The days of dusty spice cabinets filled with questionable jars of garlic powder, stale chilli flakes, and maybe some expired Italian seasoning are long gone. Spices in all forms, from sweet to savoury, have made a huge resurgence in the past few years, and home cooked meals are all the better for it.
If you’re looking to expand your repertoire even further, these chefs have some great tips on unique and modern uses for your favourite spices… and maybe even some you’ve never tried cooking with before!
Chef Andrew Keen – Murrieta’s, Calgary
When it comes to spices, proper use starts with basic care and storage, before you even start cooking.
Chef Andrew Keen recommends buying your spices in small amounts, whole if possible, and storing them in airtight containers to ensure they stay fresh as long as possible. “Fresh grated nutmeg will change your life!” he proclaims.
He also encourages thinking outside the box when it comes to even the most basic spices in your spice cabinet. Spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves, are traditionally reserved for sweets like carrot cake, or gingerbread, but they also work incredibly well with spicy flavours, like cayenne pepper.
These “Christmas Spices” as Chef Keen calls them are also great in deep braised beef dishes, to give an earthy, complex flavour. They may not be the first additions that come to mind when you think about cooking with red meat, but they really do add depth, and a level of comfort that is very welcome as the temperatures start to drop.
If you’re still not convinced, all the more reason to try Chef Keen’s braised lamb shanks with cumin, coriander, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg for yourself!
Chef Andrew Fung – XIX Nineteen, Edmonton
For Andrew Fung, chef of XIX Nineteen in Edmonton, working with spices is more involved than simply picking them up at your local grocery store and using them as directed in your recipe of choice.
“I like to know and understand where my spices are coming from, what they look like, and how they taste, well before I add them into any given recipe,” Chef Fung explains.
For example, ingredients like tamarind come in multiple forms, from whole pods, to pastes. But given that it’s not common knowledge, you wouldn’t know until you looked into it. Not only does this initial research help you to know exactly what you’re working with, you can also draw inspiration from traditional uses of the spices.
“With my southeast Asian background, we use a lot of spices in our stews and seafood,” comments Chef Fung.
Spices also come in many different forms that are suitable for a variety of applications. Ginger, which is typically used in spicy curries, is also the perfect addition to pumpkin desserts, like Fung’s pumpkin cheesecake. It’s true what they say; variety is the spice of life!