It’s actually pretty easy. Like many foods, the flavor in basil doesn’t actually come from the leaf itself. Instead, it comes from the essential oils that are bound in the leaf. Normally, these oils are bound up inside the cells of the basil leaf. and are only released when you bite into it. To get the most flavor out of basil, you have to find a way to release these oils while the basil is still on the plate.
What happens when you stub your toe? You swear loudly, of course! But in all seriousness, what happens is that you wind up breaking some blood vessels and the blood pools under the skin, forming a bruise. This is what you are going to do with the basil. Think of the essential oils as blood. By breaking up the cells, you are allowing the oils to flow out and pool into the areas without the oil.
Bruising Basil Leaves By Hand
- To start, take three or four leaves at a time and layer them together. This will go a lot faster than doing them one at a time!
- Roll the leaves together like you are rolling a cigarette. You will wind up with a small tube of basil leaves.
- Place this roll in the palm of one hand and bring your other palm against it. Lightly roll your hands together 4-5 times. This will release the oils. Your hands will also now smell strongly of basil (the odor comes from those essential oils as well!)
Bruising Basil Leaves With a Knife
- Start as before by rolling multiple basil leaves together.
- Place the tube of basil leaves on a flat surface, such as a cutting board.
- Using a chef’s knife, roll the basil leaves back and forth a few times.
If you are going to chop the basil, you might as well do it while the leaves are still rolled together. If now, you can now separate them.
Getting the most flavor out of fresh basil really is a simple and straight-forward process. Of course, if you are simply making pesto, you don’t even need to worry about this. Running the basil through the food processor (or mortar and pestle) will release those oils just fine.