Fresh herbs add bright, vivid flavor to any dish and require only simple knife skills to prepare. Finely mince herbs for subtle hints of flavor or rough-chop the herbs for added intensity. Slice herbs right before using them, or store chopped herbs for as long as two days in a sealed container topped with a damp paper towel. The best-tasting herbs have a vibrant color and full leaves, so avoid buying herbs with leaves that are limp, drooping or discolored.
The essential tools for cutting fresh herbs are a sharp knife and a cutting board. If necessary, sharpen your knife with an electric or manual knife sharpener before chopping delicate herbs. Dull knives tend to bruise the leaves. Other helpful tools to have on hand include a pair of scissors for quickly snipping herbs, a bench scraper or spatula for transferring the freshly chopped herbs, and a lidded container for storing chopped fresh herbs. If you’re unsure of your knife skills or looking for a shortcut, buy an herb mincer at a kitchen supply store. The handheld gadget has multiple blades for fast mincing.
Prepare the Herbs
Rinse herbs under running water and pat them dry before removing the leaves from the stems. To remove the leaves from tender-stemmed herbs such as cilantro or parsley, hold the bunch of herbs by their stems and use a knife to shave the leaves off the bunch, moving the knife away from you. For woody herbs, such as rosemary, or tiny-leaved herbs such as thyme, grab the end of the stem in one hand and run your index finger and thumb down along the stem to separate the leaves.
Chop and Mince
Gather the herbs into a pile or a tight ball, holding them tightly together with your fingers. Curl your fingertips toward your wrist, hold your knife against your knuckles and cut the pile of herbs. Move the knife forward and back using a rocking motion as the hand holding the herbs gradually moves the pile toward the knife. Cut them finely by holding knife tip against the cutting board and rock the blade over the herbs until they are cut to your liking. For a quick, coarse cut, put the herb leaves in a glass and use a sharp pair of scissors to cut them. Rotate your scissors with every cut until you’ve reached the desired consistency.
Chiffonading herbs creates thin shreds or strips, which are particularly striking scattered on top of a dish. Start by stacking the leaves of herbs — such as basil or mint — into a pile and rolling them crosswise, keeping the center ribs of each leaf aligned. Fold the leaves crosswise and begin cutting from one edge. Work toward the center rib as you cut the herbs into thin shreds or slices. Rock the knife backward and forward, rather than up and down. Stop and flip the roll around once you reach the center rib and continue slicing it from the other side. Discard the rib once you’re finished.
References and ResourcesCooking; James Peterson
The Clever Cook's Kitchen Handbook; David Joachim
Williams-Sonoma: Chopping Fresh Herbs
The Kitchn: A Faster, Easier Way to Chop Fresh Herbs
Bon Appetit: How to Clean, Store, and Chop Fresh Herbs
Serious Eats: How to Chop and Chiffonade Fresh Herbs