Learn how to cut basil like a pro! Add the freshest herbaceous flavor to any dish using the chiffonade or chop technique to prevent bruised leaves.
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Tender basil leaves can instantly add dimension to any dish, like a margherita pizza or tomato basil soup. Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a member of the mint family. Its smooth and delicate leaves are fragrant, delivering a slightly sweet and peppery taste. Tiny slivers can add a significant flavor impact. That’s why I have a small basil plant on my countertop to pick and add to recipes, especially for Italian, Mediterranean, Vietnamese, or Thai cuisine.
The most common way to cut fresh basil is the chiffonade or finely sliced into ribbons to use as a garnish. This step-by-step guide will show you how to cut pieces into thin strips and chop them up properly. Knife skills are essential because basil leaves bruise quickly and turn brown when not using the proper technique.
Wash and dry
It’s essential to give basil leaves a good rinse before cutting. This removes any dirt and debris and prevents food contamination, especially if the herb is eaten raw.
Add the basil to a bowl of cold water to release as much dirt as possible. Dry the leaves in a salad spinner or pat dry with a paper towel. Be careful not to bruise the leaves.
Remove the leaves
Often basil leaves are sold still connected to the stem as sprigs. Pull each leaf from the base to remove it from the central stem. Pluck one at a time so that they don’t become damaged. It’s best to wait until the day of use to pick them so they don’t wilt.
How to chiffonade basil
When cutting basil, only use a sharp chef’s knife. This will give the cleanest cuts and cause the least damage to the plant’s cell walls. The quickest and most effective method to chiffonade (thinly slice) the basil is to stack the leaves into a pile, about 4 to 5 leaves, from largest to smallest. Place them on top of each other so they sit concave, with a bowl shape. This prevents overly bending of the leaves, which causes bruising.
Carefully roll the leaves lengthwise into a cigar shape. Make slices crosswise to create thin strips of the desired width. Do not drag the knife across the leaves! This will cause larger browned areas when the basil is cut. It’s best to cut the basil right before adding it to dishes. Over time, the cut areas will brown due to oxidation.
How to chop basil
If you want to add a strong basil flavor to recipes, chop it into very fine pieces. This is great for salad dressings, sauces, or incorporating ground meat or stuffings. The leaves will brown faster because of all the cuts, but it’s okay, especially when cooked.
Use the same technique as chiffonade to slice the leaves into thin strips. Then make slices crosswise, and use a gently rocking motion to chop into smaller pieces. Do your best to make as few cuts as possible, and don’t drag the knife, or it will bruise the leaves. Wait to chop the basil until just before adding it to a recipe to preserve its green color.
How to store fresh basil
- Room Temperature: If the basil plant is still potted in soil, place it in a jar with 1/4-inch of water and away from direct sunlight on the counter. Add more water as needed to prevent wilting. Basil sprigs can be placed upright in a tall glass jar with enough water to cover the stem by 1 inch. Replace the water every few days. The basil should last 1 to 2 weeks at room temperature.
- Refrigerated: Basil stems can be placed in a tall jar with 1 inch of water. Cover the top with a large plastic bag, allow for circulation below. Alternatively, wash the basil leaves or sprigs with cold water, then dry them. Wrap in a paper towel, then store in a resealable plastic bag or airtight container. Change out the paper or pluck off any wilting leaves. Check every few days. They will last about 1 to 2 weeks.
- How to Store Fresh Cut Basil: For the best taste, it’s best to use freshly sliced or chopped basil immediately. However, it can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. It will only have slight browning if adequately cut.
More ways to use basil
That are numerous ways to use basil to enhance any dish. Try these delicious ideas to maximize the flavor of the herb:
- Pesto sauce
- Basil pesto sauce
- Shrimp pesto pasta
- Stuffed tomatoes
- Roasted tomato basil pasta
Frequently asked questions
Tearing basil gives a more rustic appearance and yields larger torn pieces. It reduces the amount of damage to the cell walls of the leaf. Slicing is better for thin, even pieces. There will be minimal damage and browning when appropriately cut with a sharp chef’s knife.
Place the leaves in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan. Dry at 200ºF (93ºC) until the leaves become brittle. Depending on the leaf and batch size, this process will take about 2 to 4 hours. Cool and crumble, or keep the leaves whole. Store in a glass jar for the best shelf life. Use 1 teaspoon of dry basil for 1 tablespoon of fresh leaves.
Whole leaves can be blanched for about 5 seconds to destroy the enzymes that cause browning, then chilled in an ice bath. Dry with a paper towel, then add blanched basil to a plastic bag or airtight container and freeze. Alternatively, combine chopped basil with olive oil to make a paste. Freeze in an ice cube tray to make small portions to add recipes. Frozen basil is best used for cooked dishes as the leaves become very soft.
When should basil be added to cooked dishes?
If you want to add fresh basil to cooked dishes like tomato sauce, soups, and stews, it’s best to wait until the last few minutes of cooking. Heat turns the delicate herb brown, and it softens very quickly. The volatile aromas from the oil in the leaves will dissipate. However, the dish will still carry the herbaceous taste. If using dried basil, add it at the beginning of cooking to the hot oil to “bloom” the herb so that more fat-soluble flavor compounds are extracted into the recipe.
How to Cut Basil
- 4 basil leaves, or more as needed
- Wash and Dry – Submerge the basil leaves in a bowl of cold water. Transfer to a salad spinner to dry. Alternatively, gently shake off the excess water and pat dry with a paper towel.
- Remove – Starting from the base of each leaf, gently pull the basil, one by one, from their central stem.
- Slice the Basil – Stack about 4 leaves in a pile from largest to smallest. Roll the leaves lengthwise into a cigar shape. Using a sharp chef's knife, make slices crosswise to create thin strips. Do not drag the knife across the leaves; they bruise easily.
- Chop the Basil – Place sliced basil in a pile. With a chef's knife, slice the leaves crosswise. If needed, use a gentle rocking motion to chop into smaller pieces. Be careful not to bruise the leaves; they will brown quickly.
- Yield: 4 leaves yield about 1 tablespoon chopped, depending on size.
- Cutting Time: It’s best to wait to cut basil for a recipe until you are ready to use it in the dish. This will keep the color green for longer. The cut areas turn brown over time.
- Storing: Store chiffonade or chopped basil in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. Discard when browned.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.
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