Has anyone seen the Michael McIntyre sketch about spice jars? Every time I make Chinese food I remember his impression of the jar of Chinese five spice and it brings a smile to my face. If you haven’t seen it you must watch this clip:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75r7UflPoNw
Contrary to his sketch I couldn’t manage without my herbs and spices. Somebody once asked me if there was a fire in my house and I had to save one thing from my kitchen what would it be? (a random question I know, but I promise I’m not making it up)! I thought hard and decided it would be a toss-up between my recipe journal, with all the recipes I have adapted and created over the last few years, or my spice rack.My spice rack started off very modestly. When I first moved into N’s his spice collection consisted of five clear jars full of completely unknown elements and a wonderful thing called a masala dabba (spice box). Now for those of you who don’t know a masala dabba is a round stainless steel box with a lid that contains approximately 8-10 small stainless steel containers. I can almost guarantee you that if you look hard enough you will find one in every South-East Asian household.
N’s dabba was given to him by his mum when he moved out. I think the intention was to make sure her son would remain well-nourished and would be able to re-create all the wonderful meals she had raised him on. It turns out I’m still waiting for him to make me one! However her hard work was not in vain. I make great use of her spice box and have used and re-filled the containers many times. The bit that touches me most is how she has carefully written the name of each spice on a white label and attached it to the edge of each container. She clearly didn’t have much faith in her son’s culinary skills and, although I am completely ashamed to admit it, I don’t know where I would be without those labels…so I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my mum-in-law for helping to avoid a few culinary mishaps!Herbs I find are a bit trickier. I do use dry herbs and I keep a lot of them in stock but there’s nothing as delicious as using fresh herbs. I used to buy a small pack of thyme and then for the next week everything I made tasted the same as I had to use up the packet before it spoiled. When I finally learnt that freezing herbs works so well it transformed my life. Some herbs you can freeze whole like thyme and rosemary, but others like coriander, parsley and basil require a little more work so I buy those ready frozen. The Waitrose Cook’s Ingredients range is an absolute blessing!
My spice rack has evolved the more and more I cook. With each new recipe I try I often end up buying myself a new little jar of something magical. A spice and herb rack doesn’t have to be fancy. You don’t have to by one of those purpose built turntables with clear jars. My rack is just a two tier metal shelving unit which I have lined with card so the jars don’t wobble. Your spice rack should be something that works for you and for your kitchen. Below I have listed the contents of my collection just in case you’re looking for some inspiration. There are still a few things on my wish list that I haven’t got round to buying, such as star anise and fennel seeds, but I seem to be managing pretty well with what I’ve got.
basil; bay leaves; black mustard seeds; Cajun spice; celery salt; Chinese five spice; chives; coriander powder; cumin powder; cumin seeds; dried crushed chillies; garam masala; garlic powder; ginger powder; ground cinnamon; herbes de provence; Italian herb dressing; paprika; parsley; pepper; saffron; salt; tarragon and turmeric.Do add a comment and let me know what your must-have spices are, as I’m always looking for new ideas…Whether you build a small collection or a large one I hope you love the food it helps you create.
Next time, log in for a healthy homemade fish and chips alternative.