When anyone mentioned herbs and spices my first thought was – are these things really necessary? When I went through all of the various spice and herbs jars in my inherited kitchen it was fairly easy to spot which ones were used and which were not. The out of date jars obviously fell into the last category.
The big thing that I discovered about herbs and spices is that when used well they can make fairly bland dishes taste great and totally change flavours in a meal.
Where to start
There are hundreds, most probably thousands, of different herbs and spices that could significantly improve the taste of food, some of them are great. The challenge of course is which ones to use and when. After seeing lots of conflicting and difficult to understand information (for me anyway) on various web sites I re-started by limited myself to these five blends: Chicken, Chinese, Italian, steak and mixed herbs. That simplified the “what to use them with” question.
How much to use?
Start by adding at least a flat teaspoonful of the appropriate blend to a dish to find out if you like it. If the taste doesn’t come through add another flat teaspoonful. Just be a bit careful not to get too carried away and always measure. Especially important with very hot spices. If you like a particular blend have a look at the list of ingredients on the jar using your magnifying glass. Try adding a bit more of one of the ingredients like Basil or Oregano for example and see what difference it makes. The great thing about cooking for one is that you can do these sort of experiments without risking the displeasure of a dinner partner. With a bit of luck you will enjoy the result and be tempted to try some other herbs and spices.
The easy way to match herbs & spices with food types
I’m sure that what you’d really like would be a simple one page spreadsheet that laid out everything in one place. I thought that too so I asked my much more experienced friends for their recommendations. As you can imagine there was some “debate” but after the help of a few beers we (them really) came up with answers. I recommend printing the Herbs and Seasoning matched to food guide and keeping it in the recipes ring binder in your kitchen.
What’s used in your kitchen?
I thought you might ask. Here’s a picture of the herbs and spices in my kitchen.
Yes this is a picture of how I actually store them. I tried wheels and racks but they always hid some jars which I ended up not using. Now there is no hiding place in my cupboard and I can see at a glance everything that I have which means lots more experimenting.
The 21 herbs and spices in the cupboard
Just in case you can’t read the labels on the jars here they are.
Basil, Cajun spice mix, Chicken seasoning, Chilli, Chinese 5 spice, Cinnamon, Coriander, Ginger, Herbs de Provence, Italian herbs, Nutmeg, Oregano, Paprika, Parsley, Pilau seasoning, Rosemary, Sage, Steak seasoning, Star Anise, Tarragon and Thyme. (More on the most frequently used are below.)
This goes with lots of things like tomatoes, chicken, spaghetti, pizza, soups, salmon, tuna and even green beans and cauliflower. Basil is often an ingredient in ready made Italian and Thai sauces. Try adding a teaspoon of Basil to any sauces or soups that are a bit bland.
This was the first mix of herbs and spices that I tried and it’s still the one I use the most. The Bart version contains: Garlic, Black Pepper, Parsley, Tarragon and Paprika. Try rubbing two teaspoons of the mix on a chicken breast with a teaspoonful of olive oil before it goes in the oven.
Chinese five spice
This blend contains: Cinnamon, Fennel, Star anise, Ginger and Cloves. It comes up in a lot in recipes for Chinese dishes and is great for spicing up stir fries that can sometimes need some stronger flavours.
Here’s another herb that is widely used in Italian dishes but is also used in Thai food and Mexican recipes such as Chilli Con Carne. It’s a fruity and slightly sweet flavour which means that it’s also used in fruit puddings and apple crumble recipes. I haven’t tried that yet but it’s on my list.
Herbs de Provence
The main ingredient in the Schwartz version is Rosemary with Savory, Thyme, Marjoram and Oregano. Works with olive oil as a baste for chicken and pork as well as adding flavour to new potatoes before roasting. I really like it in omelettes.
Many of the frequently used herbs in Italian recipes are in this mix (except Coriander). The major ingredient in the Schwartz version is Oregano along with Basil, Thyme, Parsley, Sage and Bay leafs. It goes with almost anything Italian such as Spaghetti Bolognese, tomato based pasta sauces, pizza plus omelettes and roasted veg.
You can tell that I like Italian dishes because here is another herb that goes well with tomatoes and most things Italian. Oregano is often in meat sauces and goes well with vegetables such as cabbage, beans and peas.
I must admit I alway thought that Fish was the only thing to use Parsley on. In fact it adds colour and flavour to other things too such as mash potato, omelettes, hamburgers and sausages.
I have recently discovered Pilau seasoning. Add it to rice before cooking and the end result is a slightly darker seasoned rice that goes well with Indian dishes. It also gives plain rice a taste of it’s own.
Tarragon brings flavour to chicken/poultry, soups, mushrooms, meats, seafood, green salads and vegetables. I particularly like adding it to fish.
Please send me your suggestions for improving the herbs and seasoning list as well as any great dishes that meet the easy, good and relatively quick to make criteria of My Inherited Kitchen.
You are now ready to be more creative and create your own recipes from scratch so you need to know more about ingredient quantities.