If you’ve clocked anything by now with this blog, it’s the fact that I fucking love food.
But you know what I don’t fucking love? Faffing about.
Yes there are moments when creating something in the kitchen is a fantasia of sorcery for each of our senses that dance their way through this simple existence and into our mouths to evoke an overture of life itself chiming in our very souls.
And then there are times when it’s Wednesday night and you just want some god damned nosh. Pronto.
Even on those Wednesday nights I can enjoy a few moments of bliss when pulling open my spice drawer and I see before me a stash of powders, flowers and seeds that will make even a quick spag-bowl into something with a little extra jazz *jazz hands not necessary but always encouraged*.
So in lieu of a recipe today we’re talking spice drawers and the little extra things that I’ve not only come to love, but tend to have mild panic when I run out of. Yes I’ve got herbs and the basic spices but something about these things I feel are underrated or overlooked for no good reason. So let’s dive in.
I guarantee that I’ve already lost some of the mushroom haters out there (and truth be told we’ll always be lacking a connection) but just hear me out if you’re unsure but you’ve made it past the heading.
Porcini powder doesn’t add ‘mushroom’ taste. Mushrooms themselves are inherently sponges to whatever you’re cooking them with and what they tend to add isn’t necessarily a certain flavour but instead more of an umami-style depth of savor and earthiness that you can’t get with much else. That’s what is so unique with this stuff, it’s the crisp white trainer of my spice drawer; doesn’t add flash but levels something perfectly.
I chuck this into meat when it’s browning in a casserole, onion and garlic when making my base for a simple pasta sauce, rubs that make their ways onto chicken and into breading mixes that coat a piece of fish. The smell is intense, deep and dark (if dark could be a smell, this is it). So get with the program and find yourself some porcini powder.
Just how porcini powder adds depth and gut into something, tomato powder adds bright, sunny, intense optimism (like a Canadian in powder form).
Adding fresh tomatoes, canned ones or passata to something that you want to add ‘tomato’ flavour to will typically also add a great deal of acidity which is wonderful if that’s what you’re wanting but if you over do it, you’ll end up with an after taste that brings back memories of the aftermath of many a night out. Not pretty.
Tomato paste is good for adding the intense tomato punch, but I have extreme challenges in keeping my shopping list up to date so tomato paste being present in my kitchen tends to be a fleeting moment.
Queue tomato powder. Vibrant and intense it adds that comforting nursery tomato flavour into any dish that involves a tomato sauce. It adds a sweet and fresh punch to any rub and ‘summers’ up a tray of roasted veggies a treat. A little goes a long way but if you’re anything like me, you don’t know the meaning of restraint. Pshh.
This is where my Brit flag starts to fly a little higher as I’m going to have to insist that if you stock mustard powder in your kitchen that it be Coleman’s (or at least an English mustard powder). In my view, having mustard powder around allows me to add punch; a punch that comes from having a powder that allows for a mustard’s heat and flavour to come through without any burn that comes from the jarred stuff. And no, not a gentle French Dijon caress nor a swift kick up the arse from a German senf.
Mustard powder has become a regular addition for me; particularly in those nostalgic dishes. Toad in the hole gets a small amount to enhance the savor of the sausages, roasted potatoes get a sprinkle to add a little extra bite and little goes into to the flour dredge on a piece of haddock to unlock a depth in fish that I’ve not found before. Basically any British dish gets some of this shit to make it more British.
As much as I adore a hearty and warm plate of something from the homeland I tend to gravitate towards spice just as often. Spicy foods awaken the soul after a bloody long day and sitting down to a coruscating bowl of glossy noodles studded with sesame seeds is something that just can’t be beat. Adding kimchi powder to your cooking adds hot-blooded spice with a slight tang of the funk that comes with a fermented food.
I add this powder to a stir fry as the noodles are being introduced and it coats them just beautifully. Chuck some into a bowl of tofu and pan fry to wake it up (and if it can wake up tofu you know this shit is good). When making a beef and broccoli rice bowl, the broccoli takes the stage with its meaty co-star when its tossed in a little kimchi powder while cooking in a frying pan; you’re basically giving this veggie a cool faux leather jacket that anyone looks good in.
Not for the faint of heart, but by no means a challenging ingredient to work with. You’ll be obsessed in no time.
Ras El Hanout
This North African spice blend sits elegantly and happily smack-bang in the intersection of earthly depth and floral fragrance (I work a corner not far away).
Much like a garam masala this is a blend that variates across the market. The one that I keep is a combination of 16 spices ranging from mace, cardamom and cinnamon to cayenne, ginger and rose petals. If there can only be one thing in that spice drawer of mine that I can truly call ‘beautiful’, it’s this baby.
I adore tossing a generous amount amongst cauliflower and roasting it until it the florets catch a little. It’s a natural paring with lamb in kabobs, works magic when mixed into the flour to make a flatbread and is does naughty things when rubbed all over a chicken for a Sunday roast. Even sitting here now I’m realizing that as amazing as this spice is, I still don’t use it enough.
So there we go; by no means the first nor last spices to get excited about. There’s so much more lurking in that drawer, however we’ve got nothing but time and thusly more posts about these wild cards will come. Hopefully this has highlighted some new things to get your juices flowing (but not like that, that would burn).
Sprinkle, create, munch, enjoy.