Kitchen Mysteries is a weekly exploration of oddities surrounding cooking and food. They could be recipes that fail when they shouldn’t, conflicting advice from different sources, or just plain weirdness. If it happens in a kitchen, and you’re not sure why, send a tweet to The Food Geek to find out what’s happening.
Chemmfatale asks via twitter:
Ah, summer. With it comes a bounty of herbs from the garden, and one of the most ephemeral for me is basil. Aside from its constant need for sun and water, there are these beetles that just love the stuff as much as I do. Plus, if it goes to seed, then that’s the end of it. Sigh. So when a bounty comes along, basil must be used!
There are a couple of aspects to this question that need exploring. The first is: what’s the appropriate way to cook with basil so that it doesn’t lose it’s flavor? The second is: what goes well with basil?
As far as cooking, remember that herbs, especially fresh herbs, get their flavor from essential oils, which means that exposure to light or heat will break down the oils and cause the flavor to disappear. This means that you want to minimize the exposure to heat. You can do this by either stuffing the basil into something that needs no more cooking, or stuff it into something in such a way that the basil will be insulated from the heating process.
If you’re stuffing into a meat-related product, you will always want to heat it all the way through, so you’ll have to combine it with meat after the cooking is done. If you’re doing some sort of stuffed vegetable presentation, such as a roasted pepper stuffed with a number of ingredients, you could layer the ingredients such that basil was in the very center and then ensure a short enough cooking time that the basil isn’t reached.
Now, if you have a lot of basil that you don’t know what to do with, you could probably overwhelm the dish with a huge basil stuffing, and figure that enough of the flavor will survive a baking to make it worthwhile. It seems a waste, though.
As far as what will go well with basil, I’m going to point you to one of my favorite web sites, Food Pairing. Food Pairing let’s you know two things: what goes well with some type of food, and what foods you can combine to substitute a missing flavor. For today, we’re going to explore the first use, what goes well with another food.
So, let’s jump to their pairing page on basil. It gives use a slew of options, from the traditional cooked chicken to black and green tea to muscat grapes to rose and apple blossoms. Plenty of possibilities here. Chicken is good for stuffing, but many of the others I’ve just mentioned are not, so let’s take a look at the stuffing possibilities: cod, fennel, celery root, and carrot. Some of these are easier to stuff than others, but a case could be made for each.
So, if you had some larger carrots, you could cut them into 2-3″ segments, hollow out a bowl in the center, bake the carrots, and fill with a basil-based stuffing. Serve with an Earl Grey tea (as bergamot also pairs well with basil), or make an Earl Grey sauce to go with. For example.
Or you could bake some cod, and prepare a fennel-basil stuffing to go inside. Cover with a butter sauce (also a good basil pairing), and voila!
Not only are the possibilities endless (or very large, at least), but the fun doesn’t stop with basil. Check out pairings for other foods such as tarragon, plum, boiled eggs, or even popcorn. It’s a good way to get you into new ways of thinking about what foods you can cook, without necessarily having to rely on recipes.