Not this one:
If you’ve cooked recipes from my blog or my cookbook Well Fed, you know I’m quite smitten with spices. Where would we be without Ras el Hanout, Turkish Baharat, Kebab Spice Mix, and Rogan Josh?! I’ve written extensively about my spice collection, weighed in on herbs vs. spices, shared my pilgrimages to Penzeys and the Savory Spice Shop, and declare proudly everywhere I can that cumin is my favorite spice.
A story in today’s New York Times magazine perfectly captures the alluring mystery of spices. “The Transformational Power of the Right Spice” by Alex Halberstadt is a profile of “spice therapist” Lior Lev Sercarz and his shop La Boîte, which is “wedged between an auto-repair garage and a dismal fenced-in garden on the far west side of Midtown Manhattan.”
I learned two things from this beautifully-written piece:
1. I clearly need to visit La Boîte as soon as possible. (For now, I’m reading the book The Art of Blending.)
2. I’m 100% correct in my belief that spices are mystical and magical.
Here’s a tasty tidbit for you; I encourage you to read the entire article.
When I wondered out loud about how much spices could really matter — weren’t they a mere flourish after the difficult work of cooking was completed? — Lev Sercarz invited me for a demonstration in his home kitchen. There, he seared filet mignon coated with Pierre Poivre (La Boîte Blend No. 7, with eight varieties of pepper); imagine an IMAX version of steak au poivre, the meat tasting the way neon looks. Then he did the same with Kibbeh (Blend No. 15, mostly cumin, garlic and parsley), and I could have sworn I was eating lamb: the mild tenderloin had turned gamy. That’s cumin, Lev Sercarz explained, which the palate tends to associate with lamb. Next he cooked a cube of salmon in olive oil infused with Ararat (Blend No. 35, with smoked paprika, Urfa chilies and fenugreek leaves), transforming it into something I would have guessed, with eyes closed, to be pork belly. That, he said, was the smoke. Spices, I was learning, not only behave as intensifiers and complicators but also, in the right hands, can redraw the boundaries of flavor and confound the brain. For the finale, Lev Sercarz dropped a pinch of Mishmish (Blend No. 33, with crystallized honey, lemon zest and saffron) into the bottom of a glass and covered it with an inch of lager. The bitterness and hoppy flavors were gone — the beer smelled and tasted like a gingerbread milkshake.
A small gift for you to celebrate spices… my sugar-free Italian Sausage Seasoning recipe from Well Fed. Mange!
Italian Sausage Seasoning
4 teaspoons dried parsley
1 tablespoon dried Italian Herb Mix (I like Penzeys.)
1/2 tablespoon fennel seed
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons coarse (granulated) garlic powder
2 teaspoons paprika (sweet or hot)
4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
In a medium bowl, crush the dried parsley and Italian herbs with your fingers to release their flavor.
Add the fennel seed, black pepper, garlic powder, paprika, salt, and red pepper flakes. Mix with a fork and transfer to an airtight container for storage.
Use 1-2 tablespoons of Italian Sausage Seasoning per pound of ground meat. If you like it smokin’ hot, increase the paprika and red pepper flakes by about half.
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