Thyme is an extremely fragrant Mediterranean herb that has been used in Italian, French, and Middle Eastern cuisine for centuries. It has made its way around the world and can be found in American and Caribbean dishes as well. Thyme’s pungency is one of its greatest benefits, but can be a drawback if it is used incorrectly. Follow the tips below to get the best results from thyme.
Do use thyme in the right dishes. While thyme has many applications, many of the most popular ones are in French soups and stews where it is often paired with other Mediterranean herbs like marjoram and oregano. It is a great complement to lamb and tomatoes as well. Italian cooks use thyme to cook sea bass and mullets and it shows up in multiple pasta sauce recipes from the south of Italy. You can use it to make a thyme butter that is perfect for basting meats and vegetables on the grill. You can also make your own version of the Middle Eastern herb and spice mix known as za’atar, which features thyme heavily. Za’atar also includes other spices such as sumac and sesame seeds.
Do add thyme early in the cooking process. Thyme is one of those herbs that can stand up to long cooking times and is actually better for dishes that will be braised for hours. When it is included in stocks and stews, it is typically added early on for this reason. Adding it early is especially important if you are using the dried herb. Drying concentrates the flavor in much the same way that it does with oregano. The extra cooking time makes it mellower.
Do store thyme properly. Thyme is one of those hardy herbs that can last for a while, even without being refrigerated. Even so, it will last for even longer if you keep it in the refrigerator. You can keep fresh thyme usable for up to two weeks simply by wrapping the sprigs in damp paper towels and leaving them in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer. Alternatively, you can dry fresh thyme by hanging it in a location with dry, moving air or by using a food dehydrator. If you dry it and store it properly, fresh thyme can last you for several months.
Do measure thyme properly. When cookbooks refer to measurements of thyme, they will usually use the term sprig unless they are referencing dried thyme leaves. There is no agreed-upon definition of sprig when it comes to measuring thyme, but what should work is a main stem about 5 inches long along with its branches and leaves.
Don’t store thyme while it is moist. Storing thyme while it is wet will result in the leaves blackening and falling off within a few days. They will also lose their flavor.
Don’t go overboard with thyme. Thyme is a pungent herb, which means that you will want to be careful with how much of it you use. You also want to give its flavor time to mellow out in your dish. Too much thyme or thyme added too late in the cooking process can result in bitter and overpowering flavor notes. See how to fix this issue.
Don’t serve dishes with thyme sprigs left in them. In most cases, the leaves on sprigs of thyme will fall off during the cooking process. You will need to fish the stems out before serving your dish as the stems can present a choking hazard similar to fish bones.