Ok folks, let’s do a spice review! You know how many times I have made chicken in a month? TONS. And if I didn’t have spices, it would drive me crazy. Let’s face it, there’s only so many ways you can make chicken. And chicken is a pretty indispensable part of my tool box. So there’s no doubt that I need to be able to keep the recipes fresh!
That brings us to a key part of my tool box: Spices. As I mentioned in this previous article, I am a big fan of spices and my spice supplier of choice is Penzeys. I touched briefly on some of my favorites and the role that they play. But let’s take a deeper dive into spices and fill out that tool box a bit more.
I see the role of spices as very specific. They add flavor, color and aroma to food, all of which are very important for providing variety and keeping your meals fresh and interesting. Using spices creatively makes me a feel a strong connection to world culinary tradition and reminds me of the importance and essential nature of the spice trades going back to well before the birth of Christ and into ancient times. For instance, King Merodach-baladan II (721BC – 710BC) of ancient Mesopotamia, grew 64 different species of plants in his royal garden. Most common were cardamom, coriander, garlic, thyme, saffron and turmeric. Coriander, fennel, juniper, cumin, garlic and thyme were popular spices in Ancient Egypt about 1000 years earlier. Onions, garlic and shallots became popular condiments in Persian by the 6th century BC.
So while creatively using spices is nothing new…let’s have a look at what I am using most often. I am going to bypass salts, peppers, and single herbs like basil, sage, rosemary, tarragon, etc. They are staples and should be in most kitchens. But instead, let’s focus on the blends and seasoning combinations. Blends are “one-stop-shopping” for seasoning a meal and make it very easy:
Herbes De Provence: This spice has been around for centuries and I find it absolutely stunning. It’s a combination of traditional French herbs, Italian fennel and lavender blossoms and great for poultry, fish and vegetables. This may be my favorite herbal blend. The fennel jumps out at me and complements the blend of French herbs and lavender. It’s a complex taste that is savory from start to finish. Best of all, it doesn’t get overwhelmed by many other spices or flavors, yet doesn’t dominate a dish – like a salt may. I love to use this in a slow cooker recipe I have for Beef Provencale. It’s heavenly.
Parisien Bonne Herbes: This is a sweet herbal blend that works great vegetables and salads. I love this for when you want more of that peaty note. It’s halfway between the Sunny Paris and traditional Italian herbal blends. This also adds a very nice texture – it’s more herbal in nature and so there is a certain appealing tactile nature to the taste and appearance! As a topping it’s fantastic.
Sunny Paris: “A flavorful and rich seasoning perfect for chicken, fish, vegetables, potatoes, rice, veal…etc” This seasoning has a wonderfully sweet undertone. It focuses more on the herbal side of the flavor palate without that peaty note. To me, it gives a bright and breezy touch to vegetables and salads especially. Beefs, especially seasoned with pepper can overpower it, but lighter meats work great with it too.
Tuscan Sunset: “The perfect salt free seasoning for just about anything”. I find this particular good when combined with olive oil on sautéed vegetables. In fact, I feel like it lends itself better to vegetables than meats.
Italian Herb Mix: This is your generic Italian seasoning, but it’s incredible versatile. It’s great on pasta, or vegetables, fish, chicken, pretty much anything you want. It provides a nice combination of herbal freshness and earthy aromas.
Fox Point: “a flavorful seasoning rich with garlic, onion and chives. Use on anything from backed chicken breasts and fish filets to sautéed vegetables and scrambled eggs.” I use this on nearly anything, but particularly salads and vegetables. Unlike the Italian varieties, this contains much less of an earthy nose and concentrates more on garlic/chives.
Bavarian: This is an old favorite that’s been around many years. It’s a great salt-free herbal mix for meat and poultry. The mix contains a robust combination of crushed German style mustard seed, rosemary, garlic, thyme and bay leaf. The taste is hearty with a bit of a peppery nose and works great with poultry or veal or lamb. I like it on pork tenderloin especially. My dad, who is a “meats & potatoes” kind of guy enjoys this on mustard seasoned pork tenderloin with sautéed fingerling potatoes.
