Raising the Steaks: Reasoning for uncommon seasoning

Cooking with seasonings is not only commonplace but in some cases necessary for a truly flavorful, delicious meal. Black pepper, kosher salt, oregano, basil, garlic and onion powders, you’ve undoubtedly heard of and/or cooked with these. They are safe, flavorful, and versatile in almost all dishes.

There are hundreds upon hundreds of uncommon or lesser-known seasonings; such are grains of paradise, sumac, nigella seeds, and cardamom. They are typically used in very specific dishes going for very specific tastes.

However, there are tons of common spices and seasonings that tend to be uncommonly used. This is going to cover just a few that are in my opinion under used and underappreciated.

First, salt. You probably have Morton’s® or a grinder from McCormick®, but there are countless varieties of salt. You can find flavored, smoked, large crystals, small granules, even powered (typically used for popcorn). One of the best options for salt out there is a large crystal or block of pink Himalayan salt. Himalayan salt does not exactly taste any different from your standard salt. At first glance the color is the most noticeable difference, but is often mistaken as regular table salt with food coloring. It is anything but however.

Mined from the Himalayan mountain range means that this salt can be harvested in large crystals, or massive salt blocks that can be used to cook fish and other foods on. The biggest selling point of Himalayan salt is the nutritional makeup. It is unrefined which leads to small traces of essential minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium, while at the same time actually having less sodium than refined table salt.

Now, using it to its fullest potential. Keep it whole; or rather just don’t crush it to oblivion. Keep the crystals course, not massive, but big enough to add texture, without breaking a tooth. This gives an explosion of a salt flavor that is more subtle and smooth than say a sea salt crystal. The other way to bring out the best of Himalayan salt is to burn it.

Not exactly, but really let it get warm to hot. This brings out an aroma and flavor that you won’t find anywhere else. If using a salt plate, place the plate on the grill, bring the grill up to temperature slowly, and then place your fish or steak on the plate directly to infuse a little more flavor.

Let’s move on to something that less people come across on a daily basis, sage. It is really only used in holiday cooking, which is unfortunate considering how robust and easy it is to use.

One of the reasons that sage goes so well with turkey (more so than chicken) is fat. Turkey has a higher fat content, and when paired with the light mint and pepper profile of sage, it makes for a great Thanksgiving feast. You can you that reasoning to translate it to other dishes though.

For instance pork, which is known for being a fattier food, can benefit tremendously from sage.

Take a center cut pork chop, bone in or boneless, and rub lightly with a pure extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of salt (Himalayan), and then sprinkle or rub a pinch of sage on it. Roast at 350 degrees for 25-35 minutes, getting that internal temperature up to 145, serve and enjoy.

Sage can also be enjoyed as the base for a great cracker spread/dip. Take a cup of goat cheese, mix in 1.5 tablespoon of sage, .5 cup of parmesan cheese, and one tablespoon of lemon juice.

Last but not least let’s talk about something that I’m sure you’ve heard of but have most likely not cooked with. Juniper berries. Commonly known as the ingredient that makes gin, taste like gin. Juniper berries are one of the most underrated ingredients, especially when cooking a game meat. The tartness and every so slight sweetness help lessen the gaminess while adding a nice subtle flavor.

To cook game meat or even pork with juniper berries, add a cup of water or even better red wine, add ¼ cup of juniper berries, one tablespoon of sugar, and one tablespoon of minced garlic into a sauce pan, let simmer and turn on low when you see the sugars from the wine and sugar start to caramelize. Let sit for 5-10 minutes on low, add your meat to the pan, turn the heat to medium and cook until the safe cooking temperature for the meat you are cooking has been achieved.

It is my charge to you, that in the next 30 days, you cook with 2 out of 3 of these ingredients.

 

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About Jon Hopkins

Jon "Doc" Hopkins is the assistant manager at The Meat House.

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