It’s here! This season’s crop of Piment d’Espelette arrived at our doorstep this week, ready to transform our dishes with its mild heat and fruity, almost tomatoey flavor. Piment d’Espelette’s mild flavor is the cornerstone of the traditional Basque stews, and in keeping with Basque tradition we consume our Piment d’Espelette seasonally, making way for each new crop when it comes in.
The seasonal rotation isn’t the only thing traditional about the pepper of Espelette. Piment d’Espelette bears the distinction of being the only spice with an official AOC designation. Being recognized by the AOC, or Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, guarantees that the product which bears its seal will be produced in traditional manners, and originate only from their traditional region. In such illustrious company as true french Champagne, only the superior pepper grown in the ten, tiny approved Basque villages may be labeled as Piment d’Espelette.
Piment d’Espelette originates in the area that joins the southwestern-most corner of France with northeastern Spain, historically known as Basque country. In the region, late summer and early fall are marked by festoons of peppers drying against white stucco houses, just as they have for centuries. Each October, the end of the harvest is marked by a vibrant festival, complete with parade, where peppers are sold fresh, pickled, or dried and ground, as we carry it.
The Basque have another tradition worth imitating- that of the txoko, or gastronomical society. Generations of Basques have gotten together to cook, sing, and experiment with food in thousands of private clubs. While it might not have centuries of tradition, we’ve got a kind-of txoko of our own, the World Spice Cookbook Club, that meets up to try out recipes from a new cookbook each month. Singing is purely optional.
So come pick up some of the freshest and most flavorful flakes of Piment d’Espelette available in the United States by the ounce or by the jar, and if you’re feeling adventurous drop us a line and come out to the next meeting of our Cookbook Club for a little gastronomical bonding. On egin!
Few things say “winter” better than a steamy cup of spiced cider or mulled wine. Mulling Spice takes many forms, but ours is heavy on the cassia cinnamon and with a hint of orange peel for the power to banish those grey-day blues.
It’s important to choose the right wine to mull, and through much “research” we’ve settled on Pinot Noir as the optimum choice. It’s fairly robust, so stands up to the spices, but the less expensive varieties are not so nuanced so as to make covering their intricacies with spice criminal. Look for one whose shelf-talker boasts a larger body and hints at black or red cherry flavors that will complement the star anise in the Mulling Spice.
A good-quality, unfiltered apple cider is all that’s required for heavenly spiced cider. As the apple capital of the world, Washington state farmers markets are chock full of cider choices, and we’ve yet to find one that disappoints. A few even pair other local fruits with apple- try apple-cranberry, apple-cherry, or apple-blackberry. Simply substitute a quart of apple cider for the wine in the recipe below and perhaps omit the sugar, depending on the variety of cider that you choose.
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!
Imagine a perfect summer tomato. Vine ripened, deep red, full of flavor. The kind of tomato you you just want to bite into. And why not? Tomato with a pinch of salt is a tasty and refreshing snack for the summer time. Does anything compare?
The perfect summer avocado, perhaps. There’s another delicious summer fruit that begs to be eaten plain, with a bit of salt and pepper to enhance the flavor.
Now’s the tricky part. What salt should you use? At World Spice, we’ve created a tantalizing array of and seasoning salt blends. Here, for your snacking convenience, is our top three seasoned salt blends, and the best snacks to accompany them. Be warned, if you decide to do what I did and have a salt tasting exravaganza, be prepared for a very thirsty afternoon and no regrets.
Our seasoned salt blends:
Provencal: This blend has that unmistakable taste of green in every pinch. Probably due to the tarragon and chervil, a French herb related to parsley. More subtle flavors of lavender, tomato, garlic, and lemon leap out of this blend when paired with the right snack. While it’s good on tomatoes, this blend really shines with green veggies like roasted zucchini, broccoli, and is delightful on a slice of soft French Brie.
Svaneti: This blend has lively and versatile flavors. Coriander, caraway, Tellicherry black pepper, chile, garlic, and fenugreek on a base of sea salt compose this superbly seasoned salt. It will enhance your red meats and potatoes marvelously, and is a great choice to accompany that perfect summer tomato.
Voodoo: What gift do you get the salt blend that has everything? Whole mustard seeds are probably the most endearing member of the Voodoo blend, lending a satisfying texture and flavor, but the red Aleppo pepper, thyme, and peppercorns might be the real stars of the show. Garlic, onion, and allspice round out the flavor. This is the boldest blend of the trio, which goes well with anything that could use a kick, from eggs to broccoli to popcorn. After trying this with avocado, I won’t be having avocado any other way any time soon.
What are your favorite summer snacks? Hit us with ’em in the comments and we’ll hit you back with the right blend for you.
Eggs Benedict is a classic, there’s no denying that, but “classic” is perhaps not the word I’d use to celebrate my funny, youthful, and adventurous mother! For Mother’s Day, her poached eggs will sit atop crisp potato pancakes, under a blanket of creamy Orange-Tarragon hollandaise sauce. The sweetness of the orange peel plays against the anise notes of the tarragon in this classic French combination, made whole with shallots and Tellicherry black pepper. The sauce is so sumptuous, and the crunchy fried potatoes make a perfect vehicle for it. Not to mention the eggs- nothing says “love” like a perfectly poached yolk, don’t you know!
Mother’s Day is May 12th, so make Mom breakfast, and let her know how sorry you are for your teenage years.