Monday, August 3, 2009

Blending Spices

The last few recipes have used a spice blend called powder douce. Powder douce is a medieval sweet spice blend that can contain up to 15 spices, including salt and sugar. Another medieval spice blend is powder fort, a blend of strongly flavored spices, also including salt and sugar. In fact, these two spice blends have many spices in common: sugar, salt, cinnamon, and ginger to name a few.

Modernly we use spice blends all the time. Who hasn't used curry powder or poultry seasoning? Years ago, I looked at what was in poultry seasoning and decided I could do better on my own. I didn't like how muddled the flavors of the spices in premade mixes were, and they only got worse as they sat on my shelf.

I've had several friends who ask me how I decide what spices to use and how much to use when I create my blends. I'm always left puzzling out how to answer this and still make sense. To start with, I try to figure out what I want the blend to taste like. For instance, when I developed my curry blend (below), I had the flavors at a favorite restaurant in Pittsburgh, Sree's, to model on. I knew I needed coriander, cumin, tumeric, garlic, cinnamon (cassia not ceylon), cayenne pepper, black pepper, and some other spices to be named later.

I start by smelling the spices. I waft one bottle in front of me, then rapidly follow it with a second and third bottle so the scents mingle. I believe that if the spices smell good together, they will taste good together.

Once I've found a base of scents I like, I add them to the bowl, one teaspoon at a time. As I select a spice, I waft it past the bowl to see how I like the mixed scent. Spices I know I want to be less strong, I start with 1/4 teaspoon or the 1/2 teaspoon. If I want to increase the spice's flavor, I increase it by a 1/4 teaspoon at a time. Once I get the scent I like in the bowl, I stop.

And this is what I got.

Sue's Curry Powder

8 teaspoons cumin
8 teaspoons coriander
4 teaspoons tumeric
2 teaspoons powdered ginger
2 teaspoons garlic
2 teaspoons black pepper (not white, green, or pink)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/2 teaspoon cloves

Mix well together. I prefer to use a small food processor since the mustard isn't powdered. This powder is a mild curry; for more heat, increase the cayenne pepper. For anyone who doesn't like any heat, remove it and increase the cloves and ginger by 1/4 teaspoon to maintain the curry's sharpness.

Not only have I used this blend in curries, I also like to add it to cheese sauces and meat marinades.

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