We may have recipes all around us but working with herbs can still be a little bit confusing for amateur chefs. Let, Philbert Kuria, an apprentice chef at Intercontinental Nairobi, introduce you to some herbs in a way that will help you understand them a little bit better. Hopefully they will all feature in your next meal.
In the kitchen, there is a place we call ‘the main kitchen’. This section is heavily loaded with hot air, smoke and delicious aromas from the cooking marinades. It’s a place that seemed dear to my heart exactly two months ago but not as much as the herbs I just discovered there and how handling them can be tricky. Chef Jose would always need to train me as if I were a medical intern testing out chemicals because I would mix things up, so easily, the way my aunt- (let’s call her Grace) mixes diced pineapples and grated carrots in ‘shaggs’ just to showcase her culinary prowess.
These herbs can sometimes prove daunting to work with. They aren’t just the type that your homely uncle immerses deep in a sufuria when making ‘soup cappuccino’ so confident is he as he mixes everything with wrong proportions and hefty miscalculated steps, simmering it for hours in low heat with raw bones around them. Why do uncles think the longer a soup simmers, the better? You’d think he’s about to make an imposter of a demi-glace. Chefs here relate. If Chef Manu was right next to him, I swear he’d have, not punched, slapped the hell out of him, he’d be reading cookbooks in intervals of an hour. You know the trauma that a slap leaves behind. It is painful. It feeds your self- awareness and blackmails your ego. Don’t hurt your cheeks uncle! Read cookbooks!
So I decided to interview a couple of herbs to correct the concept of simmering soups from uncles.
Number one on my list was Rosemary. She fits in unapologetically in every item you throw her to. From tea to marinades, from sauces to soups, this herb doesn’t disappoint. Especially when you chop its leaflets in orange juice then rub it on those chicken drumsticks, and with a little mustard and a bad boy dark soy sauce called Kikkoman. After your first bite of those drumsticks, you’ll plant rosemary in your house. I swear. Just don’t simmer it for long hours in a soup like uncle. Here’s a little tip: Place it next to your food to chase away flies.
The second on my list was Thyme. A shy little girl. Very artistic on steaks. A herb that over-performs when sprinkled on filet mignon. This one shines when you use it on basting. Because it will showcase its talents. More like the late Mj and more even like the “ Mathwiti and Makeki maingi” preschooler. When paired with wine and butter, the flavours explode.
My third herb, Sage, is a male. He has a sweet and somewhat bitter taste with a pine-like aroma. I haven’t seen Chef José use this to incorporate tastes as much but he rarely leaves it behind. Just carry it when you see it. You might as well need it to garnish pork chops as he does but don’t add carrots. Only Grace loves carrots with pineapples!
My fourth and final herb is one of its kind. Green in colour, the herb is non- other than Basil. Used on pizza sauces, this herb surely elevates the tastes in sauces, pastes and spreads. It will transport you to Italy when you cook pasta with it. I am not lying. Grace even made a syrup with it!
So grab a pan and sear that perfect chunk of rib- eye. Next, have your “ botii “ of dry wine ready, a sprig of thyme and some rich unsalted butter. Following the style of French cooking, baste it and try not to drool onto your pan as those flavours get to know each other. You will enjoy working with these friendly herbs. Bon appetit!