Getting Adventurous Using Herbs and Spices

Ready to start using herbs and spices more adventurously, or just at all? Yesterday’s post talked about how this isn’t hard or difficult. More than anything, it just takes a little courage and gumption. In other words, you just gotta take the plunge. Start by finding a spark of herb and spice inspiration. Once you’ve settled on a couple herbs or spices, find a recipe or two and you’re off and running. Here are a few refinements on this basic formula:

Six Tricks and Tips for a Successful Spice Adventure

1. Avoid Taste Bud Overload When searching for recipes, look for ones where all (or at least most) of the other ingredients are familiar. In particular, experiment with just one new herb at a time. No need to overwhelm your taste buds with new information—plus you really want to be able to separate out the taste of the new herb or spice.

2. Give ‘Em Time—But Not Too Much Herbs and spices are generally added early enough in the cooking process so their flavors can permeate the entire dish and meld nicely with all the other ingredients. But you don’t want to cook them too long. After 20 minutes or so, they begin to lose flavor. So if you’re making, e.g., a long-simmering stew or soup, wait until the last 20 minutes to add the herbs and spices, or add a little more if added at the beginning.

3. Test and Taste The soup/stew approach is a good one to follow even for quicker-cooking dishes when using a new herb or spice. Wait until the dish is fairly well assembled and cooked (especially ones with meat). Then test a little of the herb or spice in a small portion of the dish before seasoning the entire thing.

4. Take It Slow When you’re ready to add a new herb or spice to an entire dish, add just a little bit, stir, taste, then gradually add more as needed. Seasoning a dish is all about finding the right balance between too little (leaving the dish bland) and too much (overpowering all the other flavors.) The cardinal rule: “You can always add more, but you can’t take away.” By the same token, however, don’t be so bashful that you cheat yourself of the full flavor of an herb or spice.

5. Danger Zones While it pays to go slow with all new herbs and spices a few deserve even more caution, cayenne pepper, for instance. Rosso’s stew recipe (mentioned in yesterday’s post) called for a half teaspoon . I would have died with that much heat! I measure cayenne in shakes rather than teaspoons. A few other spices that can be complete deal breakers: chili flakes, chili powder, curry powder, cloves and ginger.

6. Oops! If you do end up over seasoning a dish, all is not always lost: Too much salt? Add a peeled potato and simmer for 15-20 minutes to absorb the excess. Too much hot spice? Add a little butter, cheese or cream to the dish. Too much herb flavor? Add more of the other ingredients in the recipe.

Tomorrow’s Post:  Seven More Rules of the Road for a Successful Spice Adventure


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