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What is the proper way of bringing the flavor out of dry herbs like oregano and basil?

In the US I use fresh herbs to make my pizza sauce. But since I've moved to Norway they don't have any fresh herbs that even resemble the flavors that I'm used to in the US. After recreating my pizza sauce I found that sweating the herbs increased the flavor of the sauce.

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I'm curious: is it the variety or the quality of fresh herbs that differs between Norway and the US? –  Chris Steinbach Aug 24 '12 at 6:53
    
@ChrisSteinbach I haven't given up on using fresh herbs I just need to setup to grow them myself. I need to find some good soil and fertilizer source around here also. growing-basil.org –  Justin Nathanael Waters Aug 27 '12 at 18:07

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Dry herbs are slower to release their flavors than fresh herbs; they will need extra cooking time to impart their full flavors, so add them to the dish sooner. Since they are less delicate and need the moisture, you may also want to add them along with a liquid, to help extract out the flavors. Crushing the larger-leaf herbs up a bit may also help. Use less dried herb than you would with fresh, because they are more concentrated.

Although these will help, the sad truth is that even the best-dried herbs will not have the subtle flavors of fresher ones.

Edit: One other technique you might use (if there's minimal cooking of other ingredients) is to soak them in oil for a long time to extract flavors. I would suggest an overnight soak in olive oil. You can get more flavor out if you heat the olive oil before letting it sit to soak; something like 50C/125F is a reasonable temperature to dissolve more flavor compounds, without damaging the more delicate ones.

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The sauce doesn't get cooked before the pizza goes into the oven. So I need to extract some of the flavor from the herbs before cooking. This is why I added oil with the herbs to try to bring the flavor out. –  Justin Nathanael Waters Aug 21 '12 at 6:59
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@JustinNathanaelWaters If you're sweating herbs, they're cooked. If there's no further cooking, my suggestion is to heat a little oil or butter until hot but not cooking temperature (about 50C/125F), and remove from heat, add herbs, and let them sit in there overnight to extract flavor. –  BobMcGee Aug 21 '12 at 14:46
    
Would you sweat them at 50C/125F for overnight or would you sweat them then let them sit over night without heat? –  Justin Nathanael Waters Aug 22 '12 at 12:31
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@JustinNathanaelWaters You probably get more flavor the longer they're at temperature, but really the idea is just to heat them up a bit at first to get things rolling. –  BobMcGee Aug 22 '12 at 15:59

When you use dried herbs, you will need to use less than fresh.

With some spices, you can bring out their flavor by toasting them, but I don't think that is the best course with herbs.

I would try heating some olive oil, and add the dried herbs, and heat gently. I think this would allow the oil to take on the flavor of the herbs, and then you could just spread this on the pizza before you add the sauce.

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This is exactly what I'm doing. I turn the saucepan on lowest heat setting and heat up the oil first. Then I let them sweat for 10 minutes with heat then turn heat off and add to sauce 30 minutes later. Maybe I'll do a test between the overnight method and the hour before method. –  Justin Nathanael Waters Aug 22 '12 at 12:33

Avoid powdered herbs as they go insipid quickly.

Rub the basil/oregano flakes in one palm vigorously with the heel of the other using your recipe's salt. This will carry the flavor.

Inhale the aroma of your hands deeply before washing.

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