Guest Post by Katherine Sowden, owner and chef at Bella Roma Foods, and instructor of Minga’s upcoming Custom Sausage Making workshop (December 8)
Spices are an important element of any dish. Spices help enhance aroma, flavour and sometimes even the texture and colour of a dish. Often when we look in the spice cupboard we can feel overwhelmed when faced with the decision about what spices will pair well with a dish. Spices and blends of spices are often closely linked to specific cultures and regions of the world and are often designed to pair well with the proteins, dried goods and produce available in that region.
When we talk about the flavours spices can add to a dish we often describe spices using terms like bitter, sweet, spicy, earthy, smokey, warm and/or savoury. It’s important to think about how a spice is described in terms of flavour to understand how it will pair with other spices. For this post we will focus on spices that are commonly found in your pantry, what meat it pairs well with, type of cuisine it is commonly found in and suggested spice pairings for it.
Examples of spice flavours and pairings:
Meat: Chicken, Fish, Pork
Cuisine: Thai, Mediterranean
Spices: Garlic powder, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, oregano
Cayenne Pepper (Spicy)
Meat: Chicken, Beef, Fish
Cuisine: Cajun, Indian
Spices: Cumin, Paprika, Cinnamon
Meat: Chicken, beef, fish, pork
Cuisine: Mexican, Mediterranean, Indian, Middle Eastern
Spices: Chili powder, cumin, cinnamon
Meat: Chicken, Shellfish, lamb
Cuisine: Cajun, North African
Spices: Garlic powder, chili powder, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin
Meat: Beef, Chicken, Fish, Lamb, Pork
Cuisine: French, Cajun, Mediterranean
Spices: Oregano, rosemary
Masterfully developing and testing your spice blends
Developing the perfect spice blend for a dish is not only knowing what spices pair well with each other and the elements of the dish, but it also involves a bit of experimentation and taste testing. When developing new product flavours many companies, both large and small, will develop countless small test batches of the product and subject it to several rounds of taste testing. To evaluate your creation, it is important to understand that tasting food is very much like taste testing a wine to determine its flavour profile. When evaluating food through taste testing there are a series of steps one must take:
- Carefully look at the food item you are about to taste test. Make note of things such as the colour of the food, the texture and the shape. How food looks is the first step in determining whether it will be enjoyable.
- As odd as it may seem, the next step of the tasting process is to smell the food. When smelling the food, the aroma of the spices will help the brain determine associations between the spices you smell and the expected flavours of the spice(s). Remember, always smell the food before you taste it. Once you taste a food item your nose will not be able to identify the dishes’ aromas.
- The last step is to taste the food item. Like wine tasting, start with the food item that has the mildest flavour profile and work your way up to the food item with the most intense complex flavours. If you start with the most intense flavour first your taste buds will not be sensitive enough to taste any items with mild flavour profiles.
Spices are an important part of the food preparation process. Whether you are making sausage or preparing a stew, knowing what spices to use will make it easier for you to alter recipes and utilize proteins, dried goods and produce that you may otherwise have shied away from. Cooking is about experimenting, and individuality so don’t be afraid to take a chance in the kitchen.
About the Author: Katherine Sowden
After earning a degree in business, Katherine quickly got fed up with sitting around an office all day so she decided to change gears and pursue a career in the food industry. Butchery runs across several generations of Katherine’s family and she counts herself as fortunate to have learned the art of traditional sausage making from a member of well known Italian family in the Guelph community who she worked for on and off for over 5 years. She believes in the importance of connecting communities around food, food issues, and food skills that help us all to become more active members of our food system. That business degree does come in handy though, as she manages Bella Roma Foods in Guelph.