Friday, August 13, 2010

Flavor Profile: Dry Rubs & Spice Blends

As next in the series, dry rubs and spice blends are my focus. Though they seem to be simply a mixture of herbs and spices, truly great combinations are a complex intermingling of flavors that add a depth to food greater than any one spice can accomplish. They can be purchased at the market pre-blended, or you can experiment and create your own from individual spices and herbs you already have at home. Dry rubs are ideally suited to grilling and are excellent on either meat, poultry, or vegetables.

Store-bought rubs are certainly easier, but according to the great chefs out there, it's far better to do this: buy the individual spices whole, toast them, grind them and then blend them yourself. I've only done this once or twice myself, and I want to do it more. These DIY creations are a far cry from the blends that have been sitting on the supermarket shelf for who knows how long, because they are fresh and bursting with flavor. It's like grinding the coffee beans right before you brew a pot instead of using pre-ground beans. There is a big difference in flavor. Great blends bring out the best in the foods they are applied to, but do not overpower them and they usually consist of flavors that are harmonious with one another.

My two favorites are a dry rub I use exclusively on grilled salmon, and the spice blend curry powder. The dry rub contains Kosher salt, Paprika, Crushed Red Pepper, Chili Pepper, Oregano, Basil & Coriander.

Another great rub for salmon, as well as meats, is this one, which has some smoky, peppery overtones: Cumin, Oregano, Chili Pepper, White Pepper, Sea Salt & Dehydrated Garlic (powder).

To use dry rubs, I first wash and pat dry the meat (or whatever I'm covering with the rub). Then I apply a light coat of olive oil onto both sides with a basting brush. Then I rub the spices on. Just like with a marinade, I allow the spices to sit on the food for at least 30 minutes, if not longer, before it goes on the grill. Though they won't penetrate very far, it does allow for the flavors to develop a bit. I'm going to get creative doing this. When I look at the ingredients in a spice blend or dry rub at the market I am always thinking, "I have these spices at home, I could make this myself". What I usually do is buy the store-bought blend, try it, and if I like it, try to replicate it.

For the spice blend I wanted to feature, Curry is my fave. I currently have 2 sorts in my spice cabinet and they definitely vary in taste (curries are not all created equal). One of them I bought at my local Indian store and contains Coriander, Turmeric, Chilli, Fenugreek, Mustard and "other spices". The Madras Curry Powder is the other one and it's really excellent. It contains (check out this list!) Coriander Seeds, Turmeric, Chillies, Salt, Cumin Seeds, Fennel Seeds, Black Pepper, Garlic, Ginger, Fenugreek, Cinnamon, Cloves, Anise and Mustard! I highly recommend this one. I bought mine at Cost Plus World Market but I think it's at most supermarkets. Clearly, recipes differ and I like to try new ones every now and again to see if I like the way they blended their spices but I usually fall back on the Madras brand.

Curry is great on so many things. I already provided a recipe (Curried Tofu Dip) in a previous post. It's excellent as a snack with either bagel chips, or veggies like celery and carrots. Curry is usually blended into sauces for chicken, meat and veggies. It can also be mixed with mayo and white wine and made into a lovely curried chicken salad, with diced celery, raisins, cashews and mango chutney. Delish!

Curry makes the house smell warm and comforting. When an Indian woman in my neighborhood cooks, I can smell the curry as I walk near her house. It's such a delicious odor as it wafts its way through our streets. Watch for a post from me soon where I share some of my favorite Indian and curry recipes.

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