Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Kitchen Essentials Part 2- Herbs and Spices

Different cuisines call for different herbs and spices. Over the past few years I have collected a large and varying amount of both.

Spices for cooking, spices for baking, spices for healing...

My motto is....."The spice must flow!"

"Dune" reference, couldn't help myself! 

But before we go any further I want to clear something up....It seriously gets on my nerves when people automatically assume that something is hot and spicy if I've added spices. So just to get the record straight...
Spiced does not mean Spicy!



Remember in grade school when they told you that a Square is a Rectangle, but a Rectangle is not a Square? It's the same deal here.

Spicy can mean Spiced, but Spiced isn't necessarily Spicy.

Spiced- Aromatic flavors that add to the overall taste of a dish.

Spicy- Describes food that has been flavored with spices that can cause a burning sensation in the mouth. Often used in conjunction with the word hot.
So now that, that has been explained...on to the spices!
Spices

We can divide this section into 3 types: Seasonings, Spices, and Herbs.


Seasonings, in my opinion are the most basic and essential part to flavoring a dish. These include various types of salt, pepper, and occasionally sugar. Their job is to bring out the natural flavors of the food, but should not be overpowering.

Spices, again this can be broken down into two groups; Baking and Cooking. However, this doesn't mean they need to be used exclusively for one or the other.

For Baking: Cardamom, Cinnamon, Cloves, Ginger, Nutmeg, Star Anise

For Cooking: Bay leaf, Cumin, Coriander seeds, Paprika, Red Chili, Saffron, Turmeric

I find that buying whole spices in bulk then grinding and mixing them as you need is more economical and ultimately more flavorful. Powdered spices lose their flavor more quickly then whole ones.

Suggestion: Invest in a good dry/coffee grinder. I bought mine on clearance at TJMaxx for $12. And yes it's fully functioning, and in one piece.


And finally Herbs.  Which brings us to another question... Dried vs. Fresh

"What do I have to work with here?
Three year old dried herbs?!?!?"
The short answer is....it depends on the dish!

If I'm making Herb Dill Bread I will use dried Dill, but when I make Salmon with Dill Mustard I use fresh Dill.
Why the switch up?

Dried herbs are often less aromatic because their essential oils have begun to dissipate over time; they can be on the shelf at your market for years, even longer if it's a more obscure taste to the American palate.

Fresh herbs impart a stronger flavor to food because they are fresh, at least in theory.

I think the difficulty people have with using fresh herbs is the quantity to be used. I myself am guilty of that. When you get use to using dried herbs you add more product for more flavor, with fresh herbs a little goes a long way. Attempting to use the same amount of fresh herbs as dried can make for an overpowering and unpalatable grass-like taste. 


Next Time: My Introduction to International Cooking
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