What I learned about rosemary
What I learned about rosemary
There are two basic forms of rosemary. The tall, long leafed, upright variety and the small leafed variety that grows close to the ground. I love the flavour of rosemary (incidentally, it is the herb that symbolises remembrance). It goes well with roast lamb, chicken, pork and potatoes. What I don’t like about rosemary is when the large spiky leaves of the upright variety are sprinkled over food, which is then cooked and results in a meal covered in needle-like shards of rosemary and dominated by their pungent rosemary flavour.
As for using raw upright variety rosemary leaves or sprigs on food, ask any Master Chef NZ contestant what I think about that and they will cringe in fear. My comment to them was “eat it”, an experience few would repeat as the raw leaves taste like medicated soap and feel like coarse grass (as do most raw woody herbs, think raw thyme or sage, woody stemmed herbs should generally be cooked). I could never understand why some Mediterranean recipes called for raw rosemary to be sprinkled on food.
But my partner (her first trip) and I (I’ve been there many times) did a great trip to Spain last year and I learnt about rosemary.
A few weeks earlier I was on a job that took me to Ibiza where I had a friend who took me to lunch at a great restaurant where we ate made to order flatbread sprinkled with salt, extra virgin olive oil and, of all things, rosemary leaves. I was dubious but it was delicious with a mild aromatic rosemary flavour from the very tender small leaves. I absentmindedly noted their use and moved on. On the later trip to Spain we were walking through our local park in Cordoba when I saw a small rosemary bush clinging to the ground and recognised the leaves. (I remembered I had also seen the same rosemary growing in Gibraltar.) I immediately picked some tasted it and used it with chicken for dinner (one of the pleasures of Airbnb for cooks is being able cook the local produce) Delicious!
What had I learnt? Use the smaller delicate leaves from the “prostrate” variety of rosemary as this is what seems to be used by Mediterranean cooks. The flavour and texture are superior to the upright variety. When I smell the raw prostrate variety I immediately think of the roast lamb I have eaten in Europe.
A small point, maybe, but for any cook when you learn one thing it is valuable and you will use that knowledge for years. If you are a professional you could even make money out of it.
Now many of you might think I need to get out more but learning new things about food is one of the things that fascinate cooks about food. You can never know it all. The second I think I know everything about food is the second I hang up my tongs and find another job. Never being able to learn everything is the great thing about cooking.
Stuff a handful of small-leafed rosemary, half a large lemon and 3 or 4 squashed cloves of garlic inside an organic chicken next time you roast one.
Season well and place in a roasting dish, just big enough to hold it, breast side down.
Add a big splash of white wine and roast for about 45 minutes at 190°C then turn it onto its back for another 45 minutes.
Carve and serve with gravy made from the pan juices.