I had never really used rosemary for cooking, particularly. I know it is in the Italian blend herb mix I put in all sorts of things, but I don’t know if I had ever actually used it on its own. The flavor is nice, but I hate the way the little needle-y leaves stick in my gums, and I could never find powdered rosemary at the store.
However, I decided to grow a rosemary plant in my windowsill herb garden, just because.
My windowsill herb garden is a little bigger than you are probably imagining right now. I have a gorgeous, south-facing window in my living room, six or eight foot long. I put a shelf under it, and have space for about a dozen 6″ pots…or six 6″ pots, a 10″ pot with a dracena, a 7 foot tall scheffelara, and a big dish of cat food, as the case may be. I sowed the herbs last spring, and am growing oregano (two pots), lemon balm, rosemary, sage, and thyme. I had a couple of pots of basil, but it always seemed to have aphids, so I gave up on that one. The rosemary, thyme, and sage, in particular, were getting out of hand; the rosemary was around two feet tall. Since we’re just getting into the part of the year where all my houseplants start growing like mad, I decided to give my herbs a serious haircut.
What do you do with a huge, foot-long bundle of rosemary branches, though? Especially when you don’t like the stuff as a dry herb? I hated the thought of wasting it.
I remembered that I have put together a rosemary-salt rub for some chicken in the summer, by grinding some fresh rosemary with a handful of pickling salt in my mortar and pestle, and the solution presented itself.
It is a LOT of work to grind the rosemary down in the mortar and pestle, and it is very sticky stuff. Just stripping the leaves off the branches left my fingers feeling like I had dipped them in pine tar. Then I ground and mashed and ground some more. The needles hold their shape for a long time, but just as I began to despair, they started to break down and meld with the salt. It took what seemed like forever; however, the results are worth it. We’ve been using this salt in spaghetti sauce, and it makes a delightful rub for our home-grown chicken – I just loosen the skin on the breast (by working in from the neck end), and rubbing the rosemary salt into the meat under the skin before roasting it. I’m sure it would be lovely with pork, as well.
If you want to try making your own, I used about equal parts coarse pickling salt and rosemary leaves. Start small – a tablespoon or two of each, as the rosemary is tough to grind, and tends to leap out and get all over the place if you start with too much. The salt gets a bit of a sticky, moist texture, but it keeps just fine in a covered container for at least six months (which is as long as we’ve tested, with the leftovers from last summer’s chicken rub).
Since I happened to also have sage and thyme, I made an almost-Scarborough Fair mix, grinding generous handfuls of the three herbs with a few tablespoons of pickling salt. I think that one would be great for seasoning chicken dishes, and I’ll be testing it out in my next vinaigrette mix, as well, I think. Blueberry-herb salad dressing? Yes, please! Now I’m plotting what other herbs I could plant to try this with…