Salt n Pepa’s here and we’re in effect. Sorry, I automatically broke into song as soon as I thought about salt and pepper. Salt and pepper to me are the basic seasonings that I use in almost every single dish I make. Now I am not talking about a carton of salt with the girl on it or the saw dust in a pepper shaker. I am talking about Diamond Crystal kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
A lot of people think of salt as that chemically tasting thing in your food you taste when your grandma was a bit heavy handed. Let me open your mind to salt in a different light. I love using kosher salt. A box of iodized salt, (the one that tastes like chemicals to me) doesn’t even have a place in my kitchen. I only buy Diamond Crystal. Believe it or not there is a different level of saltiness in salts! In all of my recipes the amount of salt called for is based on testing with Diamond Crystal. You can always add more salt but you can’t take it away so feel free to try less and taste, then you can add more.
In baking salt is needed for the chemical reaction that happens in cakes for instance, so don’t mess with that amount. Surprised to see salt in recipes for sweet things? It is needed to help balance the flavors.
Flaky salt is great for finishing your food. I love to put it on my cutting board, place my beef or pork on it to rest then cut it right on the salt. What a great way to add extra flavor and you prepare to present your meal.
I love pepper. I love the smell, the taste and actually grinding of the pepper I find very therapeutic. Peppercorns come in all different colors and they do have a slightly different taste.
Let’s start with the what most people know about, the black peppercorn. This is used in most dishes and is the gold standard in my book. It is what I keep my pepper grinder filled with at all times.
Pink peppercorns are so much fun! I love to crush them with the side of my knife and sprinkle on bruschetta topped with herbed ricotta. A beautiful pop of color and a mild pepper taste.
White pepper is used in recipes where a more subtle pepper flavor is needed. It is also good in sauces that don’t want the flecks of black but want that zing.
Don’t you love paprika? My granny used to sprinkle it on top of her deviled eggs and it just screamed it was time for a party!
The different options for paprika do really have a different taste. Regular paprika that has a veggie-type flavor. It is just the plain old deviled-egg-topping paprika. Smoked paprika is wonderful in spice rubs and Spanish style dishes. The Hungarian spicy paprika can really pack a punch but isn’t as hot as cayenne pepper.
I love the crunch of sesame seeds. They are used in a lot of my recipes including Blackened Beef with Asian Noodle salad. There isn’t much difference in taste to me, except the black sesame seeds tend to be a little crisper and offer and stronger flavor. The white sesame seeds are a bit softer in texture and flavor. They are interchangeable in recipes in my opinion. If in doubt, use both.
I love to add a surprise punch of flavor with spices. One of my favorite spices, especially in fall, are fennel seeds. Fennel seeds have a slight licorice taste but not over powering. The seeds need to be cracked just a bit to release that aroma that screams fall. It is a wonderful seasoning for pork and is used a lot in French cooking.
Then we have our chili peppers & powders. There are so many varieties to choose from it is hard to pick a favorite. I love cayenne pepper because a dash of cayenne can add some heat and can be used in all different types of food.
The ancho chili powder alongside guajillo tend to be a bit smoky and earthy. They are great with beef, beef or beef. Just kidding, they can be used with anything but beef and its fattiness can stand up to their strong flavors.
I love the taste of these two spices. To me, they go hand-in-hand. They are a nice compliment to each other and I love to smell them warming in a pan together.
Most spices you can pick whichever version you want to have or use the most but with both cumin and coriander I recommend the seeds also.
Coriander powder is easy to use and has an earthiness. Be careful not to use too much because it can muddy the flavors. Coriander seeds tend to have a citrus flavor plus the earthiness for the perfect combination.
Cumin powder is used in curry and chili bases. When you smell it, you know it is cumin. The cumin seeds, however, provide that flavor only a bit more intense and some crunch. Lovely.
To use spices in their whole form you need to crack them up a bit to release their big intense flavors. I like to use my mortar and pestle or my coffee grinder (that is designated solely for spices). I don’t grind them to powder but simply break them up enough to release the aromas and oils that make using whole forms of spices so wonderful.
There are a lot of one-off spices that I have in my arsenal. I use onion and garlic powder primarily in rubs for ribs, chicken or brisket. They are also in my pimento cheese recipe and they make a huge difference in the flavor of that beloved Southern spread.
Turmeric is one of the healthiest spices out there. There isn’t a ton of flavor that comes with using it but man it makes a beautiful color. I use it in my chicken soup if someone is really sick and needs a little boost. I also use it in the breading I use to coat chicken fingers.
Dill weed is one of my favorite herbs. I don’t like to use a lot of dried herbs but dill weed shines through as a dried counterpart to its fresh self. Dill weed is used in my mushroom quiche recipe and boy does this set it apart. Ranch dressing secret is dill weed. I think it is an essential in any cook’s kitchen.
Oregano is another dried herb that I tend to reach for a lot. My Tomato Butter Toast would not be the same without the dried oregano. It is used a lot in both Italian and Mexican cooking and I am not mad about it.
Celery seed and celery salt are both there to be that flavor that everyone tries to figure out what makes it taste that certain way. Celery salt is used in my chicken soup and to be honest sometimes I will throw some seed in there too. I love the salt on the rim of Bloody Mary and the celery seed is great in coleslaw.
Bay Leaves. I used to think that bay leaves were dry and not flavorful. The key to buying bay leaves is to splurge and buy the best ones you can afford. When you buy the $2 bottle, they taste like $2. If you grind up good bay leaves, make a powder and add to a homemade aioli you will be very happy. Trust me.
I hope you enjoyed this recap of spices. There are so many spices out there and they all have their little corner of the world that they thrive in. I hope you will try one, two or maybe three spices or herbs that you have not tried before. You can always go to a store that sells them in bulk like Central Market or Whole Foods and purchase a very small amount.
I will be talking about baking spices, ie cinnamon in the Baking Staples blog in a few weeks.