Cloves

“Nutmeg must be able to smell the sea but cloves must see it”

Cloves are a spice that come from the flower buds of a tree originally from Indonesia and are a common ingredient in savoury and sweet recipes in Asian, African and Middle Eastern cuisines. The unopened flower buds are harvested twice a year and then they are dried in the sun. Cloves have a warm, pungent aroma which many people associate with Mulled Wine and Christmas with notes of camphor and pepper. Cloves have a strong, pungent, flavour, and too many can be overpowering. Cloves can sometimes leave a numbing feeling in the mouth due to the active ingredient eugenol and are why people use oil of cloves if they have a toothache.

Whole dried cloves
Whole Cloves

Cloves were only grown in Indonesia until the eighteenth century when Frenchman, Pierre Poivre, carried seedlings to Mauritius where the seedlings flourished.  The plants were then introduced into the East African coast, which is now the largest producer of cloves. The saying “Nutmeg must be able to smell the sea but cloves must see it” is because cloves grow best on islands or near the sea. Cloves can be used either whole or ground in Chinese cooking, apple recipes, traditional baked ham, and pairs well other spices like allspice, bay, cardamom, cinnamon, chillies, fennel, ginger, and nutmeg. Cloves are one of the spices in Garam masala and Chinese five spice.

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Star Anise

Whole Star Anise
Star Anise Pods

Star anise is instantly recognisable as the star-shaped spice which is used in many Chinese, Vietnamese, Indonesian and Indian dishes. The pods can be used whole, broken into pieces or ground down to a powder and are a key ingredient in Chinese Five Spice. Star anise has a delicious liquorice like aroma and a sweet aniseed flavour which is delicious with fish, chicken, pork and root vegetables. Star anise is often used in combination with other spices and aromatics such as chillies, cinnamon, coriander seeds, garlic, ginger, and lemongrass.

Star anise is the fruit of small, green magnolia trees which are native to South-west China and can bear fruit for 100 years or more. Star anise has been used throughout Chinese history for its culinary and medicinal properties and is still valued in cough syrups and to provide relief from flatulence. The Japanese used to burn the aromatic bark of the tree for incense. Star anise started being used in Europe from the seventeenth century to flavour syrups, cordials and preserves and is still used in western countries today to flavour drinks, and confectionery.

Tarragon Vinegar

A bottle of Tarragon Vinegar
A bottle of Homemade Tarragon Vinegar

Tarragon Vinegar is a great way to add extra flavour to dishes such as steak with Bearnaise sauce and tarragon mayonnaise.

Tarragon Vinegar

500 ml good quality White Wine Vinegar

A small bunch of fresh Tarragon

Additional fresh Tarragon sprigs, optional

Thoroughly wash the tarragon and pat dry with kitchen paper. Place in a suitably sized sterilized jar and using the back of a wooden spoon, gently bruise the tarragon leaves and stems. Heat the vinegar to just under the boil and pour into the jar. Leave to cool for a few minutes then seal the jar. Store in a cool dark place for at least two weeks to allow the flavours to develop. Strain the vinegar through some fine muslin and transfer to a suitable sterilised bottle and add a further couple of washed tarragon sprigs. Seal and store for up to six months.

Mignonette

Mignonette is a traditional accompaniment to chilled, raw oysters containing a mix of pepper, shallots, and vinegar the name is thought to come from a traditional spice mix of peppercorns, cloves, and other spices.

Chilled Oysters Mignonette
Traditional Oysters Mignonette

 

Mignonette

75 ml quality White Wine Vinegar or Champagne Vinegar

1 medium Shallot, peeled and very, very finely diced

¼ teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper

Stir together all ingredients and allow the flavours to infuse for thirty minutes before serving.

If you like things a little fierier, add one teaspoon of Sriracha sauce.

Sriracha

Thai Sriracha Sauce
Sriracha Hot Sauce

Sriracha is a hot chilli-based condiment from Thailand used predominantly in Thai and Vietnamese cooking and used in soups, sauces and as a dip for seafood and spring rolls. It is made from red chillies, garlic, sugar, salt, and vinegar. As its popularity has spread the sauce is now used to flavour mayonnaise served with seafood and burgers, as a glaze for grilled bacon and in cocktails. In America, the sauce is commonly known as Rooster sauce from the logo on the most predominant brand available.

Fines herbes

Fines herbes is a mix of parsleychivestarragon, and chervil used to flavour chicken, fish, and egg dishes, in sauces and in herb salads. Perhaps the most famous dish is ‘Omelette aux fines herbes’ a classic of French cuisine. Dishes using Fines herbes should always be cooked quickly as not to spoil the herbs flavour and appearance.

Culinary Herbs
Fresh Herbs

Fines herbes is one of three classic herb blends used in classic French cuisine alongside the more strongly flavoured mix of herbs in ‘Bouquet Garni’ and ‘Herbes de Provence’.

Tarragon

“I believe that if ever I had to practice cannibalism, I might manage if there were enough tarragon around”

James Beard

Gently crushing the leaves of tarragon releases a sweet aroma of liquorice, and anise is the predominant flavour with lemon, basil and a sweet aftertaste. Tarragon is a popular ingredient in French cooking as a key flavour Béarnaise sauce and one of the ingredients of ‘fines herbes’, along with chives, parsley and chervil. Tarragon marries well with fish dishes, chicken and eggs, as well as being perfect with mushrooms and tomatoes. Tarragon can be used both fresh or dried however the flavour and aroma often disappear when dried so it’s better to preserve fresh leaves in oil or vinegar.

Fresh Tarragon
Fresh Tarragon

Tarragon is a perennial herb it grows best in a sunny spot with rich, dry soil. It grows better in colder climates, however, it does need protection from sharp frosts. Tarragon is said to be an appetite stimulant and to assist with stomach upsets, heartburn, insomnia and headaches, the Romans chewed tarragon leaves to ease toothaches.