My Rouses Everyday, September & October 2018
Herbs and spices became especially important to me, once I got over a longtime fear of unusual flavors. Seasonings from around the world quickly found their way into my kitchen. It’s difficult to resist trying a new one; in my imagination it’s like a round-trip ticket to foreign destinations.
Once they’re opened, spices lose intensity pretty quickly, so I simply replace them every six months or so for maximum flavor. After all, maximum flavor is why we use them in the first place! Since I use some more frequently than others, spices are always on my Rouses checklist to replenish. I try to always keep the following selection on hand.
Important Note: Dried spices are much more intense than fresh, so be careful to adjust your amount of seasoning accordingly. Usually, it’s easy to taste first before seasoning the whole dish. Just remove a tablespoon or a bite of the dish, season it lightly with one or more flavors, and sample it before adding seasoning to the entire recipe.
Add while cooking; remove before serving. Dried bay leaves are very important for many cuisines, especially Creole, Cajun, French, Mediterranean and Indian foods. The aromatic, woodsy taste is perfect for flavoring meat and vegetable dishes, soups and sauces.
It’s just about a must-have for most Creole and Cajun recipes. Powerful and spicy hot, cayenne is best added a little at a time, and be sure to taste as you go. The ground red pepper is fundamental to Gulf Coast cooking and the basis for many bottled hot sauces.
It is a blend of dried chilies, cumin, coriander and oregano. The flavor is a key ingredient in chili recipes and many Latin, Mexican and Southwestern dishes. Chili powder adds a splendid fire to beans and meat dishes.
Cinnamon, ground or sticks
One of the oldest documented spices, cinnamon is celebrated for its aromatic qualities. Versatile, it adds a spicy sweet flavor to traditional desserts, warm drinks and breakfast breads as well a complexity to savory dishes and Middle Eastern cuisine. And while it’s excellent for baking, it also adds an appealing dimension to stews, chilies and curries.
Cloves, ground or whole
This sweet, rich spice reminds everyone of holiday season. Use the ground cloves sparingly — a little goes a long way. The whole cloves are often used to decorate baked hams.
An absolute must (unless you mix your own) when Southern cooks are boiling shrimp, crabs, crawfish and other seafood. Crab boil is a happy blend of seasonings, including mustard seed, coriander seed, cayenne pepper, bay leaves, dill seed and allspice.
Cream of tartar
Answers to kitchen pop quiz: What can stiffen meringue? What helps a pot of boiling vegetables keep their colors bright? What may be used to clean many surfaces? What is an ingredient in Play-Doh? Surprise, it’s cream of tartar! Derived from a crystalline acid from the insides of wine barrels, this fine white powder has a very long shelf life and, as you can see from the quiz answers, many uses.
Tony Chachere’s and Chef Paul Prudhomme’s culinary antics were the first to bring Creole and Cajun seasoning blends to fame. Their secret recipes are cherished treasures in most spice collections and combine up to 12 ingredients to create memorable flavors. Salt is usually added as a separate seasoning so sodium levels can be individually managed. See the recipes that follow this checklist to mix your own.
You’ll taste this unique flavor in many curries and Middle Eastern, Indian and Creole dishes. The mellow, fragrant spice is ground from small seeds with a robust flavor.
The yellow color of curry powder comes from turmeric, which is added to coriander and cumin to make a famous Indian blend — the Madras variety of curry, which has a bit more heat than the other types. “Madras” is a series of plaid patterns fondly remembered by many of us, and has nothing to do with food. It was the name of a city and state in India; now the city is known as Chennai and the state, Tamil Nadu.
A gift from Native Americans to early Gulf Coast settlers, filé powder is made from dried leaves of the sassafras tree and traditionally used as a thickening agent for gumbo, typically served alongside the bowl and added as desired by the individual. In addition to its thickening properties, it adds a slightly smoky note or a hint of root beer-like flavor to food.
Ground ginger has a more intense taste than fresh ginger, but both enhance fresh fruit and many other sweet and savory recipes. Keep it on hand for baking and when a recipe calls for it. You’ll be surprised at its powers.
A coarse salt made without the addition of iodine, it is less intense than table salt; the larger crystals are easier to pinch with your fingers, allowing for greater control of seasoning while cooking. Sea salt is flaky and best used for finishing a dish.
Nutmeg, whole or ground
A delicate, warm spice frequently used for sweet and savory dishes such as baked winter squash, béchamel and other white sauce, and spinach dishes. It also enhances the flavor of stews, potatoes, eggs, meats, custards, soufflés and fruit desserts. Nutmeg is also used to flavor mulled wine, eggnog and chocolate drinks.
A member of the mint family, oregano is a robust herb commonly used in Mediterranean, South American and Cajun cooking. It’s also an important ingredient in many Italian recipes.
Paprika is made from ground sweet red pepper pods, and comes in both sweet and hot varieties, so check the label when buying to make sure you get the kind you need. If it is not indicated, it is usually sweet. With a rich red color and a smooth texture, Hungarian paprika is the highest quality. Use it to season meat, seafood and vegetables. A light dusting of red paprika is also a nice garnish on savory recipes.
Little, BB-shot-looking peppercorns are available in a variety of colors from black and white to pink, red and green. Southern cooks know that each color has a different flavor, from mild to strong, with an effect very similar to that of wine on the tongue. Some have an upfront taste, some more of an aftertaste; it’s all about balance. Cooks can use more than one for a full flavor profile. The chef’s mantra is to use freshly ground peppercorns. Always choose whole peppercorns over pre-ground versions: A colorful mixture of peppercorns in a grinder is aesthetically pleasing as well as complex in flavor.
Red pepper flakes
A sprinkling of flakes is colorful, flavorful and versatile. It enhances pizza, pasta, stir-fry recipes, and soups or stews without adding a lot of heat. Pass through a sieve or grinder to create a powdered texture that can be more evenly distributed, to deliver a milder taste than the heavier flavor burst of the whole flakes.
Many cooks and gardeners grow rosemary; however, I always keep dried rosemary around as an indispensable herb when the fresh is out of season. With an aroma of lemon and pine, rosemary is used in an assortment of familiar Creole, Cajun and Mediterranean dishes.
Thyme is a family favorite for seasoning meat, poultry and vegetables. It’s popular in Mediterranean, Cajun and Creole cuisines and usually found in stews, soups and roasts.
Vanilla extract & bean
Soaking vanilla beans in alcohol makes vanilla extract. We prefer the pure rather than the imitation variety, which often has additives and an unnatural flavor. Vanilla beans split and scraped elevate many sweet recipes for pudding and ice cream.
Recipes for Blackened and Creole Seasoning
These blends are usually made from secret recipes, then packaged for sale, but the following recipes can help you develop your own special mixes according to your own good taste.