Seared filet mignon. Grilled flank steak. Or how about a burger? So long as your meat is 100% grass fed, the sky's the limit on which cut you choose or how you prepare it. A confessed purist, I love the flavor of meat just as it is, no special sauces necessary. But what if you do want to spice things up a bit? How do you decide which seasonings to use and which to avoid while cooking with meat? What's the secret to creating the perfect flavor profile for the meal you’re dreaming up?
Let’s talk herbs and spice first. Herbs are parts of leafy green plants used for flavoring or as a garnish. A spice is a seed, fruit, root, bark, berry, bud or vegetable substance primarily used for flavoring, coloring or preserving food. Many spices have antimicrobial properties, which is why spices are more commonly used in warmer climates (known for having more infectious diseases), and why the use of spices is prominent in meat, which is particularly susceptible to spoiling. Spices are sometimes used in medicine, religious rituals, cosmetics or perfume production, or as a vegetable.
With hundreds of spices and herbs to choose from, no dish ever has to be dull. But before diving in, palate first, are there any you shouldn’t be eating? So long as you're in good health, no. But certain health conditions would warrant avoiding certain spices.
For instance, anyone following an auto immune approach to eating would benefit from avoiding peppers, (along with all other nightshade plants) and that includes paprika, black pepper and all chilis. In general, however, whatever suits your fancy is fair game. So what's the best way to decide on a spices for meat, when there are so many to choose from?
1. Start with what you know and build from there
We’ve all had nutmeg sprinkled on a hot cider in winter, and mint tossed with fresh berries in the summer. All well and good, but let’s build from there. If you like nutmeg, try allspice; and if mint is right up your alley, why not try basil? Smell, taste a little and take it from there. There are unlimited possibilities to what you might end up with!
2. Get a little creative
Can’t find that exotic-sounding spice blend for those new meat recipes you wanted to try? Why not be a little daring and play around with the next best thing? Recently, the health food store was out of the Aleppo chilis I was looking for to prepare my version of Muhammara (sans the bread), so I opted for a sweet paprika instead. No harm, no foul and no one noticed!
3. Research regional cuisines
We have a bad habit, here in the U.S., of Americanizing food, often to our own disadvantage. Take Mexican Cuisine, for example. Sadly, far too many assume that it’s all about nachos and burritos and nothing more. If we have a little fun reading and researching different cuisines around the world, we introduce ourselves, and our families, to an entirely new flavor experience, without having to travel anywhere. Go Indian and think turmeric, garam masala or opt for Asian and focus on ginger, thai basil and garlic. There’s so much overlap between so many cuisines, too, that you may well end up developing your own fusion!
4. Mix and Match
And on that note of fusion, where would we be if we didn’t have French + Vietnamese Fusion? Or Tex-Mex? Pair sweet with spicy, hot with sour and try spices you’d normally think of as being used for savory dishes with fruit, and those you’d use with dessert on your main entree. How about a chocolate-mole sauce for that pasture-fed pork? Or a dash of turmeric in your homemade morning smoothie? Sure, it might sound unusual at first, but if you don’t try new things, how will you get out of your flavor rut?
5. Be brave
Ultimately, one of the key things to remember is that unlike with baking, it’s very, very hard to ruin something with cooking. Over-salting is one way to spoil a dish, so the easy fix for that is to skip salt and let guests use it on the finished dish. The other error is to burn something, so be mindful of cooking temps and times. Aside from that, everything else is fixable, so roll up your sleeves, wash your hands and get cooking!
It just takes a little creativity and you’ll open up a worldly array of flavors in your own cooking creations.