It ain't nearly as difficult as they want you to believe!
A lot of people become daunted when it comes to adding herbs and spices to something they’re cooking. And for good reason! There’s a fine line between something that is seasoned just right, and something you wouldn't feed your dog. How many of you have opened your spice cabinet, looked at the various jars of herb and spices from over the years and promptly shut the door? I don’t blame you. There’s likely the usual suspects lurking in there: salt, pepper, maybe an Italian seasoning, cinnamon, garlic powder and finally the random thimbles of spices you bought for that one recipe 3 years ago that now collects dust. We’ve all been there. That wall of random bottles and jars can make your head spin.
Herbs and spices shouldn't be scary, they should be fun! Think of a dish as a blank canvas that is just teeming with potential. So how does one go from the seasoning illiterate, to a spice boss? Follow these simple steps to properly seasoning your food to find out. Don’t drive yourself nuts trying to follow them to a T. Cooking should be fun and part of the fun is experimenting with your own ideas and flavors. Once you have the basics understood, you can begin to create your own fanny-kicking flavors yourself!
Note: This how-to is geared toward seasoning dishes other than strictly meat. Meats like steak use a slightly different technique that I’ll explain in a later post. OK, here we go!
Follow the recipe if there is one. I know, I know. We at Wayward Gourmet love proclaiming “Throw out your cookbook!” It’s actually our slogan. A recipe is simply a list of instructions that basically says “This worked for me, here’s how I did it.” So until you have the basics of seasoning down, it’s ok to follow to the instructions(I can’t believe I just said that!) If there isn’t a recipe, or it’s vague, start with step #2.
- Start with a little and add more as needed. You can alway increase the flavor, but you can’t take it out. Think of seasoning a dish like getting a haircut. If the barber suddenly slips with the clippers, that hair can’t get put back. This step is especially important with salt. It’s easy to go from flavorless to the Great Salt Lake in a very short period.
- For most spices, add 1/4 of a teaspoon for every pound of meat/veggies or pint of liquid/sauce. This is a safe bet when learning to season. Although we like taking risks, too much spice is just not nice. (Yes, I know that rhymed.)
- For more intense flavorings such as cayenne/chipotle pepper, garlic powder and chili powder cut the amount added to 1/8 teaspoon for the same amounts of other ingredients listed in step #3.
Fresh herbs are awesome so if you grow them or don’t mind paying the premium they’re sold for at the store, give em a go. For these seasonings add 1-1 1/2 teaspoons and gradually increase from there. Whether you measure minced or whole, the amount actually comes out to be about the same, which is awesome. This is one of those vague rules that you can play around with to see what works best for you. I usually measure right to the brim of my measurer and tap the side to let the herbs settle. If they fall below the brim, add a bit more. NOTE: This rule is for fresh herbs only. Dry herbs can be much more potent in flavor.
- If your recipe calls for fresh and you only have dry, cut the amount down ⅓. Ex: Cut 1 tablespoon down to 1 teaspoon as a tablespoon is 3 teaspoons. (That’s about as much math as I want to do today)
- Taste as you go! As long as there isn’t raw meat floating around in the dish, it’s OK to stick a spoon in and taste what you’re making. By getting a constant read of how the dish is doing, you can better gauge what you need to add. Also, herbs and spices can take different forms throughout the cooking process. Some increase in intensity and some get cooked off. It can be sort of a pain trying to figure out what does what, but as you cook more, you’ll acquire what I like to call a “flavor memory” and you’ll know almost immediately what a dish needs when you taste it.
Hope these steps at least lower the anxiety a bit. We want to hear from you on what works and doesn’t work in your own seasoning adventures. Let us know! We love learning new techniques that can help others and us with our own cooking!
Also, show us your creations on Instagram #WaywardGourmet and Twitter @WaywardGourmet. We'll post your deliciousness on our site. Cheers!
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