The best thing any chef can be known for is great tasting food. Even better, when you have a signature flavor, your friends and family will come back time and again (just hope they start paying for ingredients). People will flock to your place to experience the flavors for themselves. How do you create a flavor completely unique and food choices that are different from what everyone else is serving?
What’s the Difference
The first thing you need to understand is what differentiates one spice from another. You also need to know what spices will work with the other ingredients you select. The ingredients that are important for you will depend on the type of food you have, the patrons, and the dishes you serve. The two seasonings that are important no matter what other factors exist are salt and pepper (remember, salt’s a mineral, not a spice). Taking those two as a given, here are the 5 must have spices for a few different cooking styles:
The 5 basic spices for the Italian chef are Basil, Garlic, Nutmeg, Oregano, and Parsley are must-haves. Once you’ve mastered these you can start getting creative with your lasagna and tortellini by adding coriander, vanilla and other flavor enhancing ingredients. You don’t need to drown all your pasta dishes in a tomato-based sauce, and not all Italian dishes are pasta. One great way to enjoy Italian spices is to pour them into olive oil, making a dip for bread. It’s delicious, it’s probably horrible for you in one way or another, but it’s a way to try out spices in ways you hadn’t.
For the Mexican inspired restaurant or chef, Garlic, Cumin, Chili Powder, Mexican Oregano, and Cilantro will give you the taste you seek. Yes, there is more than one kind of oregano; the Mexican version is stronger and less sweet. For more elaborate dishes, cinnamon, cocoa, and adobo seasoning can change your burrito up.
Indian dishes need Curry, Mustard Seed, Black Cardamon, Red Chili Powder, and Tumeric to taste authentic. Beyond that, try asafetida for tons of added flavor. Never heard of asafetida? It’s a horrifying smelling spice that decidedly mellows when cooked.
For Chinese take-out no more get yourself some Ginger, Star Anise, Sichuan Peppercorn, Chinese Five Spice Powder, and Garlic. Sauces and oils are what you really need to master to be a Chinese culinary star. Have you ever had the infamous Sriracha (rooster) sauce? It’s become somewhat of an ethnic staple in America, with it’s resemblance to ketchup letting many find it useful on many dishes, and uses the spices from chili peppers to kick things up with garlic along for the ride.
Fresh is Best
Spices are best when fresh in most cases and become very fragrant the more you work with them. If you need to use dried spices, rub them in your hand first to release their essence. This will provide for a more pronounced flavor in your dish. Growing the spices you use most often right in your kitchen is a great way to ensure fresh flavors in every dish you prepare. Most are fairly easy to grow and require little attention.
Taste, Taste, Taste
When experimenting with spices always remember to taste every step. Start with less than you think you need and taste as you add. This will not only help you achieve the appropriate amount of a particular spice for a dish it will help teach you base flavors. Once you understand what things are supposed to taste like you can start putting your own spin on them. It will be no time at all before you are inventing palate pleasing cuisine that will blow everyone away. Test out your new dishes and flavor creations on friends and family.