What’s the deal?
By Sean RiveraPosted Feb 20, 2013
Parsley is often overlooked as an unnecessary and lackluster herb. It is often washed, minced, and set to the side as a finishing herb, then tossed into a dish at the end to brighten it up and round out the flavors. A friend of mine recently admitted that she didn’t plant parsley in her garden, nor did she ever really use it in her cooking. So it made me wonder, what’s the deal with parsley? What makes this herb so universally popular and pleasing in so many different dishes?
As a relative to celery, parsley gets its name from the Greek word for “rock celery.” However, this herb can be found all around the world and is considered to be the most popular. It can be considered an aromatic, much like its cousin celery, and since it’s a dark, leafy green, it is a good source of iron and folate, while also providing vitamins A, C, and K.
Consider setting aside a good sized pot in the corner of your spring herb garden. Once the parsley plant has been established, it will come back twice a year in spring and fall if it is well maintained.
What’s the difference between flat leaf (“Italian”) parsley and curly leaf parsley? Recipes often don’t specify which kind to use, and your selection might be based on which variety is available at your market or grocery. Overall, most chefs prefer Italian parsley because it has more flavor and can withstand the heat of cooking. Curly leaf parsley tends to have a milder flavor and is therefore better for garnish. Whichever you prefer, fresh parsley is much more robust and flavorful than dried parsley. Since fresh parsley is usually so inexpensive and is available year-round, there is not much call to buy it dehydrated.
When purchasing parsley, look for bright, leafy, and perky bunches. The stems should be firm and should not wilt at all. While you might be tempted not to rinse it, parsley can be very sandy. Once you get it home, rinse the entire bunch and then pat dry. Cut the ends of the stems about an inch from the bottom and place the parsley into a Mason jar or some kind of steady-bottomed container with fresh water. This will allow your parsley to stay fresh and healthy for at least a week.
What does it have to do with flavor? Parsley is a mild “bitter.” It adds balance to savory dishes, just as adding a touch of wine or lemon juice can brighten the flavors of a dish. Your taste buds can distinguish five different tastes on your tongue: sweet, salty, sour, savory, and bitter. Sweetness comes from natural or artificial sugars and sweeteners. Saltiness, as you can imagine, comes from salt and salted items. Sourness comes from acids like lemon juice and vinegar. Savory flavors (“Umami”) come from items like proteins. Lastly, bitter flavors can come from greens like kale, arugula, and parsley, or even citrus zest. For a dish to be truly balanced, the flavors of the ingredients must touch upon most, if not all, of these tastes. That is why adding just a tablespoon or two – or a few – of one ingredient can impact a dish by elevating all the tastes available to our taste buds.
Now that I know how essential this herb can be, I need to remind myself of its availability. Now I can look at this shadowed herb with more respect and appreciate its quiet servitude, enhancing all the flavors in my dishes.
Follow Sean Rivera on Twitter @FoodiePatutie