Ingredient Secrets: Rosemary

by erin thursby
During the Christmas season, you’ll find that rosemary makes its way into a host of recipes. Since rosemary bushes shaped into Christmas tree-like configurations are a popular gift and purchase, you might find yourself eating a lot of things seasoned with rosemary.
The first thing to remember about the herb is that it doesn’t play well with others, especially when fresh. That’s because it contains so many different types of volatile oils (which is what gives herbs flavor). This host of oils means that it can often clash with other herbs. While it can harmonize with lavender, it’s still the recluse of the spice cabinet, preferring to be alone.
However, it does work well with garlic, shallots and onions. You can add flavors to a rosemary dish, like a little citrus or fruit, but don’t add any other herbs (such as sage or thyme). The flavors will either be lost to the strong piney rosemary or simply combat each other in a battle your taste buds may lose.
Marinades, especially a raspberry vinaigrette, can do with a boost from fresh rosemary, diced fine. Rosemary does well with fruit flavors in savory dishes because it balances out the sweetness.
Rosemary is favored for fatty meats (such as duck) but can do well with a roast, most poultry and in veggie mixes and casseroles. Lamb is also a popular player in the rosemary game.
Dried herbs are generally more intense (though they lose something in the transition to dry) so use 1/2 the amount of dried when you’re replacing it in a recipe that calls for fresh.
I mince dried rosemary very finely unless I am using it in soup. Mincing even dried herbs is a good idea because it releases the oils. Also, dried rosemary is sharp and tough, so mincing it helps with that as well.
Fresh rosemary should also be finely minced as well, because it won’t be as flavorful without mincing. Most cooks make the mistake of not mincing the fresh stuff because it looks prettier unminced. If you want a subtler flavor, don’t mince or only mince half. If you like the look of unminced rosemary but still want the flavor use minced for the recipe and just sprinkle a little unminced over the top of your dish after it’s cooked.
If you get one of those bushes for Christmas, make sure you plant it in a sunny area. If you do and it takes root, you’ll have rosemary for years to come. Protect it a little during our frostiest nights with a clear plastic tenting and it should be fine.
When you aren’t harvesting it for dishes, you can dry some for tea. Medicinally, it’s been used to relive headaches and stress. You can also use it as a beauty product. It makes for a refreshing facial mist.