DCSIMG

Herbal dexterity

IN 1987 LIFE CHANGED DRAMATICALLY for Scotland's cooks. Those of us who didn't already grow our own herbs, or who, like us, only grew parsley, mint and chives, suddenly had access to wonderful, unlimited amounts of fresh herbs of all types, through the post.

That awful ingredient in so many recipes, "dried mixed herbs", was banished forever. Dried mixed herbs (depending on their freshness) usually taste and smell of old grass cuttings. Nothing dates a recipe more than the inclusion of those words.

The huge turnaround came with the launch on the food scene of Scotherbs, at Longforgan, near Dundee. Robert Wilson, one of the founders of Scotherbs, still runs the business with his wife. During the winter months they grow their herbs in Tenerife. So there is no month when we are herb deprived.

The company has recently expanded its range with its Ariba brand of pestos and Mojo range of sauces and salsas which, having had a really good guzzle, I wholeheartedly recommend. You will find some of these products for sale in The Store in Stockbridge.

When you have access to masses of fresh herbs the secret is to be lavish in their use. I like a parsley sauce to be deeply green with massive parsley content - a far cry from the white sauce specked sparsely with chopped parsley, too frequently encountered. Here are three recipes using fresh herbs in abundance.

CORIANDER, LIME AND CRME FRACHE DRESSING

This goes so well with simply seared scallops or monkfish. The dressing counteracts the slight caramelising of the seared shellfish or fish.

Serves 6

1 teaspoon honey

1 red chilli, chopped very finely

1/2 small red onion, skinned and chopped very finely

finely grated rind of 2 limes (wash them very well, then dry before grating)

1 pint/570ml crme frache, the best you can buy - which for us is that made by the Achmore Dairy, near us on the mainland near Plockton

salt, and a good grinding of black pepper

2 good handfuls of coriander, coursely chopped

Mix the honey with the finely chopped chilli and diced red onion in a bowl. Then work in the lime rinds and some of the crme frache until you have a thick paste. Mix in the rest of the crme frache and season with salt and pepper. Lastly, mix in the chopped coriander. The dressing will be fairly stiff. It can be made several hours in advance, even 24 hours, but keep it in a covered bowl in the fridge.

FRESH HERB AND RED ONION VINAIGRETTE

This lifts all salads, whatever the ingredients, both green leaves and fruit combinations, particularly citrus fruit salads such as pink grapefruit and avocado.

2 tablespoons snipped chives

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1/2 tablespoon chopped chervil

1/2 tablespoon chopped dill

1/2 small red onion, skinned and chopped very finely

1/2 teaspoon salt

a good grinding of black pepper

1/2 teaspoon caster sugar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/2 pint/285ml extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar - taste, and add more if you think it is needed

Put the herbs into a bowl and add the finely diced red onion, salt, pepper and caster sugar, and the Dijon mustard. Gradually work in the olive oil, and, lastly, the balsamic vinegar.

Store in a covered bowl until required. This herb dressing is much nicer made only a couple of hours ahead.

HALIBUT IN A HERB DRESSING

You can substitute any firm-fleshed white fish for the halibut in this recipe.

Serves 6

11/2 lb/675g filleted halibut

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 lemon, thinly sliced

For the dressing:

5 tablespoons olive oil

3 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon caster sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

a good grinding of black pepper

3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley, snipped chives and dill

Lay a sheet of baking parchment on a baking tray. Put the fish on this, cover with the three tablespoons of olive oil and the sliced lemon. Cover with another sheet of baking parchment and bake in a moderate oven, 350F/180C/Gas Mark 4 (bottom right oven in a four-door Aga) for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, mix together the ingredients for the dressing - it will be thick. As soon as the fish is cooked, take it out of the oven, remove the lemon slices, and spoon the dressing on to the hot fish - the fish absorbs the flavours of the dressing as it cools.

When it has cooled, spoon the fish, broken up among the dressing, on to a serving plate. Surround with the leaves, herbs and petals, and keep it in a cool place until you are ready to serve.

 
 
 

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