Nurdin Topham’s potted guide.
Text by Tiffany Chan, illustrations by Tim Cheng
What are the differences between using different types of herbs in cooking?
Herbs with a delicate flavour enhance mildly flavoured foods and strongly flavoured herbs combine well with robust, strongly flavoured food.
If the herb has soft, lush leaves – parsley, chervil, chives, basil, mint, coriander, dill, salad rocket – add the chopped leaves at the end of cooking to retain their full flavour, colour and nutritional content. Herbs with tougher leaves such as sage, rosemary, thyme, winter savoury, kaffir lime leaf and curry leaf generally have stronger flavours and are usually added at the start of cooking. Whole sprigs can be added to soups, stews, casseroles, roasts and marinades, and removed before serving. These herbs can also be added towards the end of cooking, but need to be very finely chopped and used sparingly.
Very tough herbs such as bay leaf are added to dishes that require long, slow cooking, such as soups, stews, casseroles and roasts, and removed before serving.
What parts of the herb are best suited for what dishes?
Generally speaking, the leaves contain the most volatile oils and are the most flavourful part of the herb. However, when some softer herbs (chervil, coriander, parsley, begonia and purslane) are young, they have delicious stalks that can be finely chopped, warmed in a little butter emulsion or served raw with a light citrus dressing.
Any tips to properly prepare herbs?
Try to use herbs at their freshest, just picked from the plant, when the flavour and nutrition will be greater. Always wash gently. Both stalk and leaf of young herbs can be chopped using a very sharp knife to avoid bruising and destroying the volatile oils responsible for the flavour.
How should herbs be stored to best preserve colour, freshness and nutrients?
Herbs are best served fresh. At NUR, we have a herb garden that allows us to harvest herbs just before dinner to ensure they have maximum taste and nutritional content. If you buy herbs, briefly rinse them and wrap in damp paper towel and reserve in the fridge, or stand them in water in the fridge. These measures ensure the freshness of the herbs by retaining their moisture content and preventing wilting. But try to use herbs as fresh as possible.
Founder and executive chef NUR
After almost two decades cooking with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire and at NOMA in Copenhagen, chef Nurdin Topham opened NUR in Hong Kong in 2014. He is a qualified nutritional therapist and his fine- dining restaurant focuses on nutritious ingredients.