Cooking with Thyme
5 Thyme-Infused Recipes:
This endearing little Mediterranean plant will receive a lot of fanfare as the 1997 Herb of the Year, but its flavor is a culinary classic whose popularity has persisted for centuries. French, Italian, and Spanish shepherds for generations have grazed their sheep and goats on hillsides of thyme to flavor the meat. The bees in Greece work the thyme around Mount Hymettus to make a honey that has a flavor like none other in the world.
Thyme’s scent and flavor are a complex combination of sweet and savory. On first sniff, common thyme (Thymus vulgaris ‘Narrow-leaf French’) is an earthy, savory combination of fragrances reminiscent of winter savory, marjoram, and bay. Next comes a perfume that is soft and sweet with hints of ripe plums and just a trace of lemon. It tastes pungent initially but then offers a hint of mint and fruity sweetness with traces of citrus, tea, and honey.
It is hard to choose just one or two thymes for the kitchen, but they’re small plants, so try an assortment. For cooking, I like to use common thyme and English thyme (T. ‘Broad-leaf English’), which are similar in aroma and flavor. T. v. ‘Provencal’ is good, too, but is much more assertive in aroma and taste. Lemon thyme (T. ¥ citriodorus), which has an extremely sweet and lemony perfume, is delicious in many different dishes but is best used fresh or cooked only briefly. The same goes for caraway thyme (T. herba-barona): it tends to lose its flavor when heated.
Thyme is a well-balanced herb. When a dish needs a little something, thyme is often the choice–to round off the richness of a creamy or buttery dish, to serve with grains, rice and pasta, and to complement all kinds of meat, poultry, eggs, cheese, olives, fish, and shellfish. Thyme works well with most vegetables, especially mushrooms, potatoes, tomatoes, squash, carrots, onions, and beans.
I use thyme fresh throughout the year, but I also dry quite a bit for cooking. Some of its sweetness is lost in drying, and it becomes more pungent, but its earthy aroma and balance of flavor add a pleasing taste to soups, stews, sauces, marinades, vinaigrettes, and compotes.
The flowers of these different thymes taste like the leaves, perhaps a bit milder, with slightly more perfume. Some leave a sharp tingle on the tongue. Use them in place of minced leaves or as a garnish on soups, pasta, salads, and desserts. They are an attractive addition to butters and sauces.
Susan Belsinger writes regularly for The Herb Companion and is the author of many books, most recently Basil: An Herb Lover’s Guide, with Thomas DeBaggio. She lives in Brookeville, Maryland.
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