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Picking thyme -- there has to be a better way


Fat Guy
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I'm talking about picking not in the gardening sense but in the sense of getting the little usable herb part of the thyme separated from the woody stalk part. This task takes me forever. Somebody must have come up with a trick to exfoliate the thyme with little effort. Tell.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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Take a sprig and orient it so the leaves are pointing up. Holding it by the top with one hand, slide the fingers of your other hand gently down along the stem to pull the leaves off. You won't get them all, but usually most of them come off.

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I'm talking about picking not in the gardening sense but in the sense of getting the little usable herb part of the thyme separated from the woody stalk part. This task takes me forever. Somebody must have come up with a trick to exfoliate the thyme with little effort. Tell.

I usually try to hire someone :hmmm:

however, for stocks, sauces and such, where the presence of the leaf is not important, I either

a) use the whole sprigs and strain out/remove with tongs, or

b ) put several sprigs into a teabag, then remove after cooking.

or, freeze. The leaves will fall off in due time.

Karen Dar Woon

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I have to agree with KarenDW, if at all possible, I try and add them entire stems to a sauce and let the stirring action remove the leaves from the stems and then simply pull out out the stems. For applications where no sauce is involved, the best (but not most efficient) is trying to strip the leaves from the tip to the base, but if the stems are too tender, they tend to break easily.

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Take a sprig and orient it so the leaves are pointing up. Holding it by the top with one hand, slide the fingers of your other hand gently down along the stem to pull the leaves off. You won't get them all, but usually most of them come off.

That works for me about 50% of the time.....I think I read somewhere that there are slight variances in thyme plants. Some are considered "zipper thyme" and that trick works. The other varieties not so much.

I've noticed that if the sprigs are very fine, and have lots of smaller, finer stems shooting off the main sprout, the reverse zip thing is not going to work. Usually for those, the sprigs are fine enough that I just chop the whole darn thing up, stems and all, and if I see a particularly large one, I pull it out. The only time that doesn't work is when the thyme is going to be more of a garnish or a finish, and not cooked much, if at all. Then I just bite my lip, and pluck

I agree with KarenDW that if its a soup, stew or stock, just pitch the whole thing in, and pull the stalk out at the end. I don't even try to "zip" then. Life's too short.

--Roberta--

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In most cases I find KarenDW's method best ... not just because it's labor-free, but because there's a lot of flavor in the stems. I almost never bother with a tea bag or cheesecloth. Either I toss in the sprigs, or tie them up as a bouquet garni. I only ever strip the leaves if they're going to be part of the presentation.

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I have grown thyme the last few years in pots on the kitchen deck. Mine is fine and the zipper bit works about half the time. What I did find though was that I could cut the stems I wanted and ball them up in dry hands over a paper towel. A bit of friction rubbing my hands together does the trick in releasing as much as practical in as short a time as possible. Discard stems and use paper towel as a funnel into dish.

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One more vote for just tossing in the stems or tying 'em up together with the parsley or whatever unless I really need just the leaves for presentation. I like Robuchon's trick of tying the bouquet garni with a strip of leek leaf (use a long thin strip, pull the knot tight slooooowly), but string is fine if I don't have a leek handy.

John Rosevear

"Brown food tastes better." - Chris Schlesinger

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One more vote for just tossing in the stems or tying 'em up together with the parsley or whatever unless I really need just the leaves for presentation. I like Robuchon's trick of tying the bouquet garni with a strip of leek leaf (use a long thin strip, pull the knot tight slooooowly), but string is fine if I don't have a leek handy.

I tie it into bundles with kitchen string....tried using a chive once, but it disintegrated. I tie the other end of the string to the handle of the pot for easier removal.

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When I lived in Upstate NY the thyme I used to get there was definitely suited to the zipper method 90% of the time. Now that I live in CA I find most of the thyme I buy has very fine and curvy stems. I've started using the pitch it in method but when it does need to be separated prior to cooking I will separate out the woodier bits and just chop the rest.

