If you asked me to choose my least favorite kitchen task, I wouldn’t have to think hard. As much as I love the flavor, the tediousness of picking little fresh thyme leaves off their stems drives me crazy. So when I discovered that our Thanksgiving menu calls for about 1/2 cup of chopped thyme, I wasn’t too happy. Fortunately, our test kitchen intern, Will, returned from the store with beautiful bunches of what I like to call “easy-strip” thyme.
Let me explain: There are many varieties of thyme. Besides their flavor differences, some varieties have thin, weak stems; some have tough, woody stems; and still other varieties have both—the mature stems are woody while the new growth is weak. The fastest way to strip thyme leaves off the stem is to pinch the end of the stem and zip your fingers down the stem, pulling off the leaves in one fell swoop. With thin-stemmed thyme, this method usually breaks the stem and you practically have to pick the leaves off one by one, but with woody-stemmed varieties—easy-strip thyme—it works like a charm.
So the next time you buy thyme, choose the woodiest-looking bunch (it’s not actually labeled “easy-strip”—that’s just what I call it). When zip-stripping the thyme, start at the top end for a single sprig, and the bottom end for a multibranched sprig.