In the kitchen, rosemary is no shrinking violet

Rosemary is a key flavor in Mediterranean cooking.
Rosemary is a key flavor in Mediterranean cooking. St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Any English major will tell you that rosemary is for remembrance.

In “Hamlet,” poor Ophelia in her madness hands out herbs and flowers just before she drowns herself. The first one she gives is rosemary, saying “that’s for remembrance.”

Rosemary is easy to remember because it is so strong and powerful. It is not a delicate herb; it is forceful with a taste that is unforgettable and instantly recognizable.

Think pine trees. Rosemary has that same smell and taste (but in a good way). Though it is an evergreen, it is not actually related to pine trees, however.

Rosemary is a shrub, a bush that originated around the Mediterranean Sea. Most of the foods it goes with, not surprisingly, are also popular in that region.

Lamb, for one. Rosemary is a natural accompaniment to lamb, its bracing flavor a perfect match for the inherent gaminess of lamb. There are those who would argue, and I would be among them, that rosemary pairs with lamb even better than mint does.

So that is why, when looking at ways to use rosemary, I decided not to make lamb. It isn’t fun if it’s not a challenge. On the other hand, if you happen to have some lamb and you’re looking for something to do with it, I’d highly recommend cooking it with a sprig or two of rosemary.

For that matter, if you happen to have some rosemary you want to use, you might think about buying some lamb.

Chicken also pairs remarkably well with rosemary, and let’s be serious: Lamb is one thing, but if I’m going to cook with rosemary I’m going to cook it with chicken.

Because rosemary is so pungent, I didn’t want to overpower the chicken with its flavor. I also wanted to make something low in calories, so I decided to poach boneless, skinless chicken breasts in liquid that included rosemary. I added depth to the dish by including some wine and onion slices to the poaching liquid, too.

The chicken came out healthful and highly flavored. I served it on top of mixed lettuce with a vinaigrette because I eat a lot of salads, but it would also be excellent sliced in a sandwich. And it would be terrific as the base of a chicken salad.

I next turned my attention to a side dish made from potatoes. One of my favorite potato dishes is to chop them into bite-sized pieces and then roast them in the oven with rosemary and garlic. I wanted to build on that general idea and make it a stovetop dish, too, so I added a few wrinkles of my own.

The first was butter, which made it a moist dish rather than dry. I also added onions and mushrooms to round out the flavors and make it less of a one-note meal.

When cooked this way, the rosemary imparted more than its typical pine taste. This time, it also provided a surprising sense of culinary warmth; I’ll be sure to make it again in the winter.

Finally, I paired rosemary with something you don’t usually think about when cooking with the herb: beef. But I thought I could do it if I used the right marinade and the right cut of meat.

I chose a New York strip. I often choose New York strip. It may be my favorite kind of steak.

For a marinade, I whipped up a Mediterranean-inspired mixture of olive oil, Dijon mustard, rosemary, garlic, salt and, because I like it spicy, red pepper flakes (though those can be optional). I smeared it on the steak and waited for the magic to happen.

An hour later, it had definitely happened. I imagine a steak marinated this way would be best grilled – basically, I think that a steak prepared in any way would always be best grilled – but I just pan-sautéed it in a little butter.

Oh, my. The taste of the marinade is subtle, but it is definitely there. The steak certainly tastes better than a similar steak without the marinade. It’s hard to improve on steak, but I think this Dijon-rosemary marinade does the trick.

With a hint of rosemary lingering on the palate, it is a marinade to remember.

Poached rosemary chicken

Recipe by Daniel Neman.

4 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 medium onion, sliced thin

3 sprigs fresh rosemary, each about 8 inches long

1 bay leaf

Salt to taste

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

In a large pan over medium heat, combine chicken stock, wine, onion, rosemary, bay leaf and salt. Bring to a low simmer.

Add chicken breasts. If the liquid does not completely cover them, add water until they are covered. Cook at a low simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, possibly longer if you’ve added a lot of water. Serve chicken and discard poaching liquid (it will have too strong of a rosemary flavor to use for soup).

Per serving: 144 calories; 3 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; 73 mg cholesterol; 27 g protein; no carbohydrate; no sugar; no fiber; 70 mg sodium; 13 mg calcium.

Serves 4

Dijon-rosemary steak

Recipe by Daniel Neman.

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper, optional

Two 8-ounce New York strip steaks

In a small bowl, combine oil, mustard, rosemary, garlic, salt, pepper and optional crushed red pepper, if using. Spread evenly over both steaks. Allow to sit for 1 hour outside of refrigerator.

Grill over direct heat or cook in skillet over medium-high heat until cooked to your preferred level of doneness.

Per serving: 429 calories; 29 g fat; 6 g saturated fat; 101 mg cholesterol; 38 g protein; 2 g carbohydrate; no sugar; no fiber; 551 mg sodium; 34 mg calcium.

Serves 2

Rosemary potatoes

Recipe by Daniel Neman.

2 tablespoons butter

2 russet potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 medium onion, chopped into large pieces

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 ounces mushrooms, trimmed and sliced thick

2 teaspoons chopped rosemary

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper, or to taste

Melt butter in a large skillet or pot over medium heat. Add potatoes, onion, garlic, mushrooms, rosemary, salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring frequently, until you can easily pierce the potatoes with a knife or fork, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Per serving: 217 calories; 6 g fat; 4 g saturated fat; 15 mg cholesterol; 5 g protein; 38 g carbohydrate; 3 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 449 mg sodium; 41 mg calcium.

Serves 4