

    I can’t even find basil plants to keep and throw away throughout the winter. Plus, my favorite is lemon basil which I can only seem to get from one place in May. Around November here, the sky clouds up and the sun doesn’t come out again until June sometime, so herbs in the kitchen window just never works for me. I’ve fleetingly considered buying one of those grow lights, but I don’t want my neighbors to think I’m growing pot in my kitchen.

    • Karen says:

      Sera – I have a ton of grow lights. I *love* them. They’re in my basement though. I think you can get tiny ones for something like a basil plant. Or a teeny tiny pot plant for that matter. I tried some Lime Basil this summer at Linda Crago’s Tree & Twig farm. Holy CRAP. I was great. LOL! I meant to type “it was great”. Oop, LOL! ~ karen

  20. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    Ok..I too will just go with the windowsill growing..I love the smell of fresh basil..Also..you ladies all know that you are not Anderson’s “type”..don’t you..if you get my hint..I myself don’t give a damn and would kiss him anyhow just cause he’s so gorgeous!!!

  21. Auntiepatch says:

    Move to So. Calif. I have fresh basil all year. Just a suggestion…..

  22. Debbie from Illinois says:

    My Basil plants were bludgeoned to death a month ago during a horrible hail storm. I was so mad that I didn’t get a chance to make pesto. Bummer. 🙁

  23. Louis says:

    Here is an interesting recipe for “herbes Salées”
    salted herbs.

  24. maggiewann says:

    I washed and dried my basil, put the leaves in ziplock bags and froze them. They look great. I also froze a lot of pesto.

  25. Meg says:

    I did two things with my gigantic basil harvest this year, of course I waited until the end of the summer…
    1) I made basil sale – cup of fresh basil and cup of salt – grind in food processor – then dried in 200 degree oven for 20 minutes – grind again. On tomatoes it sorta makes up for no fresh basil on a winter caprese salad when sprinkled on top.

    2) I made a crap ton of pesto and froze it. I use pesto as a secret weapon in everything from tomato sauce to gravy.

  26. Kathi says:

    I preserve a lot of basil every year. I blanch it first, cool it quickly in cold water, and puree it with some olive oil in my food processor, and scrape it into zip lock freezer bags and freeze them in stacks in the deep freeze. They stay brilliantly green and the flavor is wonderful.

    • Karen says:

      Kathi – Thanks! Yes, Ive used that method myself, but what I’m looking for is a way to preserve fresh basil in its original form. Fresh leaves of basil you’d put in a salad or on a pizza. ~ karen!

    • Elizabeth from the Outer Banks of NC says:

      I have done this blanching/cooling/pureeing method as well to create brilliantly colored pesto, (instead of the blackish looking stuff) and have always thought it is by far the superior method.
      Despite it not being the whole leaves as desired by Karen,(freeze the blanched leaves?) this method made me think about cooking differently. The color matters, and this blanching can work for other leaves as well!
      Kathi, well done, I was looking to see if anyone else had happened upon it. I always put a little oil in the blanching water, too.

  27. Gigi says:

    Stack the basil, roll it up tightly, in as thick a short cigar shape as possible, wrap in plasic and freeze.
    Thinly slice (chiffonade) frozen log, return unused to freezer, and use sliced.
    It’s texture has changed so use it with cooked food where you expect it soft. The flavor is pretty good.

  28. Renee says:

    This is a very delayed response, but I am a bit of a procrastinator so I just dealt with my summer basil yesterday. At the end of summer I hung all of my left over basil on a hanger with string. I hung a few other herbs/plants as well; lavender, thyme, rosemary. Then I was really busy in the fall and through the holidays and I didn’t get to doing anything with dried out herbs. In fact, I really didn’t even notice them anymore until someone came to visit and asked what was hanging from our windows in the family room. Yesterday was my first day alone in my home after my oldest went back to college and the younger two were in school. I remembered I had hanging herbs in my family room. I worked with the basil first. I ground it up, and even thought the leaves were brown, when I ground up the basil it came out green! It tastes great too! There’s a way too long version of my story, but I thought it was really successful so I had to share.

  29. Laureen O' (@ViBarkley) says:

    I usually just freeze the leaves in a ziplock bag. They do turn a little dark, but the favor is still really fresh. They harden like potato chips, so it’s easy to crumble them into any recipe.

    Also, I have a plant on the windowsill I use for things where I only need a small amount during the winter, and generally use the freezer stuff for when I use the basil in bulk, for instance, when I make pesto.

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