Spices are our main concern at Épices de Cru, but the truth is spices often present their flavour best in combination with the many sauces, pastes, and other ingredients developed by the world’s great cuisines. So we present our series on pantries of the world- important ingredients to have on hand before delving into any regional cuisine.
Sichuan is, arguably, the foremost of Chinese cuisines, famous for its use of spice. And it’s not just the lovely, pointed heat of Sichuanese chiles! The unique numbing, citrusy flavours of Sichuan Peppercorn, the peppery bite of Cassia, and the sweet, aromatic, and deeply appealing Chinese Five Spice are essential elements of Southwest Chinese cuisine.
Still, these legendary spices would present a one-dimensional a dish if they weren’t enhanced by the sweet, sour, spicy, or umami tastes- in sometimes millennia-old ingredients- from these Sichuan pantry essentials.
Black Bean Sauce (dou chi)
This chunky, fabulously pungent sauce is made from fermented black soybeans. It is the oldest known soybean product- once referred to by the word “shi”, meaning “great desire”, or, “addiction”, a reference to its unstoppable umami punch. Our addiction to dou chi is at its most intense for China’s most famous brand: Lao Gan Ma. This renowned brand is the starting (and often ending) point for trying black bean sauce. Continue reading →
When winter comes knocking at your door, there’s nothing better than heating up by plunking down next to the oven and making your classic comfort foods. And let us not forget the joy of entering a warm, welcoming house warmed by cooking on a chill winter day. Continue reading →
When it comes to spice toasting, roasting, or grilling guides, it seems there are plenty of how-tos, but few whys. Something about enhancing the flavour. Roasting spices is easy: it simply takes a pan at the exact perfect temperature, constant stirring, attention, and nervousness, and an ever-present sense that you’re doing it wrong. So why go through the stress of watching yet another pan full of cumin burn anyway? Which spices are worth the effort, and how can we use spices once we’ve toasted them?
It’s true that not all spices roast well- some will burn or simply lose their flavour if exposed to too much direct heat. Cinnamon, for example, is a famously sensitive spice. It, like bay leaf, should only be roasted for a few seconds, and carefully. Of course ground spices will burn almost instantly if dry roasted- which is why this blog refers only to whole roasted spices. Continue reading →
Jasmine is one of the most popular fragranced teas in the world. Here, it’s best known as an accompaniment to meals served in many Chinese restaurants. It’s a tradition inherited from dim sum, which are found mostly in southern China and Fujian, where Jasmine tea is served whatever the occasion. This tea is enjoyed almost universally thanks to its herbal and floral aromas that offer a delicate and comforting infusion.
Surprisingly, jasmine was not always cultivated in China. If you a little go back in time, you’ll find that the jasmine flower arrived in China around 1700 years ago via the Silk Road. Jasmine in fact originated in the Middle East and North Africa. Today it can be found in abundance in many of the Chinese provinces known for tea. Continue reading →
Earlier this year, I wrote a piece on some spices that work wonderfully in all sorts of dishes, but are still somewhat unknown. The reaction was quite positive. To my joyous surprise, you proved your curiosity and creativity- daring to venture into our store to try the named spices. When you finally learn to let go in the kitchen and listen to your intuition, the possibilities are endless. Today I propose you (re)discover three other lesser-known spices.
Did you take pity on the old Greek cookbook that’s starting to gather dust in your library? Perhaps you happened to throw it open, only to land on a recipe that calls for mastic? And now you have an old can of mastic that’s gathering dust in your pantry and you’re taking pity on it. Luckily, I have thousands of ideas for you! You should know that mastic is a resin (not unlike pine sap), with a light piney flavour that’s absolutely delicious. The easiest way to use it is to simply pour a tear or two into your coffee- you’ll see this sometimes in Greece and Turkey. Mastic is a great addition to any savoury dish, notably in sauces. This chicken recipe is a great example. This spice is just as loved in desserts, like this updated classic. Continue reading →
Curry is one of the most common and recognizable foods on earth. It’s no wonder this spice powder still generates a lot of questions. And not just how to make curry, either! We also tell people how to make curry powder, and how to define a curry spice. One of the most common questions we are asked online and in our stores is the difference between a curry and a masala. Let’s start with this lexical distinction before moving in to the many curry powders- and curry recipes- that define so many global cuisines.
