Brown Those Spices, and Then Grind ’em up for Maximum Flavor by Scott Leysath

Scott Leysath |

You can use the crap, er…I mean already chopped stuff in the jar because it’s convenient, but it’s still not going to have the same aromatic flavor as a freshly smashed clove or two. And like old spices, you’ve got to use twice as much of the garlic in the jar as you do fresh garlic. Try this – open a package of just-bought dried herbs like oregano or basil and compare it to some of the old herbs you have in your pantry. LEYSATH_WOW_6.26_PIC2There’s a big difference in the smell between old and new. The new batch smells like herbs. The 10-year old, not so much. Here’s a money-saving tip – buy your herbs and spices in the Hispanic section of your market. Same stuff, cheaper, and you get four or five times as much as you would from the cute little jars in the spice section.

When it’s summertime and fresh herbs are either growing in your garden or plentiful at local farmer’s markets, I dry a mess of them either in my dehydrator or under the sun on a rack. To keep them their freshest, I store the dried herbs in an airtight container and store them in my freezer. Herbs and spices stored in a refrigerator or freezer seem to last longer than the room temperature drawer or pantry. Compared to the spice racks I see on kitchen counters, with the same spices and spice blends that have barely been touched for years, there’s no comparison.

Old seeds and unground spices are best roasted and ground. Roasting them until they are lightly browned will release a ton of flavor that you won’t get from spices that come pre-ground. Just add them to a low-heat, dry skillet and keep them moving until they are evenly browned. If you have a spice or coffee grinder handy, grind away. If not, use a heavy skillet and smash them. Use within the next week or so. I like to mix my roasted and ground spices with good quality olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. I’ll brush it onto a venison backstrap before either grilling or pan searing until medium-rare.

My friend, John McGannon, of Wild Eats, Inc. knows a thing or two about spices. When he’s not dazzling people with his fish and game cooking expertise, he manufactures spices blends that will make your whitetail taste better. He’s a regular part of The Sporting Chef TV show and roasts and grinds his spices. Now, I guess it’s time to clean out the pantry, or not.


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