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If you've got tweezers in your hands and you're plating dishes at Alinea, you're stuck plucking individual leaves.. :biggrin:

But for adding thyme to things like omelettes where you can't bundle, I try to "smart zipper." Some tiny, soft, breakable stems get pushed to the side. Some stems, I'll hold half way down and zipper from there. Some really soft stems get ripped off and thrown into the pile. From there, I'll have a pile of mostly leaves and some soft stem-ends, which I give a coarse chop to cut up the stems. This doesn't provide perfect leaves, and does end up with some waste (the 10%-15% of leaves that are time consuming to get off), but works well for me.

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I find that the stem-tops that come off when doing "the zipper" are soft enough to cook. I just chop them and their attached leaves with whatever other herbs I'm doing.

"Life is a combination of magic and pasta." - Frederico Fellini

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What I'm trying to do is harvest our garden's bounty to dry for the months ahead.

The 'zipper' method works pretty well for me and, considering the advice of the Hispanics I work with in regards to cilantro ('we would use the stems also') it seems a quick run through or two with a knife should be sufficient.

Pick up your phone

Think of a vegetable

Lonely at home

Call any vegetable

And the chances are good

That a vegetable will respond to you

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I'm talking about picking not in the gardening sense but in the sense of getting the little usable herb part of the thyme separated from the woody stalk part. This task takes me forever. Somebody must have come up with a trick to exfoliate the thyme with little effort. Tell.

I usually try to hire someone :hmmm:

however, for stocks, sauces and such, where the presence of the leaf is not important, I either

a) use the whole sprigs and strain out/remove with tongs, or

b ) put several sprigs into a teabag, then remove after cooking.

or, freeze. The leaves will fall off in due time.

A very practical and wise method indeed.

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What I'm trying to do is harvest our garden's bounty to dry for the months ahead.

The 'zipper' method works pretty well for me and, considering the advice of the Hispanics I work with in regards to cilantro ('we would use the stems also') it seems a quick run through or two with a knife should be sufficient.

For drying, I usually harvest the sprigs, then set on a rack to dry. The individual leaves should break off quite easily.

This method also has worked well with oregano.

Karen Dar Woon

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Young thyme - as in newly-hatched, may simply be chopped up as is; the stems are very tender, delicate and as flavourful as the leaves. This is great if you have a garden and can grow your own - but actually thyme grows very easily indoors, too. I grow thyme as an annual, planting new seeds each year for exactly this reason; I use a lot of thyme and having a constant supply of "young stuff" negates the necessity for all that picking. I recognize this isn't a solution for everyone, but if you love thyme, planting a few (or many) seeds in an indoor plant pot can supply you with young, tender, fragrant and fresh thyme year round - starting a new new planting whenever you need it.

I must confess that I don't really find the plucking and stripping of more mature thyme stems greatly onerous. There's something about the release of the fragrance and essential oils that's both calming and therapeutic for me. Each year, I have a new current favourite herb (it was marjoram this year) but I've never lost my delight in thyme.

Rover

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Rover, how easy is it to grow? Can you give me some instructions? I usually buy a thyme plant every couple of years and put it outside in the summer and bring it in for the winter. But, it seems to dry out very easily and I never seem to get nice new green shoots on it.

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Rover, how easy is it to grow? Can you give me some instructions? I usually buy a thyme plant every couple of years and put it outside in the summer and bring it in for the winter. But, it seems to dry out very easily and I never seem to get nice new green shoots on it.

ElsieD, if you get a packet of seeds and basically raise them from scratch - a bright window or under a bright light - in a pot, your new thyme shoots should just zoom along. Pay attention to watering and just give them haircuts to use in the kitchen. Don't let them dry out completely, but don't swamp them either. The new shoots really do have to be new. The plants that winter over become woody to aide their survival, which is why I seed new ones each year. Notwithstanding, the mature plants are more prolific and more deeply flavoured, but they aren't going to give you those tender stalks and baby leaves.

Rover.

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I leave fresh thyme out on the kitchen counter for about 3 days and then simply press my fingers down on the stem and pull "down" against the grain (direction) the leaves grow. It's a sort of starting to dry out method for fresh thyme leaves--you have the benefit of semi-dried leaves pulling off easy yet with the fragrance and taste of still fresh herbs. Seems to work just fine.

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