Curry vs Masala: The Power of Powders
“Curry” originally designated a meat or vegetable dish in sauce. It didn’t originally mean curry powder. Over time, the word came to describe the spice blends that are used to cook this kind of dish- one that is usually simmered over a long time. It is, more often than not, considered a spice blend built around cumin, turmeric, and coriander, but curry is, in fact, a world of infinite variation. There is no one curry spice- curry powder is made of many spices.
The word “masala” refers more to the spice blend itself. There are thousands of different masalas. Some are purpose-built for specific dishes, like tandoori masala or vindaloo masala. The famous garam masala is always made with aromatic spices, but allows for a wide range of variation. It is used as a finishing spice: either added at the end of cooking or sprinkled on just before serving the dish, as one would with pepper. Continue reading →
Refilling the spice rack should be an exciting affair, but it’s all too easy to be derailed by the impressive number of spice and spice-related products out there. How should I store them? How can And I use them most efficiently? This guide can help you cut through the noise and get back to what’s important.
The quality of a spice varies according to its origin. The best way to judge is to smell and follow your nose. If the fragrance of a spice pleases you, so too will its flavour.
Whenever possible, spices should be bought whole, as their fragrance is released as soon as they are ground. They also keep longer than ground spices, which quickly lose their fragrance and are often, unfortunately, still subject to fraudulent practices. With that in mind, it is important to note that there are many reputable merchants who do sell quality ground spices which are usually packaged in metal containers that protect the spices. Continue reading →
OK, so you’re in the market for a hot chocolate recipe that’s more than just cocoa, water, stir. In many ways, hot chocolate is a victim of its own success: it’s so widely drunk that many hot cocoa fans just aren’t excited by the plain taste of a straight hot chocolate anymore. Even basic hot chocolate recipes feature a few spice twists, like this excellent example from the Guardian. Hot chocolateers have uncovered dozens of recipes to upgrade hot chocolate, starting with that old classic, marshmallows, and building up to hot chocolate’s most exciting proposition, spices. Of course we at Spice Trekkers are advocates of adding spices to your chocolate, which is a tradition that’s regaining popularity amongst even the most jaded of the 21st century’s chocolate- swigging youth. This is particularly true for beverages made with drinking chocolate, the unadulterated dark chocolate that makes for a thick and creamy brew. Here’s a list of the more common spices that can be easily added to hot chocolate that can really make your cold-weather treat shine.
Hot chocolate has historically been made with spices, and has only been drunk in pure chocolate form or mixed with milk for scant decades. Early Mesoamerican hot chocolates were made with chili peppers and sometimes vanilla, which are both native to Central and South America. Archeological evidence suggests that chili was a much more popular addition. The prickly heat of a spicy, Central American pepper can help cut down on the creamy, but sometimes overbearing, thickness of pure melted chocolate. We recommend smoked Chili Pasilla de Oaxaca, which adds heat as well as a smoky undertone. Continue reading →
It’s simple; when our kitchens here in Quebec begin to smell of cinnamon, cloves and tourtière spices (is it a meat pie or a pâté? – we agree to disagree!) – that’s when we know for sure that the Holidays are upon us. All these beautifully rich and highly fragrant dishes are further proof of what we suspected all along; our great grand mothers were not at all shy when it came to cooking with herbs and spices. We would like to share this traditional Holiday menu, with a few of our own personal touches thrown in, like Brussel sprouts with honey and chai-spiced cranberry chutney. Trust us, there is no better finale to an indulgent and abundant feast than our infamous chocolate maniac cake – we’re just saying!
The world of peppers is endlessly fascinating. This is why we spend so much time talking about it- and why we have such an expansive selection of peppers in our store. Pepper berries (Voatsiperifery and Sichuan peppercorns, among others) and their wild cousins may be the last word in spices, but sometimes it’s useful to go back to the beginning and witness the great journey pepper takes to get to our plate.