fresh oregano, worth the effort?
August 18, 2020 7:59 AM   Subscribe

I like to make chimichurri, which requires oregano, and most recipes call for fresh oregano, which is a bother (for me) to keep around. Should I just use dried oregano?

In general, I have read that oregano is an herb that does quite well when dried, as opposed to say, basil. Yet, all of the chimichurri recipes I have tried specify fresh oregano. I dutifully bought two fresh oregano plants, but one got used up and the other one died when I went out of town, so I would really rather not bother.

I know the answer is "just try dried oregano and see if you like it." I made it that way once, and it didn't seem quite right, but that may have been because I wasn't sure how much to use, and the container was probably a bit (maybe more than a bit) old. Also, I never make it exactly the same twice, so it could have been the wrong amount of any other ingredient.

So herb experts and chimichurri afficionados, please save me from a bunch of boring and neurotic A/B testing, what do you do? While we're at it, any chimichurri related tips are probably worthwhile--just a note, I do parsley only, but am cilantro-agnostic.
posted by skewed to Food & Drink (15 answers total)
Dried oregano is flavorful and delicious, but different from fresh. Texturally especially - might work if you soak it first in water?

You can keep fresh herbs in the freezer, or under oil (this would probably work great for chimichurri). That's what I'd try over using dried.
posted by Lady Li at 8:15 AM on August 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

In the specific case of chimichurri, you want to use fresh oregano for two reasons:

a) dried oregano will rehydrate in water, but not in oil. Unless you pre-hydrate the oregano with water prior to using it in the application, it'll be gritty and hard to eat.
b) rehydrated oregano tends to dissolve into the liquid it is hydrated in. Unless you happen to have really lightly dried / large leaved oregano, a rehydrated oregano chimichurri would probably turn into an oregano slurry.
posted by saeculorum at 8:23 AM on August 18, 2020 [7 favorites]

Oregano is one of the herbs that I find is more potent as a dried herb compared to the fresh. Most herbs are pretty useless dried.

So if you are going to use dried, use less. Also, to test for potency, rub a small amount in your palms to test for it.
posted by indianbadger1 at 8:27 AM on August 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

For chimichuri I would absolutely use fresh. Dried doesn't have that really bright chopped up herb flavor that's key to chimichuri in my mind.

If you like chimichuri and haven't tried it, Zhoug is similar and delicious. As you're cilantro agnostic, you could borrow cardamom and cumin as a variant in your chimichuri.
posted by Candleman at 8:38 AM on August 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

I find the flavor of fresh and dried oregano to be pretty different and not very interchangeable. Can you buy bunch(es) of oregano, make multiple batches of chimichurri with them, and freeze them, so you don't require a steady supply of fresh oregano? In my experience, chimichurri freezes very well.
posted by superfluousm at 8:44 AM on August 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've seen fresh oregano used in Argentina maybe 5% of the time? Supermakets, butchers and convenience stores sell little packs of mixed dried herbs to use to make it. I think it would be more common to use fresh parsley. Use whatever you find a good trade off between your preferred taste and convenience.
posted by conifer at 8:48 AM on August 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

I use dried oregano to make chimichurri all the time. My recipe calls for two tablespoons fresh, and I replace it with two teaspoons dried. I don't notice any grittiness and it tastes pretty similar to when I use fresh. I do use fresh parsley though, that's not optional.
posted by MagicEightBall at 9:27 AM on August 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

Dried oregano is a perfectly good herb in its own right (unlike, say, dried basil, which is balls), and in many instances preferable to the fresh stuff. But it is also quite different from fresh oregano. Chimichurri made with dried oregano will be meaningfully different from chimichurri made with fresh. It might still be good, but it won’t be the same. It’s unclear to me that fresh oregano is “required” for chimichurri so, there’s only one way to find out for sure if you will like it with dried. As others have mentioned, you’re gonna want to use a lot less of the dried stuff.
posted by slkinsey at 9:50 AM on August 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you make a lot of chimichurri and don't want to keep plants, I would definitely buy a bunch of fresh oregano and process and freeze it.

You can make it into a paste, dollop onto a cookie sheet in tablespoon-sized lumps, freeze the cookie sheet, and then pop off each frozen lump and toss them all in a freezer bag. Then if a recipe says "three tablespoons" you can just grab three lumps.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:52 AM on August 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

* pulls up chair and sits down *

Right. Fresh vs. dried oregano, and what can help you with either.

* Oregano dries okay, but fresh and dried herbs are not interchangeable by quantity. I think the rule of thumb is that you use only one-third the amount of dried herb if the recipe calls for fresh, so if it's saying you need two tablespoons of chopped fresh, you go with two teaspoons of dried. Also, with dried herbs, the fresher the better; herbs and spices tend to fade flavorwise the longer they sit.

* I'm a bit surprised that you say you bought oregano plants the last time you cooked something with fresh oregano. You can get bundles of fresh herb sprigs in most supermarkets, and oregano is a common enough herb that you should be able to find that. Most bundles will be just enough for your recipe and one other recipe; whatever you don't use in the chimichurri can be used in something else in a few days. To keep herb sprigs fresh in the fridge, just keep them in a closed container, maybe with a bit of paper towel to absorb excess condensation.

* For longer-term storage of fresh herbs, Lady Li has it - chop up the oregano you're not using, stuff it into the holes of an ice cube tray until you use the chopped oregano up, and then top off each of the oregano-stuffed holes with either water or olive oil and then freeze. When you've got the oregano cubes frozen you can pop them out and keep them in a Ziploc bag. One cube works out to be about two tablespoons of chopped herb. (Showbiz Liz has another freezing method above, but the ice cube tray method is what I've always used and is a bit easier.) Just take the herb out about five or ten minutes to let it thaw a bit before using it in a recipe (or, if you're just seasoning a soup, just drop it in).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:59 AM on August 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

Dried oregano is sufficient unto the day, but I think you’ll be surprised at how much better fresh is.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:25 AM on August 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the input all, I will probably try freezing some fresh oregano and see how that works.

I had been using fresh oregano just because I was able to get some pretty sizable plants for a few dollars each and figured that was cheaper than the plastic clamshells they sell in my local grocery stores. And it was, but then I stopped taking care of it, and here we are.
posted by skewed at 6:57 PM on August 18, 2020

Heck, if you do want to try keeping a pot of it growing again, let me know and I may be able to give you pointers. I have a plant on my windowsill that I grew from seed two years ago and it's going nuts.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:11 PM on August 18, 2020

If you told me you made chimichurri for our dinner I would be psyched; if it then arrived and was made out of dried oregano I would be quietly really disappointed.
posted by Edna Million at 10:32 AM on August 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

I planted a single oregano plant in a large pot where I also grow a tomato plant, and it has more than thrived, it has gone nuts in the same way mint does, and has come back lustily for several years, despite overwintering in this outside pot. I cut the plants down in the fall and dry them on the stalks on sheets of newspaper, for use throughout the winter in sauces and stews.

It became so overwhelming this summer I pulled at least half the plants out, as it was threatening to strangle the tomato plant.

One plant would seem to guarantee fresh oregano for years to come.
posted by citygirl at 3:38 PM on August 19, 2020

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