Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: USA, Oklahoma
There were many great starting points listed in this thread, from sources of flavor combinations, to research material, etc.
I'll just list what I do with spices and herbs, both at home and at work. I'll also give a tip that I do quite frequently.
I keep a fairly well-stocked spice and herb pantry. Granted, I don't have "everything", but unless you're into extremely esoteric cooking, or come from some other remote part of the big wide world, you'll be satisfied working out of my spice cabinet.
I will admit that I am severely addicted to Thyme. I use Thyme in just about everything I cook. I also use onion and garlic in just about everything, either fresh onions and garlic, or dried, as part of a seasoning blend. Salt and black pepper goes into EVERYTHING.
Any time I cook chicken, whether it's roast chicken, or chicken soup, I use sage, thyme, rosemary (when I have it), and maybe paprika. Onion powder and garlic powder for roast chicken. Fresh onions and garlic for soup. When I brine chicken for grilling in the summer, the brine includes fresh onions and garlic, dried thyme, sage, and rosemary (when I have it).
Tarragon is also good with chicken. I haven't really explored that avenue yet, though.
Any time I'm doing something Tex-Mex, I use a combination of chili powder, cumin, coriander, and oregano. I usually use fresh onions and garlic with that, slowly sweated at the start of the dish, then seasoned with the spices before adding the remaining ingredients.
Whenever my Chef has me do something with lamb, I almost always pair it with rosemary, thyme, garlic, and some red wine.
I have to make a "Chicken Jus" for one of the a la Carte menu items at work. I usually make a batch once a week. Since I rarely have roast chicken drippings to work with, I treat it like a really robustly-flavored stock. I usually start with 5 chicken wings, cut into sections. I'll brown those in clarified butter, scraping them up from the pan every few minutes. Once they're cooked, and there's a LOT of sticky brown "gunk" on the pan (fond in classic French cooking), I add in some quartered onions, leeks (I have to prep leeks for the line, and if I don't use them quickly enough, will use the leeks in the stock before they go), celery chunks, some whole peeled garlic cloves, and a few sprigs of fresh thyme and a sprig or two of fresh rosemary. I'll saute this for a few minutes, at least until the veggies start to caramelize a bit. Then I hit the pan with a little white wine, about 2 - 3 T, to deglaze, then I follow it with chicken stock, and let this simmer for several hours. The smell is incredible. I've had waitstaff, even some of the folks from the pro shop (I work in a country club) come through the kitchen when I make this and ask me what smells so freaking good?
I know you said that you are just starting out, so all of this may be overwhelming to you. But, what you might want to focus on instead of "what spice/herb goes with what", is the concept of "what flavor goes with what food item". This opens up a whole different concept of "seasoning", besides just using spices. Classic examples are "Dill with Salmon", "Mint with Lamb" (usually seen as mint jelly served with lamb chops), "Apples with Pork", "Lemon and Butter with Shellfish", etc.
Once you learn how to pair flavors with each other, how to enhance those flavors, when to add appropriate spices/herbs, either dried or fresh, etc., then creating your own dishes from scratch becomes really easy. The cooking method you are using with that particular food may or may not dictate what you use to season the food with, or may only dictate when you add something.
Editted to add: I forgot to give this tip. When you want to learn more about a particular spice or herb, you can do what I do. I will hit up various recipe websites that have a search function, and run a search for the spice or herb I am interested in. You can usually see a trend start to develop, like the time I looked for recipes using Lavender. Most of the "recipes" were aroma-therapy type things to put the smell in the air. Very few actual recipes for food. Also, when I started looking for recipes using Tarragon, was when I realized tarragon is often paired with chicken (my Clam Chowder calls for tarragon, though, and is amazing!).
Learn. Experiment. Enjoy.
Peace, Love, and Vegetable Rights!
Eat Meat and Save the Plants!