Author Archives: Robert
Of the five classic French “mother sauces,” béchamel gives us some of the most rich small sauces. Although béchamel may be the most simple to prepare, that doesn’t mean it can’t also show off some pretty complex flavors. Taking the time to create layers of flavor in the building blocks of a recipe ensures that the sauces and dishes created from those blocks will build palaces of flavor. As the recipe below demonstrates, there are not many ingredients in the basic béchamel sauce; just milk, roux, and the onion cloute. An onion cloute is an onion studded with cloves and a bay leaf, and although I’ve seen some recipes call the cloute optional- it is not. The onion cloute is essential as it is the only flavor added to the milk besides butter.
An Italian chef I once worked for insisted that a béchamel was never complete without a bit of nutmeg, an ingredient that was conspicuously absent from béchamel recipes in my traditional French culinary education. Once I tasted his version, I never again made my béchamel without a dusting of freshly ground nutmeg to finish it. Never, that is, until a few weeks ago when we were lucky enough to get the first shipment of mace blades we’ve been able to secure in years. I had always used a mixture of mace powder as well as a little extra freshly grated nutmeg when making creamed spinach from a béchamel base, but I had been reluctant to to try including mace powder in every batch of my béchamel for fear of the flavor being overpowering. This is a perfect application for mace blades! By adding a nice mace blade or two to my onion cloute, I could get the subtle mace flavor I was looking for without overshadowing other flavors.
Béchamel itself is used in many recipes for lasagna, croque madames, or soups, but there are quite a few other sauces that can be derived from a basic béchamel, often by adding just a few ingredients. The French call these “small sauces” and some of my favorites are:
Mustard sauce – add some prepared mustard.
Crème Sauce – just whisk in some heavy cream (I also like to add a heavy pinch of Piment d’Espelette.)
Pickling Spice with Mace Blades
As our long-time customers may remember, we used to include mace blades in our pickling spice. Now that they’re back, we really wish that we could go back to using them in our pickling spice recipe, but unfortunately the market shortage has driven the price up considerably and would make our pickling spice much more expensive. That doesn’t mean that the dedicated home pickler can’t buy an ounce or two and add it to their pickling spice themselves! We’d recommend a ratio of about an once and a half of mace blades to each pound of pickling spice. Having been born and raised in Pennsylvania Dutch country, beet pickled eggs are one of my favorite snacks (great for a quick breakfast too,) and one of the first things I tried making with the mace blades when I finally got my hands on them. I’ve even heard that some people use a beet pickled egg as an outrageous garnish for a bloody mary.
They’re back! After years of searching we are happy to announce that we were able to get our hands on a shipment of mace blades that meet our quality standards. The mace blade naturally grows in wiry fingers around the nut of the nutmeg tree. Most often, this outer membrane is simply ground and sold as mace powder. When the crop is good, however, and merits the extra care required to harvest the whole mace blades, workers carefully snip the blade away from the nutmeg. As you can imagine, harvesting this spice is incredibly labor intensive, behind only saffron and perhaps pollens.
Mace, like its cousin nutmeg, can be very overpowering and “hot” on the tongue. Used in small amounts, however, mace can act like pepper; exciting the pallet and complimenting all the flavors of a dish. It’s fairly easy to overdo it with ground mace powder, I’ve ruined a few soups, cream sauces, and rum butters by going overboard with the mace. This is where whole mace blades can be particularly useful. By using the whole mace like a bay leaf, a chef can impart just a hint of mace flavor. Steeping just a couple mace blades in cream can yield a béchamel that will leap off the plate and dance across the tongue.
Although we love freshly ground spices, and encourage everyone to grind their spices a la minute, the home chef may be disappointed in the results of trying to grind mace blades. If the blade is dry enough to grind, it’s far too dry. If one is particularly determined to grind their whole mace into a powder, freezing or lightly toasting the blades can make the process a bit easier, but at the cost of lost flavor. This is one of those rare cases where it may just be best to buy the powder if a recipe requires powdered mace.
If you’re thinking about giving this exotic spice a try, you may not want to wait, we were only able to secure a small shipment. We hope we can get more, but the spice markets can be unpredictable. Come back next week for a few recipes using mace blades. I’ll be using mace blades to spruce up our pickling spice to make one of my favorite snacks: beet pickled eggs!
My position at World Spice’s professional division has afforded me wonderful opportunities to connect with some of the best chefs around Seattle. One of the most rewarding parts of my role as a spice merchant actually happens when I’m off the clock and I get to experience the delicious dishes that our products enhance. From newcomers like Mamnoon to all the restaurants in the Tom Douglas empire, I never have trouble coming up with great restaurants for date night (deciding on which one is the hard part!) But until recently, I had never had the chance to experience the cuisine of one of our most loyal and long standing chef clients, Lisa Dupar Catering.
Last weekend I was honored to attend one of the winemaker dinners as part of the Auction of Washington Wines fundraiser for Seattle Children’s Hospital. Chef Lisa Dupar and her talented crew teamed up with Dunham Cellars, Willie Green’s, and World Spice for a fabulous “Farmers AT the Table” dinner. Hosted by the gracious and generous Midori Chan and Paul Strisower, this event gave guests the chance to meet some of the people behind the food being served, while giving purveyors like us an opportunity to enjoy the magic that Lisa Dupar creates with our ingredients.
