By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
Simon & Garfunkel had it right—it’s all about the herbs! And this week, it’s particularly about one of my favorite ones, rosemary. But a little of my own herbal history first:
I don’t know what I would do without my fresh herb garden. I’ve always been amazed at how many cooks don’t use fresh herbs. If you don’t or can’t grow your own, they are widely available in grocery stores.
When we lived in Michigan, I was able to maintain a garden almost year-round. The sage managed to stay supple through November, when I incorporated the fuzzy green leaves into my Thanksgiving stuffing. I don’t know how spice producers manage to manufacture such an awful taste as that dried rubbed sage in the grocery aisle during the holidays. How can this even be the same herb?
My thyme came back year after year, no matter what I did to it. Sometimes I dug under fallen leaves and snipped a few sprigs before the hard freeze. Parsley, on the other hand, froze during the winter months. It began to return when the days grew warmer in the spring.
Now that I live in California, I can enjoy fresh herbs all year round. Truth be told, I do not plant the herbs. My husband, Bob, is the gardener. I just pick them and cook. It’s a pretty good arrangement! I don’t like to garden and he doesn’t cook. Win, win.
This season, Bob has given up on putting parsley in the ground, instead opting for pots. Why, you ask? Normally parsley is a great growing herb. It is hardy and continues to produce even after many cuttings for cooking use. But we have a parsley thief.
First, I thought it was the long-eared jack rabbits that inhabit our environs. But recently, we discovered otherwise. We have an infestation of gophers! They’ve built an extension tunnel system under our property. My sister Nancy witnessed a gopher grabbing a weed and pulling it underground in an instant. I’m guessing they did that with both of my parsley plants, which disappeared roots and all.
Now I’m ready to tell you about the glories of rosemary. When we lived in colder weather in Michigan, I brought my rosemary plant inside during the winter. and it provided me with beautifully scented marinades, stews, and soups. Since we moved west, what I have found amazing is the abundance of rosemary everywhere here in California and other Mediterranean-like climates.
Rosemary was used as far back as the beginning of the Greek and Roman civilizations. It grows successfully in the sandy, rocky soil found in the south of France, Italy and Greece. Locally, I see it used to grow hedges for front yards, to beautify planters in public spaces, and to accent bushes around buildings. You never have to buy rosemary in the grocery store because you pass it on everyday walks. The bushes have lovely small purple flowers in the spring. As you pass the rosemary, the aroma is intoxicating. It screams Italian or French cooking.
Because rosemary has such a bracing flavor-it is NOT a delicate taste-it stands up well to heartier meats such as pork, lamb, beef, or chicken thighs. I use it when I make a thick bean or potato soup as a “finishing” herb, adding it at the end.
One thing to note when cooking with rosemary or other fresh herbs: it is best to add them at the end of the cooking process. If you add them in the beginning, the taste and texture gets washed out. I usually add dried herbs at first if I’m braising or stewing and then introduce the fresh herb at the end. The freshness will really brighten your dish with color and flavor.
Today’s recipe uses fresh rosemary in both the marinade and the dipping sauce. I’m using chicken thighs but you can use pork in its place. Offer these skewers as an appetizer or an entrée. For an appetizer, I recommend grilling them on an 8” skewer and removing the meat from the skewer. Arrange the chunks in a serving bowl or on a platter with decorative picks and dipping sauce on the side. If serving it as an entrée, thread five pieces of chicken on each skewer. Grill and then serve one or two skewers to each guest. Rice is a nice accompaniment.
A time-saving tip: when buying chicken thighs in bulk, trim the fat from the meat. Cut the chicken into 1” cubes, and freeze in 1-lb. Ziploc bags. When you have guests, defrost the chicken cubes and marinate them. The labor of this recipe is really in the chicken prep.
One last suggestion: if you want to make these skewers more decorative, thread different colored bell peppers, cut into 1” pieces, on the skewers alternately with the chicken. You may find a 10” skewer more appropriate here.
Tell us at The Insider how you feel about herbs—or about Simon & Garfunkel! Have a great meal!
Grilled Rosemary Chicken Skewers
Yield: 10-12 skewers
(10-12 appetizers or 5-6 entrées)
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh minced rosemary
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. coarse salt
1 1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (less if you prefer less spicy)
2- 2 1/2 lb. skinless, boneless chicken thighs, fat trimmed
Combine oil, rosemary, brown sugar, salt, black pepper, and red pepper in a small bowl. Put in a large Ziploc bag. Cut the chicken into 1” pieces. Add to the bag. Drizzle in the oil. Seal the bag, tossing the contents together. Allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 1-4 hours, not overnight because chicken is too tender to be in the marinade that long.
Thread 1 piece of chicken on each 6” skewer, keeping the meat toward the end. Continue with all of the chicken. Allow to sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Grill skewers over a moderately high fire, turning often, about 10-12 minutes total. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Orange Marmalade Dipping Sauce
1 c. orange marmalade
1/4 c. rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. fresh minced rosemary
Warm all ingredients in a small saucepan.Serve warm or at room temperature.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.