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Classic Spice and Herb Blends

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Chinese Five Spice

Chinese Five Spice

Photo by Tim Sackton [flickr]

It's fun to experiment with combining different herbs and spices, but there are a few combinations that have withstood the test of time. These classic seasoning blends have been used for centuries to flavor meat, fish, poultry, soups, stews and vegetables. Discover what gives each its unique flavor and how they are best used.

Blackening Seasoning - This flavorful cajun favorite is a mixture of paprika, garlic, black, white, and cayenne peppers, thyme, and oregano. Meat and fish are usually coated in the seasoning and then seared until "blackened" in a hot cast iron skillet. Rather than being burned until black, the paprika, which turns a deep reddish-black color when seared, is responsible for the blackening action. This spice blend can be made either hot or mild depending on the amount of cayenne pepper used.

Bouquet Garni - This bundle of French herbs may contain a variety of ingredients including basil, marjoram, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, sage, or peppercorns. Rather than being a specific blend of herbs, bouquet garni is a generic term for fresh herbs tied into a bundle and used to infuse soups, stews, and stocks. The string tied bundle of herbs is then removed prior to serving.

Chinese Five Spice - This classic Chinese spice blend is used to season fatty meat for roasting (such as char siu or roasted duck) and various stir fries. The blend includes star anise, cinnamon, cloves, sichuan peppers, and fennel seeds. These spices together produce a flavor that is deep and spicy with a hint of sweetness.

Curry Powder - Curry blends vary drastically depending on the region and cook preparing the mix. Most commercial blends include turmeric, cumin, coriander, and red pepper, but may also include a variety of other herbs and spices. Curries are used to season meat, vegetables, stews, or even as an all-purpose table seasoning.

Fines Herbes - This herb blend is a staple in mediterranean cuisine. This delicately flavored blend of herbs is best used with lighter dishes such as fish, eggs, or vegetables and are usually added at the end of cooking to preserve the light, fresh flavor. Fines herbes is a blend of parsley, chives, tarragon, and chervil.

Herbs de Provence - This French herb mix consists of lavender, fennel, basil, and thyme. These herbs are all native to Provence, France, after which the mix is named. This light yet flavorful blend is perfect for grilled fish or meat, and even vegetables.

Italian Seasoning - Italian seasoning blends may be an American creation rather than truly Italian, but that doesn't make them any less popular. These seasoning blends may vary by content but usually include a blend of basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, garlic, and red pepper. Italian seasoning is great on meat, vegetables, pasta, pizza, and bread.

Jerk Seasoning - This famous spicy Caribbean seasoning blend combines allspice, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, thyme, garlic, and the super hot scotch bonnet peppers. These spices are usually dry rubbed into meat or combined with citrus juice and other liquids to create a marinade. Jerk seasoning is well known for its use with chicken, but is also commonly used for seafood and other meats.

Old Bay Seasoning - This popular seafood seasoning was created in the Chesapeake Bay area in the early 20th century and is still popular today. The seasoning includes celery seed, bay leaf, pepper, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, mace, ginger, mustard, and paprika. Although this seasoning is best known for its use with seafood, many people use it as an all-purpose seasoning blend to top eggs, french fries, popcorn, and more.

Poultry Seasoning - This light, earthy blend is great for poultry, but can also be used for other light meats like pork or even fish. The blend typically includes parsley, sage, rosemary, and marjoram.

Quatre Epices - Another spice blend hailing from France, this combination can also be found throughout the mediterranean. The name, meaning "four spices," contains pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger. This spice blend is perfect for soups, stews, and vegetables, but is also used for meat preparations such as sausage and pate.

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