I’ve been like a kid at Christmas. It’s not just that I keep playing with the spices–I have to show them and share them. In our store, we have sample bottles, shaker bottles of each spice on the rack.
“Oh, this is one of my favorite spices,” I say as I shake a little into a customer’s hand. I encourage him or her taste it, not just smell it. She can brush the remains onto the floor–it’s my theory that it makes the place smell better.
But I am using them a lot. We have a free spice recipe book with 95 recipes. I’m sure they’re great recipes but I haven’t tried a single one. Instead I’m adding spices to other recipes and much of my cooking—everything from meat and potatoes to soups. I think that’s the way most of our staff is using them also. They’re nearly as crazy over these spices as I am.
At the end of this post is a meat and potato example.
Here are some tips and methods to get you started.
How Much Seasoning Should You Use?
That may be the question we get asked the most. It’s not as hard as it may seem. Start with less. In most cases, you can add more. You’ll use more with beef than you will with chicken and fish. Often you want the seasoning to be so light as to be simply a background flavor–complexity without competition.
Don’t overpower the dish. Chicken should always taste like chicken but a little spice will transform everyday into interesting.
For a pound of ground beef, I’ll use a tablespoon of mild spice—though I may start with a teaspoon or two and add more to taste after it’s cooked.
Tastes are different; we have a friend that uses about twice as much spice as we do. As we get older, we lose taste buds and prefer more seasoning. Go a little mild if there are children in your home.
Flavor versus Heat
Often when we think spices, we think heat—hot spices. Heat’s okay, but usually I want flavor without a lot of heat. I want to transform the flavor of what I’m cooking without creating a lot of heat. So for most of my cooking, I choose spices with little heat.
Keep it Simple
Simple is usually better. Don’t try to mix a lot of flavors. The more you add, the harder it is to keep a balance. Instead of adding multiple spices, use a quality blend. A good spice blend has been balanced and tested and used in many recipes. The flavors meld together as one spice without creating a jumble.
Season it First or Season it Last
For larger pieces of food, like a roast, season first. That gives the food time to absorb the flavors as it cooks. Season liquids, such as soups, last.
Even with a roast, until I get to know the spice, I tend to under-season. And yes, I’m not shy about sprinkling more on after it’s cooked.
Quick Meat and Potato Dinner
One night last week, I came home late and hungry. I wanted a quick, hearty meal. In the refrigerator was a steak but it wasn’t a very good cut. I needed to trim it and slice it or it would be tough. There were new red potatoes on the counter. I had onions and half a green bell pepper. I could make a quick meal from that.
- I sliced the steak in 3/8 inch thick pieces. Cutting across the grain assured that it would be tender.
- I sliced a medium, sweet onion and the half bell pepper in 1/4 inch thick slices. I trimmed and sliced the potatoes into thin slices. I melted a couple of tablespoons of butter in a large frying pan. I dumped the potatoes, meat, and veggies in the hot frying pan.
- I added a tablespoon of Vindaloo. This was a spice that I knew and was confident with. If I was trying a new splice, I would have used just a teaspoon or two. I salted the dish with a stovetop salt shaker, one with generous holes.
- Using a spatula, I stirred for a couple minutes to start to brown the potatoes and sear the meat. I then added a quarter cup of water and set a loose fitting lid over the pan. The lid would capture enough steam to cook the potatoes.
- I added more water several times stirring with each addition. I ended with enough water to make a little gravy for a meat, potato, and gravy dish.
The cooking pulled enough starch from the thinly sliced potatoes to thicken the gravy perfectly. If I had added too much water, it would have been too thin. At the end, I adjusted the seasoning a bit.
With a tossed salad from a bag, I had a good, hearty meal in less than 30 minutes.
I’ve tried this quick meal before but with different spices and with and without the green pepper. So far, Vindaloo is my favorite.
Don’t let spices intimidate you, even new spices or blends. Remember, keep it simple and add a little at time, until you get it just right.
Your first venture should be a success, but as you gain experience with a spice, you’ll find more and more ways to use it and find the foods you like best with that particular spice.
With a palette of spices in the cupboard you can create magical meals. It’s easier than you might think.