No, really, you should check to see if there is a spice merchant in your area; this whole bowl of goodies set me back a wee, tiny bit under $45 for an assortment of herbs, spices, seasonings and extracts ranging from Mexican vanilla and California parsley flakes to Aleppo chili pepper, Sichuan peppercorns, and Japanese Seven Spice.
I prefer The Spice House, just North of downtown Milwaukee, but in an emergency, Penzey’s is just up the road in Kenosha – and has stores across the country.
Why go to a dedicated spice merchant?
Well, aside from the pretty darned fantastic prices and the selection – when was the last time you found Aleppo chili pepper at your market? – both The Spice House and Penzey’s have sampler jars out on the shelves so you can sniff before you buy. Is that spice blend too smoky? Which cinnamon is more to your liking; Vietnamese, Indonesian, or Ceylon ‘True’? Everything is laid out for sniffing and some stuff is out for nibbling – bits of crystallized ginger and dried sweet corn, perhaps a bit of their Chip Dip Seasoning stirred together with some sour cream or cottage cheese and offered with pretzel sticks.
If you’ve followed this blog with any regularity, you will notice the links in just about every recipe to this seasoning or that spice blend; Gateway to the North Maple Seasoning goes on, well, bacon, mostly, tho’ it is quite nice on steaks, too, tho’ I tend to use Quebec Beef Spice for steaks, and Brisket of Love Seasoning is a MUST when I make pot roast.
Here’s an overview of some of my latest purchases:
Aleppo Chile Pepper is from Northern Syria and is added to just about everything I make, from spaghetti sauce to flat bread. I wouldn’t say no to just sprinkling it on a pizza, either.
Japanese Seven Spice, or Shichimi Togarashi, is a blend of orange peel, sesame seeds, cayenne, ginger, Szechuan pepper, and nori that I quite like in any recipe that calls for a bit of citrus and just a little heat – it’s quite nice in thai pork stew and paired nicely with some bourbon, brown sugar, my own spicy ‘sup, and stuff as a marinade for country-style pork ribs; check out that recipe tomorrow. The Spice House folk also recommend adding to chicken, fish, or udon noodles.
Tellicherry Black Pepper, I prefer the medium cracked for everyday use, but The Spice House offers six different grinds, and whole peppercorns, too, so you’re sure to find just what you want – and you can leave those tins of supermarket pepper on the market shelf. The flavor is pretty darned wonderful as well – all peppers are not created equal, and Tellicherry, from Southern India, is pretty darned hard to beat, in my not-so-humble opinion. A little (or a lot) sprinkled over a salad is all it’ll take to convince you.
Sichuan Peppercorns can be hard to find anywhere – I took a Chinese cooking class earlier this year and the chef hadn’t been able to find any for one of the recipes (if I’d only known, I could’ve brought along my jar). I add them whole to soups, stock, and marinades, or will grind them a bit in my mortar and pestle with salt or other seasonings to add a subtle peppery heat quite unlike that of chiles or other peppers.
By the way, Sichuan is the same as Szechuan and Szechwan, The Spice House uses all.
Mexican Vanilla Extract was what Rich chose for his holiday baking this year, tho’ The Spice House also offers Madagascar Bourbon Islands extract as well as beans, pastes and powders. This was single strength, but if you need it for white frosting, they offer double strength Madagascar as well.
Oy, the choices.
See? You need to get yourself to a spice shoppe.