Parsley: It's More Than Just a Garnish
Here's to an herby renaissance.
It's time to stop loving parsley for its looks alone. True, even if you've done nothing else to make a dish look attractive, sprinkling a smattering of finely chopped parsley over the plate can make it instantly pop. But pigeonholing it as a passive, for-color-only garnish—a sprig to be cast away to the side of the plate—feels a little fusty.
Parsley's got personality, too—namely, a clean bright flavor and a lettuce-like crunch. So how about we start treating it like what it is: an herb.
Ubiquity is almost reason enough: Parsley is one of few herbs you can find fresh at any time of year in most supermarkets, and it usually comes in generous bundles. There are even two types: flat leaf (also called Italian parsley) and curly leaf. In a pinch, either is fine, but note the differences between them.
Flat Leaf vs. Curly Leaf Parsley
Whereas curly parsley can be less tough and thus better suited to fine-chopping, flat parsley has a robust taste that's more ideal for flavoring. Treat it like a seasoning—baked into meatballs, chopped into starches, or kneaded into bread dough—or even as a vegetable snipped into sandwiches, deep-fried and salted as a side dish, or dressed like salad leaves and mixed with toppings like fennel, nuts and seeds or tomatoes.
Long cooking times tend to dilute leaf flavor, though, so if you're adding fresh leaves to hot food, be sure to do it at the very end. And skip the dried version for most purposes. It tastes overly grassy and hay-like—not much like the fresh flavor at all.
Parsley stems (from either plant type) can be used as well. Since they're sharper in flavor and less delicate than the leaves, they hold up better in long-cooked stocks, stews and braised dishes.
For easy removal after the fact, take a hint from classic French sachet d'epices: Wrap a few in cheesecloth and/or secure with twine before adding them to a liquid.
A Good Rinse
However you use parsley, be sure to wash off any sand or dirt (swish it around in a bowl of cold water, then rinse and repeat until clean) and rid the leaves of excess moisture in a salad spinner or clean towel before chopping.Otherwise, the leaves will darken and bruise, and you won't achieve the beloved sprinkling effect.
Because, well, looks do count for something.
About the author: "Sue Veed" is an editor at a Manhattan-based food magazine and a current culinary student who's trying to learn it all so she can cook it all. She'll take us along for the ride as she makes the journey from home cook to professional. Among things she may never master: looking natural in a chef's hat, and acting demure whenever a pork product hits the table.