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.

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.

Thickening Sauces

Thickening sauces have developed from using starchy vegetables, the ground nuts, and breadcrumbs from medieval cookery to using gums and gelling agents in today’s advanced gastronomy. The most common and popular methods are;

Roux

Flour and butter for a roux
Preparing a Roux

roux is a mixture of flour and fat used to thicken sauces, soups, and stews. It is traditionally used to thicken the classical French Béchamel, Velouté, and Espagnole sauces and in Cajun and Creole cooking. The roux is made from equal parts wheat flour and either butter, vegetable oil, bacon drippings or lard which are cooked together with or without colouring. The warm liquid such as stock or scalded milk is then slowly whisked in to the cooked roux, which is then cooked out over a low heat.

Beurre monté

This is a French term meaning to finish a sauce with butter forming an emulsion. Immediately before serving you can whisk in chunks of cold unsalted butter, one at a time, into a hot sauce. The sauce must not boil or the butter emulsion will split. The finished sauce has a velvety texture and rich flavour.

Beurre manié

Is a paste made by kneading butter and flour together which can be crumbled over and quickly whisked into a simmering sauce. It can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator. A ratio of fifty grammes of butter to seventy-five grammes of plain flour will thicken one litre of sauce.

Liaison

This is a mixture of cream and egg yolks, used to thicken soups and sauces. Never add directly to hot liquids or the eggs will cook out and scramble. Temper the liaison by adding a small amount of the hot sauce to it which gradually raises the temperature, then whisk this mixture back into the remaining sauce. DO NOT BOIL and serve straight away. This is a very rich method of finishing classic sauces.

Reduction

Demi-glace reduction
A Demi-glace reduction

This is the same as the American term “cooking down” … as the stock or sauce simmers water vapour evaporates. This thickens the sauce and intensifies the flavour. Use a large heavy pot and bring the liquid or sauce to a gentle simmer, a vigorous boiling may burn the sauce and evaporate volatile flavourings. Many of the sauces found in modern cuisine are based on reductions see Demi-glace.

Slurry

A slurry is a mixture of a starch and cold water. You can use cornstarch for thickening milk or dairy sauces, arrowroot used to thicken fruits juices because of the clear, glossy finished result on fruit tarts, potato starch, rice flour, wheat flour or dried powdered yam. The ration is one-part starch with two parts cold water. Always remove the sauce from the heat before adding the slurry to stop the starch cooking in thin streams or ribbons and not mixing. Then return to the heat stirring continuously.

Garlic

Fresh Garlic Cloves
Garlic Cloves

Garlic is one of the most popular aromatics used almost worldwide because of the flavour adds to dishes. Raw garlic has a very pungent, hot taste that mellows and becomes sweeter when cooked. Roasting garlic gives it a lovely delicate, nutty flavour. Propagation is by placing a single clove in the ground, for this plant to reach maturity will take around five months depending on the growing conditions. It is best to grow garlic in a sunny location that is well drained. Garlic is a major ingredient in Asian influenced dishes such as stir-fries and curries, as a classic flavouring in Mediterranean cooking for soups, sauces and casseroles and pairs perfectly with onions, tomatoes, chilli, ginger, basil, chicken, pork, and seafood.

Strings of Garlic Bulbs
Fresh Garlic Bulbs

Slaves building the pyramids were given garlic to give them strength. The first workers strike then occurred when, to save money, the garlic was removed from their diet. During World War I soldiers depended on garlic for its antiseptic properties and it has been used for a long time to fight colds and coughs.  There is an old Spanish proverb that says, “where you find garlic, you find good health.” The same chemical that gives garlic its pungent aroma reacts with bacteria in your mouth that cause bad breath. A good way to counteract this smell is to eat parsley or to drink milk while you are eating the garlic.