Most home cooks don’t need a mortar and pestle very often, if at all. Instead of purchasing a specialty item you can use a sturdy, stoneware coffee mug and a heavy glass spice bottle next time you need to grind something.
1/4 cup ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon ground dried ginger
1 tablespoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground clove
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground dried lemon peel
Add all the spices to an airtight container and shake to combine. Store for up to a year.
Toasting Dry Spices
Spices are at their peak fragrance just after toasting. Toast in small batches as needed. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spread the spice in an even layer on a sheet pan and toast until just fragrant, 7 to 10 minutes on average.
Alternatively, warm a dry pan over medium-high heat, add the spice to the pan, and toast, tossing occasionally as it heats, until just fragrant. Timing will depend on the spice, but should average 5 to 7 minutes. Allow to cool completely before grinding.
2 tablespoons sanshō or finely ground Szechuan pepper
2 tablespoons dried yuzu peel or orange or lemon peel
4 tablespoons chili powder (the Korean variety if possible)
2 tablespoons aonoriko (nori seaweed flakes)
2 teaspoons black sesame seeds
2 tsp teaspoons hemp seeds
2 teaspoons garlic powder
Mix everything together and store in an airtight container. These amounts are just a guideline and adjust seasonings to your taste.
Chop fresh herbs with slightly softened but still cold butter. Once the herb is well mixed into the butter, form the butter into a rough sausage shape on a sheet of wax paper and roll it up tightly. Twist the paper at the ends in opposite directions to tighten the shape.
Wrap this in aluminum foil to help it hold its shape and to keep the wax paper from coming away from the butter. Freeze for up to a year; refrigerate for up to a month.
Cut into slices and use it to top grilled meats and seafood or to whisk into other sauces.
Freshly grind pepper so that its aroma isn’t allowed to evaporate. A small simple pepper mill is best that allows for adjustments to the coarseness of the grind. For this very reason the Peugeot brand is found all over France. The Peugeot brand is designed so that by turning the mill clockwise, the pepper is ground fine, and by turning it counterclockwise, the pepper is coarse.
When to use pepper:
Don’t add pepper to foods until just before serving or just before browning; if you do, the flavor of the pepper will cook off and leave a harsh flavor. This is especially true for soups and broths, which should never be peppered before they are served.
There are so many kinds of salt available now that it’s become difficult to know which to use for what. Some generalizations can be made:
- A box of inexpensive kosher salt is ideal for salting large amounts of water for boiling vegetables or pasta.
- Fine salt, either bought fine or ground, is best for seasoning foods in which the crunch of coarse salt would be too much.
- Sea salt, ideally the rather gray looking sel de Guérande, contains essential minerals and a delicate marine flavor.
- Fleur de sel is ideal in tiny pinches placed on delicate foods.
What is fleur de sel?
Fleur de sel is a kind of sea salt that is harvested in some parts of France by trapping sea water in lagoons and letting the water dry. As the water evaporates, salt begins to form on the surface of the pond in a characteristic flower pattern. The salt is raked off, allowed to dry slightly more, and marketed as fleur (“flower”) de sel. If you look closely at a pinch of fleur de sel, you’ll see that it’s made of flat crystals.
Fleur de sel has a delicate flavor and looks great on top of small servings. It’s expensive, so use it at the end.
When do I add salt?
It varies, if you have plan ahead, season fish and meat a couple of hours before cooking and then pat them dry before browning. This gives the salt time to penetrate the food. Because salt draws water out of foods, which can interfere with browning, the foods need to be patted dry.
If you don’t have time to salt meat ahead of time, salt just before browning or just before serving. Broths and sauces should be salted just before serving in case you want to reduce them to concentrate them. Boiling down liquids increases the concentration of any salts they contain.
Why is some sea salt wet?
Sea salt is what’s called hygroscopic (a substance tending to absorb moisture from the air). To prevent this, some companies add a magnesium compound to the salt to keep it dry. This also makes it easier to pour.
Herbes de Provence
6 dried bay leaves, crumbled
2 tablespoons dried rosemary leaves
2 tablespoons dried thyme leaves
2 tablespoons dried oregano leaves
2 teaspoons crumbled dried lavender buds
In a small bowl, combine the bay, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and lavender and mix well. Transfer to a tightly capped jar or other airtight container and store in a cool, dark place. Use the blend within 3 to 4 months.
To use, pulverize the herbs in a mortar with a pestle, if you prefer a coarser texture, or in a spice grinder for a finely textured blend.