Get the most from the leafy green herb using these pro tips.

By Lauren Wellbank
December 16, 2020
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Credit: Bryan Gardner

Fresh herbs like cilantro can add the perfect dash of flavor to a variety of dishes. Everything from guacamole to flavored cooking oils tastes better with a touch of garden-grown herbs. But cutting cilantro so you get the most from the green, along with knowing how to clean and store it, can make a big difference when it comes to garnishing your favorite recipes. We asked experts to weigh-in on the most effective methods for preparing the herb so your meals can look and taste their best.

Harvesting Cilantro

Whether you're looking for a way to exercise your green thumb or you just love the taste of fresh herbs in your dishes, you might want to consider growing cilantro at home. The best way to take the flavorful herb from the potting soil to your plate is to make sure you're only taking what you need when you need it, says Amanda Caton, head grower at Edible Garden. "When preparing cilantro for cooking, gather only the amount of leaves of [the] living plant needed, then using scissors or shears, trim approximately halfway up the stem." She suggests using household scissors or shears for harvesting ($12.99, macys.com).

Cleaning Cilantro

It doesn't matter whether you're getting your herbs from the store or from your very own garden—your very first step should always be to clean the greens before adding them to your recipe. Mike DeCamp, executive chef with Jester Concepts, suggests removing anything that was used to keep your cilantro together (like the rubber band or tie that it might have come with from the store) before turning it upside-down under a stream of cold running water. "After you feel like the cilantro is clean, look through the leaves to ensure that no dirt remains." Another method for cleaning your cilantro is using a salad spinner according to Clare Langan, a culinary consultant in San Francisco. She suggests holding a bunch of cilantro upside-down in a bowl of cold water. "Swish the herbs in the water vigorously, plunging them to get the stems soaked, too," she says. Allow the cilantro to rest in the water bath until the soil settles at the bottom of the bowl.

Drying Cilantro

DeCamp suggests drying your cilantro before use. "To do so, lay the cilantro on top of a paper towel and place another piece of paper towel on top of it," he says. "Pat the bunch dry lightly, as to not damage the leaves." In addition to the paper towel method, Langan suggests getting your salad spinner back out and running it through there. "Regardless of the method you choose, store the roll of herbs in an airtight food container or large Ziplock bag," she says.

How to Cut Cilantro

According to Langan, the entire bunch of cilantro is edible, from leaf to stem. "The leaves (and their attached tender stems) are preferred for their soft texture," she says. "The fibrous stems have a more intense flavor and crisper texture, but they should never be thrown away." To cut cilantro—and remove the cilantro leaves from the stems—Langan suggests cutting the stems off at the point they become leafier as opposed to removing each leaf by hand. "The tender stems attached to the leaves can be left on whether you're chopping or scattering whole leaves for garnish," she says. Once you have your clean leaves you can chop them with a knife, cut them with herb scissors, or use a food processor, depending on what your recipe calls for.

Keeping Excess Cilantro Fresh

If you don't use all of your cilantro in one go, you can store it on the counter or in your refrigerator. "I keep mine fresh by wrapping any extra cilantro in a damp paper towel," says DeCamp. "I change it daily until I use the rest of the cilantro."

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