Knife Skills: How to Cut Herbs

Knife Skills

Videos and step-by-step guides, each highlighting an essential knife technique.

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[Photographs and video: J. Kenji López-Alt]

Here's a bit of deductive reasoning.

Let's start with three base assumptions about you:

First: You agree that fresh herbs play a vital role in many savory dishes, adding a last-minute burst of flavor and color.

Second: You do not live in the '50s, and your name is not Betty Crocker.

Third: You have been known to cook on occasion.

Given these three assumptions, we can conclude that inedible garnishes, like whole sprigs of curly parsley around a canned-pineapple-crusted ham, are not in your repertoire, nor do you desire for them to be.

From there, we can then conclude that you fall into one of two categories of people: those who already know how to chop herbs properly, and those who don't but would really like to learn.

This video is for the latter group.

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While we're on the subject of herbs, here's a brief recap of our tips for buying them and making them last.

Shopping and Storage

Shopping for herbs is much like shopping for flowers. Look for specimens that have full, lively-looking leaves. If you grab a bunch of leafy herbs, like parsley, from the stem and hold them horizontally, the leaves should stay relatively high. If they droop down limply, then keep looking.

Fresh herbs can last a remarkably long time if stored properly. Here's the quick rundown on how to store your herbs for maximum potential shelf life:

Wash your herbs by filling your salad spinner with cold water. Swirl the herbs gently around in the water to loosen any debris. Drain the water, spin the herbs dry, set them on a layer of paper towels, and pat gently with more paper towels to blot away any excess moisture.

Store hardy herbs by arranging them lengthwise in a single layer on a slightly damp paper towel. Roll them up like a jelly roll, then transfer the bundle to a plastic zipper-lock bag, or wrap it in plastic wrap. Store in the refrigerator.

Store tender herbs by snipping off the stem ends and removing any discolored or wilted leaves. Transfer them to a large Mason jar with an inch of water in the bottom. Seal the jar with the lid (if it fits), or cover the top of the jar with an overturned plastic bag sealed with a rubber band. Store in the refrigerator.

Store basil by snipping off the stem ends and placing the bunch in a vase or a Mason jar with an inch or two of water in the bottom, just like a bouquet of flowers. Store at room temperature in a light area, but out of direct sunlight.

Check out our full guide to storing herbs for more details (and to learn how to make fresh cilantro last a full month!).