Freezing cilantro is a great way to preserve the often abundant harvest one can get from this biennial herb. Its unique flavor survives some time in the cold quite nicely, as opposed to drying which robs the herb of its signature flavor. Depending on how you want to use the cilantro in the end, there are two main methods for freezing.
Preparing Cilantro for Freezing
No matter which method you choose, it is important to start with perfectly clean cilantro. Give it a swish in cool water to get rid of any dirt, grit, or dust clinging to its leaves. Then, because excess water will create damaging ice crystals, be sure to dry it thoroughly. One way to do this is to spin it in a salad spinner and then lay on layers of paper towel. Roll up the paper towels starting at one end, encasing the cilantro, to soak up any bits of excess moisture.
Method 1: Freeze Cilantro Leaves in a Bag
This method is the easier choice since you are simply placing the leaves in a bag and freezing. Once the cilantro is defrosted, the leaves won't look great, so it is best to use the herb as an ingredient stirred into recipes rather than as a garnish with this method.
- Place one freezer bag into another to create a "double bag."
- Remove the leaves from the stems and add the cilantro leaves to the inner bag.
- Push out as much air from the bags as possible and seal tightly.
- Stick the bag in the freezer and simply pop off the leaves as you want to use them.
Cilantro frozen this way works best in dishes where it is cooked, such as turkey tacos or potatoes in cilantro sauce, or in recipes where the leaves are really mixed in, such as chile cilantro guacamole. Note that you will likely lose much of the herb's signature green color in the freezing process.
If you have a whole bunch of frozen stems left over when all the leaves have been plucked off, they're perfect for adding to a pot of drunken black beans.
Method 2: Freeze Cilantro In Cubes
This freezing method creates small cubes, ideal for popping into soups or stews to add a burst of cilantro's unique, fresh flavor. For this method, before the cilantro can be put into the ice cube tray, it needs to be pureed with a liquid.
- Whirl the cilantro in a blender or food processor with enough water or olive oil to make a thick puree.
- Pour into a clean ice cube tray or small covered containers and place in the freezer.
- Once frozen through, transfer the cilantro cubes to a resealable plastic bag for long-term storage—they will last in the freezer up to six months.
This method preserves the herb's green color better than simply freezing the leaves, especially when frozen in oil. Add a cube or two to pozole (pork hominy stew) and green chile tomatillo soup. Cilantro cubes are also tasty in sweet potato curry.
Freezing Cilantro Pesto
Cilantro makes a lovely pesto that freezes nicely in cubes and adds bright flavor to pasta, salads, and more. The oil also acts as a barrier between the freezer and the delicate cilantro leaves. Simply make pesto as usual, adding more oil if needed, and pour into an ice cube tray. Freeze completely, pop out the squares, and store in a zip-top freezer bag or container for up to six months.