The tools of the trade for this season’s Top Chef Canada chefs go beyond sharp knives and moxie. The Top Chef Canada kitchen pantry is well stocked, beautifully organized and slightly envy-inducing. It’s brimming with spices, herbs and spice mixes with a spectrum of tastes, tangs and temperatures from extra-mild to ferociously hot, giving the chefs just what they need to create a winning dish.
These herbs and spices are mixed, matched and layered for bold, attention-grabbing flavour that makes their dishes stand out from the crowd. And taking these tastes from a professional kitchen to home base is easier than you’d think. All you need is a seasoning collection built for contemporary palates.
How to Build a Contemporary Spice Pantry
Map out your spice cupboard like you’re planning a trip. Is there a destination you’re aching to go to? A dish you’d love to try there? From Indian to Moroccan to French and beyond, herbs and spices are a passport to an untapped world of tastes awaiting exploration.
To begin, bring one new spice or herb per week into your kitchen and before you know it, you’ll have a library of tastes waiting for you, inspiring you and helping you along, every time you cook.
How to Store Spices and Herbs
Treat your herbs and spices like gold and they’ll return the favour, staying fresh longer. Store spices in the jar they came in or transfer to your own airtight jar, well-sealed and away from direct light or high temperatures, which can cause oxidation, leading to flat, not fresh, spices and herbs. A kitchen cupboard is the perfect place.
How to Tell if Spices and Herbs are Still Good to Use
Aroma: Strong, prominent and striking.
Colour: Vibrant, rich and natural.
Taste: Discernable and fresh tasting, not flat, unnoticeable or papery.
The Shelf Life of Spices and Herbs
Dried herbs: 1 to 2 years
Ground spices: 2 to 3 years
Spice mixes and seasonings: 1 to 2 years
Whole dried spices: 3 to 4 years
Bold Spices and Herbs to Explore
We’re pulling inspiration from the Top Chef Canada kitchen to help you build the ultimate culinary spice pantry. Here are some gourmet options to consider adding to your new spice pantry along with recipes to try to bring the flavour home.
Ancho Chili Pepper: With a mild heat and sweet, fruity flavour, ancho chili pepper is the dried version of a poblano pepper. Try it in this epic recipe for a Mexican Puebla Hot Pot Broth with Avocado Crema from McCormick’s Helloflavour.ca.
Saffron: Earthy, sweet, ever so slightly bitter and remarkable, saffron is used in Scandinavian, Middle Eastern, Spanish, Indian and Italian cuisines, adding not only a distinctive flavour but glowing yellow colour, too. Try saffron in this Whole-Roasted Cauliflower recipe.
Garam Masala: With a warmth akin to holiday baking spices but with a savoury, spicy edge, this Indian spice blend is usually a mix of cardamom, cinnamon, chili, curry leaves, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and peppercorns. Cull inspiration from India with this recipe for garam masala Sweet Potato Cakes.
Harissa: This North African spice blend comes dried or in paste form, often containing hot peppers, garlic, coriander, rose and caraway. It can be used in Moroccan tagines and stews, in spreads, dips or as a rub for meat. Give it a try at dinner tonight with this recipe for Chicken and Chickpea Tagine with Apricots and Harissa Sauce.
Za’atar: Fragrant, slightly sour, nutty and herbaceous, this spice mix is common in Middle Eastern cuisine. A mix of thyme, sumac and toasted sesame seeds, it brings depth to grilled flatbreads, fish, meat, hummus and more. It plays off of creamy chickpeas like a champ in this recipe for a Middle Eastern take of beans on toast.
Smoky Chickpeas on Grilled Toast With Poached Eggs and Za’atar
Lavender: Floral, soothing and delicate, culinary lavender adds a touch of Southern France to savoury dishes, and is a traditional component in herbes de Provence, a French spice mix containing thyme, oregano, marjoram, savory and rosemary. Lavender also shines in baked goods, sweets and cocktails. Bring a little bit of Southern French flair to your tea time with this recipe for Coconut Lavender Macaroons.
Essential Herbs and Spices Every Kitchen Needs
The building blocks of everyday meals, these spices and herbs have your back, soothe your soul and bolster your mood with their familiar flavour. See our collection of 16 dried herbs and spices every home cook should have in their pantry.
Sponsored by McCormick. For more great recipes using herbs and spices go to helloflavour.ca.