When Lisa first approached us about participating in this dinner we were ecstatic; after getting a sneak peak at the menu, I knew we’d have to do something extra special for the guests who came out to support the Seattle Children’s Hospital. One of the services we offer both our retail customers and professional clients is custom spice blend production, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity for a limited edition spice blend. I was immediately drawn to the goat on the menu and knew I wanted to create a rub for it that was either Persian inspired or with some Caribbean flair. After playing with a few different mixes, it struck me, why not do both? After a few hours of tinkering and a few delicious taste tests, I settled on the playfully named Rastafari el Hanout. By taking the well-known middle eastern spice blend, Ras el Hanout, and adding a few traditional Caribbean ingredients, I believe I created the perfect goat rub.
Unfortunately space in our little shop is extremely limited, so we can’t offer every custom blend we make; only those in attendance at Riverside Falls last weekend got to taste the exact recipe for this particular limited edition blend. That doesn’t mean we can’t create something special just for you! If you have a big event coming up and want to offer your guests something extra special, ask us about creating the perfect custom blend for you.
The evening soiree at Riverside Falls was an unforgettable night, and I’d like to wrap up by thanking Lisa Dupar (check out her wonderful cookbook), Jeff Miller from Willie Green’s, Eric Dunham, the indulgently hospitable Midori Chan and Paul Strisower, and of course all the guests who came out to support such a great cause.
I love making gravlax because it is such a versatile dish. The cured salmon slices can be used to make elegant hors d’oeuvres, they can be served with a few simple sides to make a nice cool lunch on a hot day, the scraps are great in an omelette for breakfast, and being “cured-but-not-cooked” makes gravlax perfect for coaxing a timid diner into trying more adventurous raw dishes. Most recipes call for fresh dill and while that works just fine, using dill pollen creates explosive “pops” of dill flavor that are hard to imitate with other methods. Using some beet powder in the sugar mixture adds a beautiful reddish hue to the outer crust of the filet, and the transition from bright salmon orange to deep beet red allows a creative cook to arrange the slices into stunning displays.
Rinsing the cure off after 24 hours instead of 48 or 72 leaves the fish raw toward the skin side. This can create the greatest contrast in colors, but the trade off is the fish won’t keep nearly as long as if it’s fully cured. Of course, the usual caveats about consuming raw seafood apply, too. So this summer when you come home from your fishing trips, try a salmon recipe that just can’t be beet!
What do you do when one of Seattle’s premier cheese makers needs a hundred pounds of ground black pepper? Or how about when everybody’s favorite artisan salami shop needs twenty pounds of fennel cracked to just the right size?
Last week I talked about some options for grinding spices at home, but grinding the amount of spice some of our commercial clients use with a small blade grinder or a hand cranked burr grinder would take ages! Down at the World Spice Professional Division we’re just as committed to providing fresh, ground-to-order spices as our counterparts at the World Spice retail store, so we’ve come up with the perfect solution: a re-purposed espresso grinder. By using a high quality Swiss Ditting espresso grinder, we have the ability to precisely control the coarseness of our grinds. Using a large mechanical burr grinder like this also allows us to grind large amounts of spice quickly while maintaining a nice even grind.
As you can see in the picture above, just a few months of use begins to wear down the burrs in our machine, requiring near constant resharpening and replacement. By constantly examining the results of grinding a small test run of cumin, we’re able to know just when to ship the burrs back to the factory for professional resharpening to ensure that our clients are getting the highest quality grind around!
How often do we acquire pre-ground black pepper, or nearly any other spice for that matter? Never! Our store is bustling with spice merchants grinding spices right when folks order them.
Why do we keep pure spices and our house-made blends whole until you tell us to grind them? It keeps our spices exceptionally fresh; some especially dedicated spice connoisseurs even prefer to grind their spices in their kitchen, right before adding them to their recipe! Grinding a spice releases much of it’s great flavor and aroma, but more aroma in the air means less flavor in your food. Grinding spices to order also lets you request a custom grind for certain spices. Need your black pepper extra coarse for a nice steak au poivre? Sure! Need your white pepper really fine so it just disappears into a cream soup? No problem! Want us to crack some fennel for your homemade sausage? You got it!
There are many different ways to grind your spices at home. A mortar and pestle works well for most things if you don’t mind your final product being a little coarse. An electric blade grinder works for a finer grind. Some folks even have their coffee grinders pulling double duty. Don’t want your spices to taste like coffee? Easy, simply grind rice or stale bread to clear out the leftover flavors. If, like me, you’ve encountered a couple of groggy mornings making curry coffee, you may want to keep a separate grinder for coffee and spices.
So go ahead and start grinding your own spices at home, there’s a reason those fancy restaurants offer you freshly ground black pepper on your soup or salad – it tastes better freshly ground! If you kitchen is void of a grinder, take advantage of our low purchase minimums and rest assured that all of your spices will be ground to order. Check out Part 2, where I’ll give you a behind the scenes look at how we grind as much as 200 pounds of spice in a day at our professional division.