Using Unknown Spices, The New Recipe Challenge
Don't panic. First take a little of the spice you have had for a while and shake some into the palm of your hand. Take a spoon and rub it against the spice in your palm. Take a whiff. Does it give off a pleasing smell? If not, that means one of two things. Either the spice is too old and you should replenish it, or it means that you may not like the smell of the spice. And if you don't like the smell, then chances are you are not going to like the taste much either.
The good news is that you don't have to go to the grocery store to buy something you don't like. You've just saved yourself a lot of time. Nor do you have to abandon the recipe. In this case allspice is called allspice, because many think it tastes like a blend of the three important bakery spices of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. No doubt you are fond of one of these and have one or all of them in your spice cabinet.
So now the question becomes, how much do I use? If you've done any baking, you might recall that spicy cookies like molasses have all three of these spices in them. The proportions weigh more heavily with cinnamon, than the other two. That is because nutmeg and cloves are more potent than cinnamon. So use mostly cinnamon with a shake or two of the others. If you are uncomfortable with this kind of experimentation, use just the cinnamon.
There are many spices that can be substituted for the one that is in your recipe. If the recipe is for meat, you're in luck. Almost any spice can be used on meat. Why not use your favorite spice? Or start sniffing all those spice jars you've been accumulating and let your nose decide. A positive reaction to smell means that spice is the winner.
Can you use more than one spice? Of course, you can. The problem is which ones do you use? The answer may be easier than you think. Read the spice label for clues. If two spices are good with chicken, use both of them on the chicken. For example, what if you happened to like the smell of oregano. Oregano is an Italian herb. What other spices go with Italian food? It is pretty safe to use the same herbs Italian cooks have been blending together for years. These include basil, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, and savory. You may even have a jar of blended Italian herbs. Just remember that herbs are more delicate and need to be added toward the end of the cooking period, so as not to cook out the flavors.
Well, yes, there is more to know than you thought about spicing. But the wonderful thing is that experimenting may result in a masterpiece. And if it doesn't, try these tried and true ways to solve the over-spicing problems. If the dish is too hot (as in cayenne or other pepper) add a little honey or sugar. Just a little can cool it down. The same goes for acidic tomatoes, sweetening the dish will neutralize that tang. If you've added too much salt, try mixing in a raw potato to suck the salty taste from the recipe. If it needs a little kick or seems to be missing something, try a tablespoon of vinegar.
The odds are in your favor that you will create something very special. And if you don't, well, your family is still your family. And then there is always pizza. Let's see maybe I could add some of those Italian herbs to that...
Copyright 2011 by Linda K. Murdock. Linda Murdock is the best-selling author of A Busy Cook's Guide to Spices, How to Introduce New Flavors to Everyday Meals. Unlike most spice books, you can turn to a food, whether meat, vegetable or starch, and find a list of spices that go well with that food. Recipes, ethnic spice blends and a spice substitution chart are also included.