Thursday, October 20, 2011
Building the Bases Yourself
Really authentic Curry Paste is done up in a mortar and pestle, but it's time consuming and fairly coarse, which doesn't allow the flavours to blend as well. At least that's my opinion.
So, now all you have to do is use this homemade paste instead of store bought, and you'll make this version of Red Curry better by leaps and bounds. Trust me!
Spice blends are one of my all-time favourite ways to play with flavours in fun ways that reflect what I like best. Now, I'll admit making your own spice blends is somewhat labour intensive. Who wants to whip together a curry powder from scratch when so many shops offer a wide and delicious variety? And in many cases, I'll agree. I've never bothered making my own curry powder, garam masala, herbes de provence, poultry seasoning, etc...
But there's at least one that I've come to find indispensable (Can you guess which one? Hint: it starts with a "b") and I think any BBQer worth his tongs should at least try to make their own personalized rib or pulled pork rub at some point. Which brings me to the next recipe.
In my last post, I talked about a local multicultural supermarket called Grace Ottawa that sells dried Guajillo, Arbol, Cascabel and Mulato chillies. Well, the next spice blend is one I invented using all four and a few other ingredients. But before I get into the recipe, I figure a little description of each chilli is warranted:
- Guajillo chillies
These are long, thin, fairly mild with smoky undertones and fruity/cocoa flavour. Think dark chocolate covered raisins.
- Arbol chillies
These are thin and quite small, basically similar in appearance to the Thai bird's-eye chilli but longer. These have a fairly straight-forward chilli heat and flavour, reminiscent of cayenne pepper but a little brighter. Essentially you could grind up a bunch of these into powder and use was a replacement for cayenne pepper with very little difference in flavour and heat.
- Cascabel chillies
These look a little like bell peppers, but much smaller (about the size of a small plum) and have a flavour similar to guajillo chilis, but with a bit more heat. They taste a bit like red wine.
- Mulato chillies
Mulato chillies are a bit weird looking, they're wrinkly like a raisin. They have minimal heat and a sweeter flavour with hints of licorice on top of the guajillo's fruity/chocolatey flavour. These are a common ingredient in molé sauce.
So, those are just a few chillies among many others commonly used in Mexican cooking, but also adapted by chefs around the world.
Now, the great thing about dried chillies (and many dried ingredients) is that with enough effort and patience, ANYTHING can become powder, which means anything can become a spice blend, and by extension, a rub for meat.
Another neat dried item I've found in multicultural/Asian groceries are dried kaffir lime leaves. While I prefer using fresh lime leaf when cooking Thai food (see above), I like the ability to pulverize into a powder that can add amazing flavour to spice blends.
Another fun seasoning to work with is star anise. Star anise has a (VERY!) strong licorice flavour and it's easy to go too far and it'll overpower whatever you're making. So use it sparingly.
When working with star anise, you'll only want to use part of the pod, unless you want enormous licorice flavour.
So, now to put all these crazy flavours together along with some friends in what I like to call Four Chilli Powder (I know, I'm Mr. Originality).
Four Chilli Powder Spice Blend
Before you get started on this, go buy a cheap coffee grinder. GO! NOW! OK, got it? Good, because without some kind of spice grinder, this whole effort is kinda futile.
Ingredients (adjust amounts and ratios as you see fit)
- 1 guajillo chilli
- 1 mulato chilli
- 3-4 arbol chillies
- 2 cascabel chillies
- 4-5 dried kaffir lime leaves
- 1/2 tsp whole coriander seeds
- 1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
- 1/4 star anise pod (2 "arms" and seeds contained within)
- 2-3 green cardamom pods (you can crack the pods and just use the seeds, but I find the "shells" also infuse flavour. Whatever part of the pod doesn't get properly ground you can throw out)
- 1/2 tsp salt (I like to use smoked salt)
- 1 tsp smoked paprika (optional)
- In batches, depending on the size of your spice grinder, grind all ingredients until they become a powder (or as powdery as you want)
- Mix everything together in a bowl and store in glass jars
- For rib or pulled pork rub - Mix 1 part spice blend to 2-3 parts brown sugar (depending on how spicy you want to make your meat) and rub onto meat 12-24 hours before cooking, wrapping in plastic.
So, there you go, a couple more examples of how you can make your own personalized pastes, blends, etc. If there's one thing I encourage in the kitchen, it's to give your food your own touch! Enjoy! Play! Have fun! And if it sucks, at least you tried!