Gordon Ramsay’s List of Spice Cabinet Essentials
Spices are a key component in cooking for everything from an all-purpose seasoning to dynamic, flavorful marinades. Like all things culinary, getting to know your spices is a matter of experimentation. Whether it’s learning the distinctions between fresh garlic and garlic powder, knowing when to add aromatic dried herbs like oregano and bay leaves, or tapping into your inner grill master, spices can get you there.
Consider this list a starter kit for revamping the spice cabinet.
Don’t expect to find flavorless, refined table salt in Chef Ramsay’s kitchen, not even for salting vegetable water. Instead, he recommends sea salt, specifically French fleur de sel from Brittany or Maldon salt. The minerals in sea salt have a much more complex flavor, so you’ll need less of it. If you watch Italians cooking pasta, you’ll see them actually taste the boiling water to make sure it is seasoned properly. They use 2 teaspoons salt for every quart of water; use a similar ratio for boiling vegetables.
All pepper is not the same either, although the three types—black, green, and white—all come from the same bush. Black peppercorns are fully mature and have the strongest flavor. Green peppercorns are immature berries that are either dried or brined. They are milder and much used in Asian cooking. White peppercorns are black ones with the husk removed. They tend to have a more nose-prickling quality but lack the brute strength of black ones. They are generally used for aesthetic purposes in a white sauce, for example, where you might not want to have black specks. You certainly don’t need to worry about stocking both, but, as with all spices, it is better to keep them whole and grind them as and when you need them.
Szechuan pepper, which is not actually pepper at all, but the pod of an Asian berry, has a mild lemony flavor and causes a slight tingling around the mouth when you eat it.
A versatile spice with a warm, sweet flavor often spotted in Indian chai or the spice blend garam masala. You can either add the pod whole, or crush it to extract the seeds, which can then be ground if you like.
Made of ground dried red chilies, the powder can vary in potency, so treat with caution. Cayenne pepper is specifically from the cayenne chili, a cornerstone of Cajun cuisine in the Southern United States. Dried chilies also mean red pepper flakes, which, when sauteed with fresh garlic, create a stunning backbone for everything from tomato sauce to seared veggies.
This rolled bark of a Sri Lankan tree goes particularly well with sugar. It’s also used in meaty savory dishes such as Moroccan tagines. Find it in whole sticks or as ground cinnamon.
These dried flower buds, with their medicinal flavor, are essential in dishes as diverse as roasted ham, apple crumble, and mulled wine. Go easy with them, as they can easily overpower.
Coriander seeds have a sweet aromatic flavor that bears little similarity to the cilantro that produces them. Great with cumin in homemade burgers or poaching liquor for fish.
Ground cumin, and its whole small seeds, have a strong, pungent aroma that lends a familiar backnote to many Indian and Mexican dishes. A little goes a long way. Add it to simple salad dressings with lemon juice and olive oil for a floral, mild heat.
The seeds of the fennel plant have a more pronounced licorice flavor than the bulbs and go particularly well with pork.
A bitter Mediterranean seed used in curry powders, with an aroma similar to celery. An essential part of homemade ras el hanout, a Moroccan spice mix also containing cinnamon, cloves, coriander, and cumin.
Use fresh ginger where possible for a much more lively, zingy flavor. But ground ginger is also useful, particularly in baking.
We are used to seeing these in grainy mustard. Their natural fire is tempered when they are roasted and they become nuttier in flavor. Mustard seeds are essential in Indian cooking.
NUTMEG AND MACE
Both these spices come from the nutmeg tree, mace being the outer lattice covering of the nutmeg seed. Both have a warm, earthy, aromatic flavor, but mace is slightly stronger and sweeter; it works particularly well in custard-based desserts. Nutmeg is essential in a traditional white sauce or rice pudding.
A bright red powder made from dried peppers. It can be sweet or hot, smoked or unsmoked, and is a characteristic feature of Spanish and Hungarian cooking. Different varieties of paprika make stellar additions to BBQ rub, delivering an even heat and vibrant color.
Star anise has a fragrant, slightly sweet anise flavor and is a key ingredient in Chinese five-spice powder. It lends itself to everything from lamb casserole to tarte tatin.
A dark reddish spice, sumac is widely used in Middle Eastern cooking, imparting a tangy, lemony flavor.
A bright yellow spice that comes from a dried root. It gives curry powder its hallmark color and has an earthy, mustardy flavor.
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