Salt and pepper may be the staples of any tabletop – what other spice would you empty out of its boring old container and into a cute little flowered pig or wind-up penguin on wheels? – but theyre no where near the only way we season our foods anymore.
With entire TV stations and reality shows devoted to showcasing recipes that households of yesteryear would never dream of serving to their children or spouses, our spice cupboards are becoming ever more crowded. Meanwhile, our palates are becoming ever more sophisticated.
We talked to some area chefs and home cooks about their go-to seasonings, perfect for jazzing up your next dinner at home.
Cory Wells of Wilshire, Ohio, is the executive sous chef at the Willow Bend Country Club in Van Wert, Ohio. One of his favorite spices to use in the kitchen is coriander.
I know my grandparents or parents wouldnt use that, he says. I dont ever remember smelling it or seeing it or tasting it.
He also lists fresh sage, pine nuts and lingonberries – all flavors that have become more popular in part because of the popularity of food television.
You can turn on the TV any time of the day and see all kinds of random cooking shows, Wells says. Thats helped out with home cooking incorporating more flavors.
What it is: Coriander seeds have an aromatic flavor akin to a combination of lemon, sage and caraway, according to The New Food Lovers Companion, by Sharon Tyler Herbst.
How to use it: Whole coriander seeds can be used for pickling and ground seeds can be used in spice blends, such as curry, and in soups.
Coriander Crusted Pacific Sea Bass
4 (6-ounce) pieces Pacific sea bass or halibut, or 16 U10 sea scallops
4 ounces whole coriander seeds, or more as needed
1 head romaine lettuce
Canola oil or clarified butter, as needed
Salt and pepper, to taste
12 ounces concentrated orange juice, divided
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Pat either fresh or frozen fish completely dry with paper towel prior to cooking. Grind coriander seeds using a coffee grinder, or smash them with bottom side of sauté pan. Be sure not to turn seeds into a powder.
Clean lettuce with cold water. Cut head into four portions and pat dry.
Place crushed coriander seeds on a plate. Rub fish with clarified butter or oil. Season with salt and pepper. Firmly press one side of the fish directly on the coriander seeds to produce a crust. Set fish aside.
Preheat oven-safe sauté pan to medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon clarified butter or oil. Place fish crust-side down in hot oil. Cook coriander until fragrant and slightly brown. Do not burn. Turn fish to sear and brown other side. Pour 2 to 4 ounces orange juice in pan and deglaze. Place pan in preheated oven, and bake fish for 8 minutes per inch of thickness.
Preheat a second sauté pan 2 to 4 minutes prior to fish being fully cooked. When fish is done, remove from oven and set aside until ready to serve.
Add 1 tablespoon of clarified butter or oil to hot pan. Add lettuce in single batches, and season with salt, pepper and fresh ginger. Sauté until wilted, about 30 or 45 seconds. This process should be done in multiple batches but take about 2 minutes. The lettuce should not be mushy and still have some crispness.
After all the lettuce is cooked, add 8 ounces orange juice with fresh ginger to hot pan. Deglaze and reduce orange juice by half to 3/4 . Taste and adjust.
Place lettuce on plate. Set fish with coriander side facing up on top of lettuce. Pour reduced orange ginger sauce around fish and serve.
Sean Wang, owner of Trionfale Espresso, says one of his favorite flavors to cook with is Illicium verum, a Chinese spice that is more commonly called star anise in the United States. While he did grow up with it, its not something that is popular outside Chinese culture in the U.S. – but it is something thats available at most of the Asian groceries in town, he says.
Its also something that has become more commonplace in cooking today, in part because of better awareness: Simply put, people are more likely to have heard of the spice.
What it is: Star anise is a brown pod that comes from an evergreen tree native to China, according to The New Food Lovers Companion. It has a licorice taste that is stronger than anise.
How to use it: Star anise is used in tea, spice flavorings (such as Chinese five spice powder), baked goods and liqueur.
Chinese-Style Beef Stew
Wangs parents recipe is one of his favorites, but he was unsure of some ingredient amounts. Here is a similar recipe from the Williams-Sonoma New Flavors for Soup cookbook.
4-inch piece fresh ginger
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
4 cinnamon sticks
1 whole star anise
5 garlic cloves, crushed and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons Asian chili garlic paste
4 cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 pounds beef blade steak, trimmed and cut into slices 1/4 inch thick
5 baby bok choy, about 1 1/2 lb. total
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more, to taste
1 1/2 pound fresh Chinese wheat noodles
4 green onions, thinly sliced
Peel the ginger, cut it into thin slices and crush each slice with the flat side of a chefs knife.
In a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add the onion and sauté until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the cinnamon sticks and star anise and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and the cinnamon sticks begin to uncurl, about 2 minutes. Add the crushed ginger, garlic and chili paste and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add the stock, soy sauce and 4 1/2 cups water. Increase the heat to high, cover and bring to a boil. Stir in the beef and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover partially and simmer until the beef is very tender, about 1 1/2 hours.
Meanwhile, trim the bottom ends of the bok choy and cut each head lengthwise into quarters. In a large saucepan over high heat, bring 4 quarts water to a boil. Stir in the 1 tablespoon salt and the noodles, return to a boil and cook until the noodles are tender, about 3 minutes. Drain the noodles, rinse well under warm running water and drain well again. Divide the noodles evenly among 6 to 8 warmed bowls.
Using a slotted spoon, remove and discard the cinnamon sticks, star anise and ginger from the broth. Add the bok choy and cook until just tender-crisp, about 5 minutes. Add half of the green onions and stir to combine.
Taste the soup and adjust the seasonings with salt. Ladle the soup over the noodles, distributing the beef and bok choy equally. Garnish with the remaining green onions and serve immediately.
Tracy Row puts cumin in everything. He call it his favorite spice, though growing up, it was hardly a staple in his household.
Salt and pepper were about all I can ever remember being used when I was young, says Row, originally of Fort Wayne and working on his graduate degree at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. My mom may have used other things on a specific dish, but it wasnt on a regular basis.
What it is: Cumin is a nutty, almost smoky, flavored seed that is dried from a fruit of a plant in the parsley family.
How to use it: Cumin is used to make curries, chili and liqueur, according to The New Food Lovers Companion.
1 large jalapeño
1 large handful fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon or more freshly ground cumin*
1 teaspoon or more garlic salt
1 large can diced tomatoes
Chop jalapeño, onion and cilantro. Put diced tomatoes in a food processor and process. Add chopped ingredients, cumin and garlic salt and process. Finish with fresh-squeezed lime and more garlic salt, to taste. Stir.
*To grind cumin, start with whole cumin and grind with a mortar and pestle.