I am attending NYU and just moved into my first apartment and, I LOVE TO COOK but am just beginning in the last couple of years. I am confused by alot of spices. What spices do you recommend to have in my pantry at all times? And, what spices are the most important that they be fresh and not dried? By the way, love the Chubby Chinese Girl!
An aspiring cook,
Thank you so much for the love! By spices, I am assuming you are referring to herbs & spices. These days with easy access to fresh herbs, you should never use dried (unless for a dry rub or dredge.) Remember, when using fresh herbs it is best to chop fresh and use at the last possible moment, maximizing the flavor. Dill, Chives, Basil, Thyme, Oregano, Mint, Rosemary, Cilantro, and Parsley are the most common herbs used and are available in most supermarkets.
Spices are easy to store and have a great shelf life. I buy whole spices and use as needed. This brings the most flavors when cooking. For me, the most used spices in my pantry are Star Anise, Cinnamon, Fennel Seeds, Nutmeg, & Cumin.
Star Anise is very diverse. It has an almost licorice type flavor and is highly used in Asian cuisine. At Certe, we use it in our butternut Squash soup where it aids in the sweetness of the Squash.
Cinnamon is very common and I am sure you have used it quite often already. I highly recommend grating it to order.
Fennel seeds also add a sweet Licorice flavor. I suggest toasting, which brings out the oil and aids in disbursing the flavor easier and should be done with all aromatic seeds. We use Fennel seeds in all our beef meatballs at Pizza by Certe. It is the most common flavor related to Italian Sausage.
Nutmeg should definitely be grated to order. I use this spice a lot in the Fall/Winter. I like to use it in cream sauces and is the main component in Egg Nog.
Cumin is a bitter sweet spice and is also a seed. I use it a lot in Southwestern & Mexican cooking as well as Middle Eastern. It is an unrivaled flavor and needs to be experimented with.
If you are going to start your journey with spices, I suggest you buy a coffee grinder to be able to grind to order. There are hundreds of Spices and the best way is experimentation.
Keep It Fresh!