Looking like tall, dark green stalks of grass, chives are slender and hollow and grow in dense, hearty clumps. Chives have been around for thousands of years and are part of the onion and leek family and have a mild onion flavor which brings a bit of vibrancy to any dish.
You may come across garlic chives, or Chinese chives, which are flat instead of hollow, and, in the garden, bloom a white star-shaped flower compared to the lavender blossom on the ordinary chive. They have, as you may have guessed, a garlic flavor.
Finding the Freshest Chives
The ideal way to assure your chives are fresh is to grow your own, but not everyone can--or wants to--have an herb garden. Luckily, chives are readily available in most markets year-round. When buying chives, choose uniform-sized, evenly green leaves with a clean, fresh scent. There should not be any signs of wilting, yellowing, or drying.
Chives are also available frozen and freeze-dried (in the spice aisle) for instant convenience. However, the flavor will not be as bright as when using fresh chives. In a pinch, chopped scallion greens may be used as a substitute, but the onion flavor will be more pronounced.
Store fresh chives in the refrigerator in a resealable plastic bag, keeping the air inside, for up to a week. You can also place the stems standing up in a glass or jar filled with a few inches of water and covered with a plastic bag. Do not wash until ready to use the chives, as excessive moisture will promote decay. If your chives are wilted, you can soak in a bowl of ice water to rehydrate before using.
If you have an abundance of chives, you might wish to try drying your own at home. To freeze-dry chives, first, chop them and then place on a cookie sheet; put them uncovered in the freezer. When the moisture has evaporated and they are dry and brittle, transfer to a glass spice jar and seal tightly. Store in a cool, dark place for up to six months. You may also freeze them whole, or snip and place in a freezer-proof bag, as some people believe this will better maintain the flavor compared to the freeze-dry method.
An alternative preservation method is to snip the chives into an ice cube tray and then add oil or water to cover. Freeze and later pop the cubes into recipes to melt and then add flavor. As with many fresh herbs, it is best to add the fresh chives toward the end of cooking time.