… Having Balls in the Kitchen Can be a Very Good Thing!
I love adding fresh herbs to recipes. They give the finished dish that “little something extra”, bringing the other ingredients to life and making the flavors “pop”. Obviously, one great way of doing this is by adding the fresh herbs directly into the recipe. There is another approach, too, that lends itself well to positive processes and delicious results. I’m talking about the mesh tea ball. Yes, that’s right! Let’s put this “cooking” implement into multitasking mode.
The mesh tea ball (while great for its intended use) is a great tool to use when you want to infuse flavor but you don’t want to have the actual pieces of herb in the finished product. Why would you only want the flavors, and not the pieces themselves? One reason might be if you are making a “creamed” soup, or a clear broth or stock, and you want your finished product to appear homogeneous (without the speckles of herbs here and there). Another reason may be that, while you want the boldness of a particular herb, you may not want to come across actual pieces that you’d be biting into, possibly bringing on a more bitter flavor or unpleasant texture.
Mesh Tea Balls additionally are beneficial when using dried herbs, and again you don’t wish for the final dish to include any pieces of herbs. So how is this done? Very simply and inexpensively. Mesh Tea Balls are very low cost, usually only a few dollars, and can be filled with whatever ingredient(s) you want to infuse the flavor of, such as thyme, rosemary, oregano, black peppercorns, even citrus zest, etc. Because the tea balls are made of a fine mesh, the liquids you’ll be flavoring will flow easily through the ball, allowing the flavors to transfer to the main dish, without allowing the particle within the ball to seep through. You simply fill the ball with your flavoring, latch it closed, then hang it over the inside edge of the pot in which you are cooking your dish (the mesh tea balls come with a short chain and a hook at the end for easy attaching or dangling), allowing the ball to be fully submerged in the cooking liquid. When your dish is finished cooking, the mesh ball is easily removed from the hot liquids by sliding the hook off the side of the pan, preventing you from scalding your fingers by needing to “fish out” the herbs or a sunken mesh ball.
Another great use for these little “hole-y” wonders is to flavor oils for cooking. These oils can then be used to add a kick to your oil and vinegar salad dressing, enhance a piece of meat before or during cooking, or create a depth of flavor to your next homemade bread or pizza crust by adding to the dough or rubbing the center and rim of the pizza crust. Flavoring oil is easy. Again, simply pour the oil you wish to flavor into a container large enough to submerge the mesh ball completely, then pack your fresh herbs tightly into the mesh ball, and let it dangle in the oil. Depending on how strong you wish your flavoring to be, you may want to do a light chop of the herbs (being careful not to cause bruising that might cause bitterness) before putting them in the ball. This will release more of their flavors. You will want to allow a few days to a week for the oil to become flavorful. Taste it each day, and remove the ball when you are happy with the results.
Those are my quick tips on how mesh tea balls can become great multitasking tools in your kitchen. One important point, make sure you thoroughly wash with soap and hot water your mesh tea balls between uses. Sometimes a quick rinse will allow the herb flavor to linger. You may not want rosemary flavoring your morning cup of tea. Then again, that’s how new creations are born … be creative! I have three mesh balls so I too can be a multitasking guru. Perhaps it goes like this … I have a jar of oil sitting on the counter being infused by some luscious fresh basil flavors, my roasted chicken is in the oven with a mesh ball full of marjoram and thyme leaves with peppercorns and a garlic clove, while I sip on a cup of dried-tea-leaf-infused green tea and write my post for the day. Hmmm, that sounds good, better go get my tea heated up.
Be sure to share your creative ideas for turning your mesh tea balls into great multitasking tools. Maybe even using them outside of the kitchen?? We’d love to hear what you have in mind.