Last year -- gosh, that sounds like such a long time! Last month -- there, that's better -- I promised you that this month, this space would contain various herb blends and their uses. Ever true to my word, here we go!
First, let's start by doing some general stuff. More and more, cooks and chefs have come to rely on herbs and combinations of herbs to enhance and complement the foods they prepare. While all of us have our favourites, there are those herbs which no one will dispute just seem to be "married" to certain types of food.
For instance: basil and tomatoes, rosemary and lamb, pork and thyme, cinnamon and apples, nutmeg in egg and cheese dishes, saffron and rice, fish and tarragon, poultry and sage . . . okay, I think you get the picture!
Before we get into the "formal" blends, I'd like to list some "rule of thumb" blends I use in my own kitchen all the time.Fines Herbes
- Equal amounts of chervil, chives, parsley and tarragon.
Use this just about anywhere you would normally use the single herbs for a nice flavour boost.
- Three stalks of parsley, one bay leaf and one sprig of thyme.
Tie these together in a piece of cheesecloth and let them infuse their flavours into your next stock pot or stew.
The following, as their names denote, are aimed at specific types of meat or fish. As I said, these are blends that I use in my kitchen, so feel free to edit out anything that you know your family might not like. I adjust mine to different palates or availability. (Even I run out of stuff!)Beef Mix
- Equal amounts of rosemary, thyme, savoury, orange peel and parsley.
- Equal amounts of rosemary, thyme, savoury, mint and parsley.
- Equal amounts of sage, thyme and marjoram.
- Equal amounts of parsley, thyme, marjoram, tarragon and bay leaf. (Add juniper berries if cooking game birds.)
- Equal amounts of dill, tarragon and lemon peel.
Now for the formalities!
Virtually every corner of the world can lay claim to its own particular flavours which can be traced to certain very specific herb blends and mixtures. Most of these blends are the legacy of centuries of experimentation and have definite roots in tradition. For the purposes of this column, I will try to cover the more widely used, better known of these.
While the blends are mostly unique, there are quite a few of them that have the use of chili, whole or ground, in common, so a word to the wise to exercise some caution in their use unless and until you become more accustomed to them.
Something else to note; if you are grinding these mixtures, try to make only as much as you'll use at any one time. Once ground, they will lose most of their flavourfulness after as few as four or five days. If you do happen to grind too much, storing them in airtight containers in the fridge will help them survive up to a month. Don't misunderstand, please. They don't go bad, they just won't be as flavourful!
Uses: Use in all types of meat, poultry or fish dishes. This is essential in Chili con Carne and can also be used to flavour Indian and Caribbean recipes.
This mixture can either be blended together and kept coarse or pureed in a blender or food processor. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Uses: This is used as a standard table condiment throughout Latin America. Use it to enhance anything from chicken to meat, vegetables to tacos, tortillas to eggs.
Mix together. This can be varied by the addition of any of ground anise, ground cardamom or ground coriander, according to taste.
Uses: Usually called for in many traditional recipes for cakes and cookies, this is a crucial ingredient in the standard Plum Pudding mixture.
Lightly crush all ingredients together. You can omit the cumin and add mint instead; and you may add cinnamon to taste.
Uses: This is actually a snack mix. Used at any time of day, pieces of bread are first dunked in olive oil and then into the Dukkah mix and eaten.
Mix together. You may also add other ingredients such as mustard seed, pepper or crushed toasted nori (seaweed). Use sparingly.
Uses: Used as both a seasoning and a condiment, it can accompany noodle dishes and such vegetables as potatoes and eggplants. Is used also as a dip to accompany Sukiyaki.
If you're using preground spices, simply mix them together. If you are going to grind it yourself, mix the whole spices before grinding so as to allow the essential oils to meld while being ground.
Uses: Used as a marinade and in sauces for meat, poultry or fish, usually in combination with soy sauce and other flavourings. Excellent with crisp roasted duck and fried or barbecued pork, it is used in particular in Szechwan cooking, notably Szechwan Smoked Duck.
Lightly roast the first six ingredients, grind and mix with the garlic and turmeric. Use according to recipe instructions adding the kokum (if used) and curry leaves directly to the pot and removing the kokum before serving.
Lightly roast first ten ingredients together, then grind and add the turmeric, chili, salt, sugar, vinegar and onion to make a paste.
Uses: Currying in general can be applied to meat, poultry, fish and seafood. Eggs and vegetables can also be curried, in fact, most southern Indian curry dishes are vegetarian. The Vindaloo mixture is traditionally used with pork and sometimes poultry and the Bombay version does quite nicely with fish and seafood.
Mix to blend well.
Uses: Used frequently with meat, poultry and fish, it is also part of curries, korma, tandoori and grills. Samosas can also call for its use. It's a very aromatic blend and does well mixed into yogurt.
Food enough for thought for January, I think. I'd love to hear from you when you've had time to try out some of these blends. Use them to perk up the mid-winter blahs.
Next month, that famous herb chart I promised way back when.TTFN