Spices – Top Chef University Lesson 16

SpicesIntroduction to Spices

My Story

And now for the second part of the fun stuff, SPICES! Spices were originally a trading commodity, hence the term “the spice route”. But that’s a whole other story. Here’s the quick history, for those who want to be in the know.

Spices were originally considered not essential, but considered a luxury item. They were very expensive. Rumor has it in the old days, the executive chef tasted the food you, as a sous chef, line cook, etc, made before adding any spices. If the food wasn’t up to his standards, the food got thrown out and you had to start over again. That way the expensive spices weren’t wasted. Imagine making a dish without any flavor other than the food and deciding by that taste alone to see if it was good enough to put the additional flavor of spice in?

The Lesson

Carla did an exceptional job on this lesson. I was literally stopping every three seconds to take notes. I wished it was longer, because I wanted to know more. And more! She was a little dramatic in this lesson, as there was no dryness in her tone at all, but then spices can do that to you. She was very excited about the topic, and I could tell she was trying to get the audience excited about it too. “Peacock” she was shouting.

Again, we had a cutting board filled with a beautiful array of spices, that you just wanted to reach out and touch. This is when a diy home goddess wishes smell-a-vision did exist. It would have been amazing to be able to smell all those different items on that board.

Spices can either have a bold aroma or a delicate finish. They are either roasted to release their flavor (a very chef-y move) or ground. And let’s not forget spices are just as good dried as they are fresh, according to Carla. Hooray for not needing fresh! Much easier to deal with and for storage. That’s what the diy home goddess is all about.

The Spices

Spices

My dried Spice & Herb Rack

She talked about most of the common spices, the taste they give off, and what kinds of dishes you can or should use them in. The one thing I didn’t recall seeing in this video is where or how you should store them. I would definitely take one star off for that.

Here is a list of spices she talked about. Just imagine the picture these pebbles, strands and powders portrayed:

  • Salt – talked about using kosher for everything except baking, where you would use table salt (that’s the stuff with the little girl in the apron)
  • Pepper – adds a kick of vibrancy, you should use whole peppercorns to grind up, but she failed to discuss the different varieties
  • Paprika – red peppers, sweet and for Eastern European foods (hey, I just use it for deviled eggs, who doesn’t love deviled eggs)
  • Mustard seeds (not that yucky jar stuff) – ground, used in BBQ sauces and dressings
  • Cardamom seeds – sweet and spicy, used in baking and curries (I’ve never used this that I remember)
  • Saffron – sold in the stores in threads, used in Mediterranean dishes (most diy home goddesses cannot afford it, at about $1,500 a pound in 2016, I kid you not!)
  • Star Anise – has a strong licorice taste, and is used in Chinese cooking
  • Cloves – hard buds with a strong aromatic flavor, used for baking and hams
  • Cinnamon – from dried bark, if you can believe it, the most common sweet spice, also used in savory middle eastern dishes
  • Ginger – this is definitely got some heat to this strong sweet tropical spice, good for asian dishes and baking
  • Nutmeg – most of us use this in powder form, but it is a large seed, it is both sweet and savory and great for custards if you have the time
  • Fennel Seeds – another licorice aroma (I really hate licorice!) good for indent ad mediterranean food

The Big Finish

She then gives any diy home goddess a trick to full their guests. To make your guests think you are a gourmet, take whole spices, and place them over medium high heat in a pan to toast. Just give them a little color to remove. The smell is sure to fool anyone except a real chef.

If you are grinding your own spices, you can use a spice grinder (if you use a coffee grinder, make sure you have one specifically set aside for your spices, you don’t want the spices in your coffee grounds!), or use a mortar and pestle. I personally use a mortar and pestle, because that can be used to take well cooked bacon and make bacon bits as well. (Speaking of that, I tweeted that tip!)

The Verdict

All in all, this was a very fun lesson. Again, I wish it was longer. A chart in the background might have been a good visual, or maybe something in the cookbook would have been good. But I can help you out there too.

Links For More on Spices

Here’s a few links if you want to know more than this review:

  • My good friend Pinterest has all kinds of charts you can look for.
  • This is a great chart, written on menu planning here. It’s very informative, and a great reference tool.
  • Here’s another chart that not has a basic chart, but some combinations as well.
  • Of course there is mine here.

And I am working on a post and chart of herb and spice blends you can make at home. This will save you some money, because you will probably have the ingredients at home to make these blends that are common in dishes, such as five spice, Italian blends, curries, etc. Stay tuned!

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