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Old 04-01-2011, 06:59 AM   #1
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Learning herbs and spices

I am trying to get a handle on exactly what everything on my spice shelf tastes like, what it pairs with and what is likely to be a good use. Obviously you learn this over time when you use more and more, but what about having some kind of short term tasting? Is there a good dissolver or something else to do to these ingredients to get a handle on the flavors and potency? When brewing with a new ingredient I usually steep a small amount in water to make a miniature tea so I can see what it tastes like with hops or malted sugar before committing to an entire batch and waiting for fermentation.

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Old 04-01-2011, 07:45 AM   #2
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My big thing when working with new spices/herbs is to really find a dish where it plays a big role. My first time using tarragon, I made a simple Tarragon butter sauce.
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Old 04-01-2011, 09:45 AM   #3
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I tend to depend on smell more than taste. When I am cooking, I open my spice drawer and pull out a little pinch of something, crush it in my fingers and see if I think the smell goes with whatever I am cooking.
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Old 04-01-2011, 09:50 AM   #4
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Taste it. Make a note of what you think of it.

Google "xxx recipe" as in tarragon recipe or cumin recipe.

You'll find lots of information on the herb or spice and how they are commonly used in cooking.
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Old 04-01-2011, 10:19 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sparrowgrass View Post
I tend to depend on smell more than taste. When I am cooking, I open my spice drawer and pull out a little pinch of something, crush it in my fingers and see if I think the smell goes with whatever I am cooking.

do that way more then I could even start to explain..some of my best recipes came from doing that
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Old 04-01-2011, 10:28 AM   #6
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I think a lot of it is trial and error. If you are going to use something you have never tried before, I would suggest only using a little bit. This way, if you don't like it, it won't over power and totally ruin whatever you are cooking. There are some herbs I seldom use because I am fond of other ones that I find interchangeable. I feel that you don't have to use certain ones just because the recipe calls for it.
TIP: When cooking a sauce, soup, stew or chili type dish, take a bit out in a bowl, add whatever it is and let sit for a couple of minutes for the flavor to infuse. Then, sample it. I only add herbs near the end anyway.

The more I cook and experiment over the years, I am starting to realize that most spices work with almost anything, if that is the flavor you like.
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Old 04-01-2011, 10:42 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sparrowgrass View Post
I tend to depend on smell more than taste. When I am cooking, I open my spice drawer and pull out a little pinch of something, crush it in my fingers and see if I think the smell goes with whatever I am cooking.
This works for me too. You know the taste of the food you are making, and by smelling the spice you can tell if it would taste good with it.

Also just Google spice uses and you'll find oodles of charts listing the spice, things to use it in, and medicinal teas you can make with them. Print yourself a copy of the best one(s) and you can use it for recipe ideas.
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Old 04-02-2011, 12:38 AM   #8
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You could mix a little of each of a number of herbs into cream cheese in separate batches with labels. Let them sit for a while, maybe a few hours. Refrigerate them if you are going to wait more than an hour. Let them come to room temperature and spread on some crackers and taste what they are like. Take notes.
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Old 04-02-2011, 03:18 AM   #9
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wow, i could eat just from taxy's experiments!

one more vote for the pinch/crush/roll taste method with a few additions.

if you're making a blend or rub, taste it after you've combined things. you need to check the balance.

some fresh herbs such as basil smell strong at first but shortly thereafter the flavour disappears, so they should be added at the end.

others like rosemary are very strong so.a little goes a long way no matter when it's added.

learning the difference just takes practice.

along taxy's idea, you can try making compound butters with herbs to melt over hot food for trial runs.
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Old 04-02-2011, 08:10 AM   #10
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Compound butters--good idea. You could put them on bread, just to see what they taste like!!

My problem is remembering, when I am cooking a piece of meat or some veggies, that I have a whole drawer full of good tasting stuff, and that I need to use them.
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