With its earthy, mildly minty flavor, thyme may be petite but it offers mighty flavor that chefs have relied on for centuries to create craveable cuisine across cultures. Here are a few tips on cooking with thyme to give your dishes next-level flavor.
Cooking with thyme
Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) has a long history as a culinary herb, with its use in cooking dating back to ancient Greece. It’s a versatile herb that can be used in a variety of dishes, from soups and stews to poultry and vegetables.
In this article, we’ll show you how to use thyme in cooking so that you get the most flavor out of this delicious fresh herb.
What does thyme taste like?
Thyme has a penetrating, earthy pungency with hints of mint and lemon. The taste is sharp and herbaceous, similar to oregano but with grassy notes and less potency.
Once cooked, thyme develops a rounded, mildly spicy flavor that evokes aromas of Mediterranean cuisine. Its notes perfectly complement chicken, fish, eggs, pasta, stews, soups, and roasted vegetables.
The citrusy quality of thyme brightens up hearty, slow-cooked dishes. It also enhances the flavor of cheeses and breads.
What does thyme go with (flavor pairings)
Thyme is a versatile herb that can be used to add flavor to a variety of dishes. It has a subtle, yet distinct flavor that can enhance the taste of many foods.
Thyme can be used in soups, stews, sauces, and even baked goods. It is also a common ingredient in many herb and spice blends.
What proteins does it go with?
As with many woody herbs, thyme pairs well with most meats. Roasted leg of lamb, roast beef, chicken, sausages, meatloaf, and steak to name but a few.
It also goes well with grilled fish and other seafood.
Vegetables that go with thyme
Thyme goes well with most vegetables, particularly with Mediterranean vegetables like tomatoes, onions, eggplant, capsicum, garlic, and olives.
It also compliments woody and winter season vegetables, such as mushrooms, butternut squash, roasted potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and celery.
Herb blend pairings
Thyme pairs well with most other woody-type herbs, such as rosemary, bay leaves, marjoram, oregano, and savory.
It is an essential ingredient in herbes de Provence and is usually found in seasonings for Mediterranean cuisines, like Italian seasoning.
How to use thyme in cooking
Thyme is an extremely versatile herb that can be used in many forms to add aromatic flavor to savory dishes.
- Fresh thyme leaves – strip the tiny leaves off the woody stems and chop before using. Add fresh thyme at the end of cooking for maximum flavor.
- Fresh thyme sprigs – Add a few whole sprigs early in dishes like soups, stews, braises. This allows the flavor to slowly infuse as it simmers. Remove before serving.
- Fried in oil – Quickly fry thyme sprigs in olive oil to use as a garnish for meats, beans, pasta or bread dipped in the oil.
- Compound butters – Finely chop fresh thyme leaves into butter for a flavorful spread for chicken, fish or bread.
- Dried thyme – Dried thyme has a more intense, concentrated flavor. Use half the amount of fresh. Add early in cooking process for best results.
Preparing fresh thyme
To prepare fresh thyme for cooking, gently wash the sprigs and pat dry.
The tiny leaves can be removed from the woody stems either by pinching and sliding your fingers backwards along the stem or by chopping them off carefully along the stem.
For dishes with longer cooking times, you can leave some tender tips intact for added flavor.
Chop the thyme leaves finely or coarsely depending on the desired texture. Finely chopped thyme disperses well for mixtures like compound butters, dressings, marinades, and sauces. Coarsely chopped thyme adds nice texture as a finishing garnish.
Add fresh thyme at the end of cooking to preserve its flavor and aroma compounds, which can be lost with prolonged heating.
Whole fresh sprigs can be simmered in soups, stews, and braises for an infusion of flavor. Just remember to remove and discard them before serving.
Fresh vs. dried thyme
Dried thyme has a more concentrated, intense flavor compared to fresh thyme. Use about half the amount of dried compared to fresh.
Add dried thyme early in the cooking process so the flavor can mellow and permeate the dish.
Dried thyme can be successfully substituted for fresh in dishes like soups, stews, braises, and roasts. Use it along with other herbs in spice rubs, marinades and sauces.