When it comes to chopping fresh herbs, there’s no one right way to do it; there are many ways! But the way I learned early on in my days in professional kitchens is fast and easy.
Learn it and you, too, will be more apt to throw all kinds of fresh herbs in your cooking!
Leafy Herbs vs. Woody Herbs
First off, these techniques are for soft, leafy herbs—ones like parsley, tarragon, basil, and sage. They don’t work so well for firm, woody herbs that are all needle-y, like rosemary and thyme.
We’re sharing two techniques. One is for little leaves like parsley and cilantro. The other is for flat, broad leaves like basil and sage.
Ready? Let’s go!
How to Chop Parsley and Cilantro
1. Strip the leaves from the stem, if using parsley: You don’t want to chop parsley stems. The stems are too fibrous and strongly flavored to be a good addition to your recipes (they’re great added to simmering stocks, though). Cilantro stems, on the other hand, are crunchy and refreshing when you toss them in along with the leaves in salsas and plenty of other dishes.
Most of the time I don’t stem cilantro before chopping it, but I do trim off bottom inch or two of thicker, stragglier stem ends. You also want to make sure to cut across the stems to make short sections, because no one wants a big strand of cilantro stem in their food.
2. Gather the leaves in your fist: Now you have a pile of de-stemmed leaves. Use your non-dominant hand to gather them all up in a tight wad as if you were making a fist. (Don’t worry about the herbs getting smooshed; they’ll hold up just fine.)
3. Grab a large knife, make a claw, and chop: A large, sharp knife is the best knife to use; otherwise, the sharpest knife you’ve got. Now, make a claw with your herb hand to expose some of the herb wad, keeping your fingers turned under. Chop the herbs as you gradually move your claw hand back to expose more fresh herbs wadded in your fist.
After your initial cuts, you can go back over with your knife for a finer chop.
The advantage with this technique is you make an initial series of close, precise cuts that can chop or mince the herbs faster than chasing a big, fluffy pile of herb leaves all over your cutting board with your knife.
How to Chop Fresh Basil
This works for basil, yes, but also for other broad, flat herbs like sage, mint, and even sorrel.
Once again, this technique uses a series of precise cuts, which both saves time and also results in bruising the herbs less. When I’m making a salad and I want bigger, fresher pieces of basil or mint, sometimes I just tear them with my hands right before adding them to the salad. Sage, meanwhile, really does better when it’s finely shredded or chopped.
1. Pluck the leaves from their stems, and stack: Remove the leaves from the stem. As you do so, make a flat stack of up to 6 or 8 leaves.
2. Roll the leaves into a long tube, then make tiny crosswise cuts: Roll the leaves up tightly to make a long tube (I’m not going to lie. It looks like a hand-rolled cigarette.) Grab the sharpest knife you have and make tiny crosswise cuts, which will give you thin shreds – a cut sometimes known as a chiffonade.
3. Repeat: If you want chopped herbs rather than shreds, just go over the shreds a few times with your knife.
How to Store Fresh Herbs
Parsley is pretty hearty; a container of chopped fresh parsley will last a few days in the fridge, though it’ll not look as perky on the second day. Same goes for cilantro.
If you’ll be using them for garnish, basil and mint are best chopped on the spot. But most any herb you’ll be adding to a cooked dish can be chopped in advance, covered, and refrigerated for a day or two.
Curious how to store those fresh herbs before you chop them? We've got that covered, too.