By Teresa Marrone
To winter-weary Minnesotans, the sight of a patch of chives poking through the damp, bare soil is a spring tonic of the highest order. Once they appear in early spring, chives can be snipped and used until covered by snow the following winter, making them one of Minnesota’s longest harvests. And chive season can be extended even further. Simply dig up part of a healthy clump and plant it in a pot; placed in a sunny window, it will provide fresh seasoning through the long winter.
Chives are part of the venerable onion family; with a flavor that is both oniony and grassy, they work well in most savory dishes. Fresh, uncooked chives make a wonderful garnish or seasoning, contributing both flavor and color. If used in cooked dishes, they’re best when added as a finishing touch. Their flavor blooms with just a little heat, but if they are cooked for too long, they lose their bright notes.
It’s best to snip chives with a sharp kitchen scissors; chopping with a knife on a cutting board can bruise the delicate, hollow leaves. To snip chives, hold a cluster in your left hand (for a right-handed cook) over a measuring cup—or the dish to be garnished—and simply snip off the ends to whatever length you like. You’ll get more even pieces if you snip fairly close to your hand, where the chives are tightly bunched, so let only a small amount extend out from your closed hand, moving the cluster outward as needed.
When chives are fresh from the garden—which is the best way to enjoy them—you’ll often see small beads of water forming on the cut edge after you snip them, an indication of freshness. If you don’t have a chive garden and need to buy chives from the market, look for firm, bright green leaves. Pass by limp or yellowish specimens, which will have lackluster flavor and poor texture.
Dried chives retain some of the onion flavor, but lose their distinctive grassy notes. If you wish to preserve a bounty of chives in the fall, it’s better to freeze them. Simply snip washed chives into whatever length you like, spreading them in a thin layer on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper. Freeze overnight, then pour into a tightly sealed container and return immediately to the freezer. The chives will be soft when thawed, but will retain most of their wonderful flavor.
Here are a few quick ideas for using chives, as well as a delicious pasta dish that can be made with just a few pantry items—and of course, a whopping amount of fresh chives.
Classic baked potato: Split a baked potato and fluff it a bit, dust with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, then top with a dollop of sour cream. Snip about a tablespoon of chives over the sour cream. (For a delicious, crisp-skinned baked potato, heat oven to 425 °F. Scrub whole baking potatoes and prick each a few times with a fork. Place potatoes, unwrapped, directly on the oven rack; bake for one hour.)
Chive oil: Combine equal parts of chives (cut about one inch long) and olive oil in the blender. Process until smooth, then strain through cheesecloth. Drizzle the strained oil over soups, eggs, fish, chicken or anything you like; it would be delicious over a grilled grass-fed steak.
Chive spread: Mash some soft goat cheese or other soft cheese until spreadable. Stir in a generous amount of snipped chives, a bit of coarse black pepper, a little grated orange zest and a drizzle of honey; mix well. Serve with crackers or toasted bread.
Chive eggs: Add a generous amount of snipped chives to beaten eggs before scrambling them—a classic flavor combination.
Chive cornbread: Stir two tablespoons of snipped chives into the batter when making cornbread or muffins.
Chive-blossom salad: Pull one or two chive blossoms apart into clusters of two or three petals, then sprinkle over a salad made of tender mixed greens. Garnish the salad with a whole chive blossom, but inform diners that it is decorative only (or that it needs to be pulled apart before eating); the flavor of a whole chive blossom is very intense.