Wednesday, June 26, 2013

How To Adjust Spices In Recipes

 If you have read my posts about preparedness food you already know that I consider spices to be an important part of your preparedness food. A good selection and use of spices will allow you to keep eating the same things repeatedly without getting tired of it during an emergency.

I gather from my reading that many people do not know how to adjust their spices for cooking. This can be serious if you are depending on spices to give you a variety of tastes for your storage food both in your everyday diet as you use and replace your food storage and in emergency use.

This post is to help you learn how to adjust your spices to your personal tastes. The first part of this process is to examine what you like. Do you find yourself adding a lot of pepper and salt to your food when you use the recommended amount of spice in a recipe? If that is the case or if you think it is tasteless or bland, then you can probably increase the amount of spices called for in ordinary recipes.

Some exceptions to watch out for are Szechuan, or Sichuan Chinese food. That is the extra spicy Chinese food. They use the hottest peppers in the world. I believe  eating the Szechuan food could substitute for a tonsillectomy. When I go to a Chinese restaurant that serves Szechuan food, I ask them to go easy on the spices. I don't even use Szechuan recipes, but if you do, like most people, you will probably need to reduce the spices called for in the recipes. 

Some recipes have the taste of the spices in it as an important part of the entire recipe and in those you WANT to taste the spices. In other recipes the spices are meant to be subtle and you don't even want to be able to specifically notice a particular spice taste standing out from the background taste.

My pineapple/blueberry smoothie is one of those. If you taste the spices, I think you have too much spice in it. In that recipe, the spices should just give it a little bit of a wild berry taste so that you don't especially even notice that it has spices in it.

One of the problems with getting spices correct for a recipe is that there is a tremendous variation in how strong spices can be. If you get your spice from a grocery store, it can have been on the shelf for over a year. That will mean that spice will be weaker in taste than a fresher spice. You will need to use more of the grocery store spice to get the same amount of spice taste. That could mean doubling the amount of spice that you use to get the same taste.

I have been increasingly using bulk spices from health food stores instead of supermarket spices. The health food store spices are usually much fresher. I believe that this is healthier as well as more tasty. The variety in a health food store's bulk section may be less than is available in the grocery. This means that you will have to get some spices from the grocery.

If you think food is usually bland and tasteless, then you might want to start out a new recipe by increasing the spice called for in it. My personal preference is to use a recipe the first time, exactly as written. Once I know how the author meant it to come out, then I feel free to adjust it to my preferences. That is the point where I add or reduce the spices. I think that 1/8 teaspoon or less is a safer increment to adjust the amount of spices in a recipe. 1/8 teaspoon measuring spoons can be hard to find, but they are available. If this is too difficult you can take a 1/4 measuring spoon and estimate what half of that would be.

A pinch is an old measurement for spices. It is the amount of spice that can fit held between your index (pointer) finger and your thumb. The size of your hand can really make a difference in this measurement. If you have a very large hand you will probably do well to assume that it is best to go scant on your pinch for a standard recipe. A pinch can help you be consistent in adding spices to your recipes. I kind of use an eyeball method, which has its drawbacks. If you spice directly into the recipe, it can vary quite a bit and make your cooking unpredictable.

You can reduce this unpredictable element by shaking your spice into the lid of the spice container or the palm of your hand so you can control the amount before it hits your recipe.

Emergencies are kind of miserable to live through anyway. It could make you and everyone who eats your cooking during an emergency feel nibbled to death by ants if your cooking is wildly variable. It might be safer to learn to shake your spices into the container lid or palm of your hand before you actually put them into your recipe.

Basil is my favorite herb. I will use it as an example to explain what you are dealing with on herbs. You can take seeds from the same packet and grow them up into a plant to use for cooking. Each plant from that same packet can produce leaves that will taste noticeably different. The difference can include stronger or weaker basil taste. Each plant will taste different depending on whether you use the leaves dried or fresh.

How you dry the leaves and how you store them and how long you store them can all affect the taste and strength of the basil taste when you put it in your food.

When you have all of those variable and more affecting how your food tastes when you put basil on it, you can see that using spices can require more than automatically putting a half teaspoon of a spice or herb into your food.

You have to know how that spice you want to use tastes. I have learned to have a pretty good idea of how an herb will taste by smelling it. I don't believe that this ability is very common, but if you can develop it, it saves a lot of trouble. If not, then you will need to taste your herbs before you use them. If a dish turns out to be too strong tasting for a particular herb or spice, then you know to reduce that herb or spice a little the next time you cook. 

I dislike taking the chance that I will ruin an entire dish by really over-doing the spices in it. That means I make small adjustments each time I cook it until I get the spices where I want them. 1/4 to 1/8 teaspoon is about as fast as I like to go to adjust my herbs or spices in a recipe. I usually keep the herb or spice adjustment even smaller than that, though. Spices can really change a dish for better or for worse very fast. 

A post-it note or a pencilled-in notation on the recipe can help you to work out the change you need to make for that herb or spice the next time you use the recipe. Once I get the spice adjustment down to where I like it, I like to change it in my computer and on my hard copy recipe book.

Every person has different taste preferences. This is even more true for cooks. It is often possible to tell who cooked a dish by the herb or spice "signature". Every chef has a special palette of herbs and spices that they like best. Once you get used to adjusting herbs and spices to your own tastes, you too will develop your own herb and spice signature.

No comments:

Post a Comment