Simple Tips for Growing and Using Herbs in the Kitchen
Eden, Chicago IL
Like most contemporary American restaurants eager to earn a loyal following, Eden showcases bursts of color on every plate it sends out of the kitchen. It begins with something as simple as lightly fried Brussels sprouts enhanced by braised duck and freshly picked basil. Then they’ll follow up with something as spectacular as Portuguese spice chicken that’s dripping with citrus-thyme chicken jus.
But Devon Quinn, who serves as executive chef and partner at the Chicago restaurant with wife Jodi Fyfe, will tell you that every ingredient is strategic and purposeful. What’s most purposeful for him are the ingredients he grows at Eden’s on-site, 1,800-square-foot greenhouse, including herbs. He credits his love for science and nature, plus a B.S degree in biology from Michigan’s Hope College.
“I grow things that one wouldn’t find on another plate in Chicago, that are unique, but also lend well to what we are trying to achieve,” explains Quinn. “We use a lot of herbs in our food, as they help create layers of flavors, and make the food we cook more interesting. We use herbs at all stages of their lives, from very small, delicate micros to fragrant, mature plants. My favorites are the intense blossoms.”
Some of the most intriguing herbs in Eden’s garden include nasturtium, nepitella, purple basil, wood sorrel, anise hyssop, dragon balm, lemon balm, bee balm, Genovese basil and chocolate mint. Quinn says he uses them in multiple ways, from garnishes and marinades to sauces such as Spanish salsa verde, pesto and chimichurri.
He encourages novices interested in growing herbs the following tips:
- Buy seeds from reputable sources (Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, High Mowing Organic Seeds)
- Invest in good quality organic potting soil and fertilizer. “We use a blend of liquid seaweed and liquid fish as fertilizer. It is an organic way to get the strongest, most vibrant plants.”
- Tend to them regularly. “Herbs love haircuts,” he advises. “Trim them regularly to promote new growth and prevent rotting.”
Lynn House, Mixologist
For the award-winning mixologist Lynn House, using herbs she grows at home in market-fresh cocktails is what sets her apart from many of her colleagues. The self-described green thumb, who is national brand educator for Heaven Hill Brands, grows basil, mint, rosemary and pineapple sage, among other herbs, in her backyard.
House offers key advice on using herbs for bartenders:
- When your herbs are cut, make sure the leaves stay dry because when they get wet they will spoil if not used immediately.
- How do you properly muddle? For example, the mint leaf has a shiny side and a dull side. The shiny side is where the oils are, and where the flavor is. Keep the shiny side up so that you’re allowing the muddler to interact with the leaves and directly release those oils. I recommend doing five crushes and that will release enough aromatics.
- You also want to remove the stem when muddling because it will release lignans, and you’ll get a woody flavor in your cocktail. You don’t want that.