Getting the most out of a summer herb garden

“When can you make that grilled green chicken again, mom?” We haven’t had it for so long.

My son was right. Five-herb chicken is a family favorite in the summer. He made me realize that it had been almost a year since I made Summer Chicken Verde and now that Southeast Michigan has warmed up, it’s time.

I’m usually forced to prepare it when my herbs overflow the edges of their containers, begging to be cultivated.

“I’ll run the brine. If you’d like to go out and cut me some basil, chives, rosemary, parsley, tarragon, and thyme, we can start a marinade for that right now.

I make this chicken during the summer, thanks to my abundant herb garden. My container garden is spread in clusters of herbs all over the patio. Each pot houses a different green gem that I depend on for cooking. I started most of them as seeds, and fall more and more in love with them as the season progresses. My garden is a big business, but between May and October I walk outside with sheers in hand and collect everything I need.

Not everyone has room for a garden, although herbs do well in pots on apartment or condo decks. And at this time of year, our many farmer’s markets are full of fresh herbs, which can be bought at a good price. The possibilities of incorporating fresh herbs into your meals are endless.

These little plants provide me with a visually interesting bright green garnish, while their flavors add depth and boldness to any dish. At this time of year, my herbs are already flourishing. I planted basil, chives, thyme, parsley, oregano, rosemary, cilantro, dill, lemongrass, mint, bay leaf and tarragon. For my greatest pleasure, I will have an almost entirely edible landscape.

I’m sure the flowers would be a more colorful addition. But as a chef, the only bouquets that interest me are green, herbaceous and aromatic.

All summer long, I add chopped basil, parsley, chives or mint to wake up my salads. I put fresh herbs in marinades, dressings, pesto or eggs. I wrap large bundles of fresh herbs and dip them deep into saucepans to simmer them with sauces, soups and stews. My fridge has pitchers of infused water, seeping in with herbs and a few seasonal ingredients. It’s amazing to have the choice between cucumber mint, rosemary peach or strawberry basil water.

Herbs can be annual, biennial, or perennial and typically grow only one season in most of the country – it’s now in our corner of Michigan – but can thrive indoors with abundant light. Whether planted in the ground or in pots, they should have good drainage. They need to see about six hours of sunlight and be watered daily, especially on long, dry, hot days. The pruning keeps them full without becoming overgrown or becoming bitter. Their flowers are edible, like the chive blossom, which also makes a creative seasonal garnish.

After my son came back with my herbs, I washed and dried them, removed their leaves, and then put them in the food processor. I mixed them with kosher salt, crushed red pepper, lemon and garlic. With the machine running, I slowly added olive oil. After coating the chicken with half the marinade, I made an aioli with the rest. Once the marinade has worked its magic, the chicken will be ready to grill.

I smiled inwardly as I thought of the convenience of shopping in my backyard. I wish it would stay that way all year round, but unfortunately our growing days are numbered. So, for now, I will remain grateful that there was enough for our dish tonight. The official kick-off of our summer season promised to be delicious.

Michelle Kobernick of Huntington Woods is a classically trained chef who works as a consultant and private chef for athletes. She is a student in the online graduate program in Food Writing and Photography at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg.


4 bone-in chicken breasts, with skin

4 chicken thighs, bone and skin on

For the quick brine:

4 liters of water, divided use

2 lemons, halved

2 limes, halved

1 orange, cut in half

3 garlic cloves, whole

4 peppercorns

Bay leaf

1 large jalapeño, halved and seeded

2 sprigs each of thyme, rosemary, parsley and tarragon

¼ cup) sugar

½ cup kosher salt

For the marinade:

½ cup each packed parsley, basil, chives and tarragon

1 jalapeño, seeded and thinly sliced

1 ½ tablespoons minced thyme

1 ½ tablespoons chopped rosemary

3 large garlic cloves, chopped

2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice

Pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)

1 tablespoon of kosher salt

1 cup olive oil

For the aioli:

¾ cup of mixed herbs and oils set aside from the marinade

1 cup of mayonnaise

To make the brine: Place all the ingredients in a large saucepan with 1 liter of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Cool completely and add the remaining 3 liters of water. Immerse the chicken in the mixture and let stand in the refrigerator for up to 4 hours. Remove the chicken from the brine and rinse thoroughly. Cover chicken with prepared marinade for 4 hours overnight.

To make the marinade: In a food processor, combine the parsley, basil, chives, tarragon, jalapeño, thyme, rosemary, garlic, lemon juice, crushed red pepper and salt until ‘they are finely chopped. With the engine running, add the olive oil. Remove the marinade and reserve a cup for the aioli. Coat chicken in marinade, cover and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight. Remove the chicken from the marinade and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper.

To make the aioli: Fold 1 cup of mayonnaise into the remaining ¾ cup of herb puree and mix until light green. Brush the cooked chicken with it and serve the rest of the sauce on the side. If making more than an hour ahead, refrigerate until ready to serve.

To cook the chicken: Prepare a gas or charcoal grill for direct and indirect heat. Close the lid and heat the grill to 400 degrees and lower the heat to low on one side.

Remove the chicken from the brine and drain well; throw in the marinade. Place the chicken on the direct heat, skin side down. Cook until grill marks appear and the skin is golden brown. Turn the pieces over and brown the other side. Move the chicken to indirect heat and close the lid. Cook until the internal temperature of the breast and thigh reaches 165, about 40 minutes.

Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes. Brush the chicken with aioli and serve with the remaining sauce.

For 6 to 8.

Source: Michelle Kobernick

Terri S. Tomasini