Northwoods: “this traditional mix of herbs, sweet Hungarian paprika, black pepper and garlic makes for a perfect seasoning for family style fried or baked chicken, or fish, green salads with oil and vinegar, and potato salads and fish boils.” Wow. That kind of says it all. I like this more on sautéed or baked chicken or pork than I do on beef – it conflicts with beef too much and I use this less on vegetables than other blends. But it’s fantastic on chicken and pork. I will use this on chicken, and at times add a dash of smoked Spanish paprika. It’s delicious and gives you that wonderful North woods aroma.
Rocky Mountains: This is great on any meat that is sautéed. Be careful not to salt anything that you use this on because it does contain salt. It has a mild flavor with a salty overtone. So it’s good to bring a little zest to your dishes while also bringing some additional flavors of sesame, poppy, shallot and arrowroot. I love this on pork or even steak. I tend to fresh-grind some black pepper on top of this seasoning if used on steak. But it’s also a really good choice for game meat as well – moose, caribou, venison, etc.
Bankok Blend: This is an all-purpose blend of traditional Thai spices for fish, chicken and vegetables. It also works great with a mild Italian pasta dressing and as topper for a dipping sauce. Especially if it a basic and mild dipping sauce that instantly adds some exotic flavor. I love using this in stir fry or sautéed veggie/meat combos.
Chinese Five Spice Powder: This is a great combination in a stir fry or in a meat/vegetable sautée as well. The core components are delicious and actually give it some flexibility for even sweet dishes. It contains cassia, cinnamon, star anise, anise seed, ginger and cloves. Its flavor profile is just like you would expect with those ingredients. One of my favorite combinations with this is sauteed chicken, peapods, onion, (and any other vegetables you want) done in a low cal ginger or orange sauce, then served over angel hair pasta or rice noodles, and topped with this powder. Sinfully delicious!
Shallot Pepper: This one is simple – and amazingly delicious. It’s made up of salt, pepper, shallots, tarragon and powdered bay leaves. It’s wonderful on chicken, pork, veal, vegetables, or nearly anything else I have found. I have always loved the combination of tarragon, pepper and sea salt. Those three, combined, give me the basics and add a wonderful herby nose to whatever I’m eating. I MAY even has seen someone sprinkle this on popcorn. Yes, even popcorn.
Florida Seasoned Pepper: I’ve become very fond of this over the last year. It’s mostly pepper, but adds in orange peel, lemon peel, garlic and onion. It’s perfect for fish, poultry, veal –and I’ve even used it on steak. Combine a light amount with an herb blend over pasta or salads for a little pepper touch to an herb flavoring. The citrus and scallion notes work great with aromatic herbal blends like Sunny Paris.
Ozark Style Seasoning: This contains salt and black pepper, with notes of garlic, thyme, paprika, mustard, cayenne, dill caraway, etc. It’s a complex combination that boils down to an earthy salt and pepper taste. I find it’s great on grilled anything, including chicken fish or pork. It’s more salty than Adobo – which I use in similar circumstances.
Krakow Nights Polish Seasoning: This is a really fascinating combination I’ve come to adore. It’s a traditional polish mix that contains salt, black and white pepper, sugar, coriander, garlic, mace, marjoram and mustard. This is a seasoning that you will find does NOT need to be cooked into the meal – you can of course, and I do. But it’s great for quick-cooked meals because the flavor profile is right there and is pleasantly balanced. It’s great on steaks, pork, chicken, etc. Nearly anything works well.
Adobo Seasoning: Adobo is African in its origin, containing black pepper, onion, onion, garlic, oregano cayenne and cumin. It’s more subtle than Ozark – Ozark slaps you in the face by comparison. I find there is a bit more of a peaty note to this, but it’s pleasantly balanced. It works great for grilled food, especially chicken, fish or pork.
Greek Seasoning: This is great because, for me, it straddles the line between herbal mix and a seasoning. It has many of the same qualities of an herbal mix but also contains a good amount of salt and pepper base element to make it exceptionally useful. It also works great as the base element for an olive oil salad dressing.
That’s what my tool box looks like for spices! I have a tendency to rotate through those, and a few of the McCormick’s Grill Mates spices as well. Between all those options I can keep my meals fresh and delicious! Get cooking, folks!