Micro herbs have been a powerful driving force in modernist cuisine and Michelin focused kitchens for some time. However, it’s not all about tweezering pretty pieces into position for artistic plating, the intensity of flavour in many micro herbs mean you can orchestrate mouthfuls of food perfectly, delivering nuanced and controlled flavour combinations. With the warm months upon us, now is the perfect time to be utilising micro herbs, and here’s why.
Rich, heavy, fuller-flavoured plates are currently taking up a much smaller part of the menu, if they’re even featuring at all. While diners are more focused on freshness and brightness, those dark, brooding dishes remain firmly on the bench until autumn rolls around, leaving us with incredible seasonal ingredients such as goat’s cheese. The gentle, lofted, but by no means weak flavours from micro herbs can stretch out the fresh grassy notes in the cheese further, and add an extra dimension.
Seafood is an obvious seasonal highlight right now, and things like micro coriander and Thai basil can be a deft addition to carefully crafted crab raviolis, as well as various takes on south east Asian crab cakes. Tiny sprigs of dill naturally partner with fresh water fish like trout and salmon, while subtler fish like plaice and Dover sole can benefit from the hit of pea shoots and micro fennel.
Micro herbs come into their own with the amuse bouche. While infusing herbs into sauces or glazes can be done with regular herbs, the freshness can wain when producing large batches of a dish. The beauty of micro herbs in this instance is in taking a small cutting and giving it a ruffle or slap to release the aroma. Only after this can your micro herbs be put in position to add lofted fragrance to your carefully considered amuse. Fine slicing of regular herbs bruises the herbs causing the flavour and aroma to deteriorate rapidly.
You’ll find micro herbs a useful ingredient in a variety of salads. Things like micro fennel, coriander, rocket and cresses deliver their zesty, peppery notes with fervour, without clogging up the dish with their heft and bitterness. Micro herbs tend to deliver their fresh flavours in tiny bursts as opposed to all in one go, which means you can often use a little less dressing and let the flavour of the leaves, edible flowers and other salad ingredients to speak for themselves, meaning only a little binder is necessary. In fact some of the more interesting, complex little salads we are seeing have no dressing to carry them at all.
However you choose to use micro herbs right now, know that summer is arguably the best time in the culinary calendar to get playful with them. At a time when diners seek an incredibly broad range of dishes, and an abundance of seasonal produce in its prime each week, now is the time to flex that creativity.