One thing is known about Caribbean food and it’s that we pack it with flavours. We use a large amount of spices and herbs when seasoning our food. However, the variety is lacking. I have seen that most Jamaicans do not actually know or use a lot of spices. They often go for a mixture containing several spices. So it’s typical to see them using “All Purpose”, “Meat seasoning”, “Fish seasoning” and even “Jerk seasoning.” There are those who refuse to use any powdered seasoning when preparing dishes. Most agree with avoiding Monosodium Glutamate, MSG, a flavour enhancer. Very little mention is made of individual spices.
The more I learn about cooking, the greater appreciation I have for spices. Today, I have an entire cupboard dedicated to spices. It is always better to get freshly ground spices but that is not always possible. Spices add flavour and aromatics to any dish. Some impart colour to the food. There are nutritional benefits as well, with many possessing antioxidant, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties. Most importantly, they impart unique tastes that make us fall in love with the food or the chef.
Over the next few weeks I will be writing about different spices and their uses as well as dishes I’ve prepared with them.
Easily one of the most recognisable spices in the world. As a member of the mint family, thyme has a very sharp but light flavour. The aromatics are very volatile so even at low temperatures you get a really strong aroma. It is used on every type of meat. Perfect for stews and soups. Fresh thyme is ideal for a bouquet garni or when doing a pan seared. steak. Dried thyme is equally flavorful and may be used in place of fresh thyme. A favourite food memory of mine is having pumpkin beef soup with thyme leaves made by my gran.
A North African spice mix that is often used with meat. As I watch cooking shows it is always a discovery moment. Sometimes it’s a new technique or an unfamiliar spice which sets me off to the shops. I first saw ras el hanout being used by an Ethiopian chef. This mix contains at least ten spices blended together. It goes particularly well with chicken especially a roast or bake. I just add it to anything I’m making because it works like a charm.
Cardamon are small pods produced by a plant that is member of the rhizome family. Very popular in East Asia where it is heavily used in curries. The distinct flavour is unmistakable in any dish. It will take your curry up a notch. You only need two or three pods. Please, it will overpower the whole flavour profile if too much is used. I find it can add flavour to your rice as well.
Rosemary is a hardy shrub with fine, narrow leaves that can either be used green or dried. You cannot do any type of roast without it. Whether meat, fish or veg, rosemary forms the perfect complement. The smell is absolutely divine. The plant oils vaporise upon heating and produces a wonderful aroma. Quick tip: Add few sprigs of rosemary to 50 mL of olive oil and leave it to sit in a sealed container for a couple of days. You would now have created rosemary infused olive oil. Thank me later. The principle is this: “like dissolves like”. The flavour compounds in the leaves will dissolve easier in oil than water.