When you're cooking up a culinary storm this holiday season, spare a thought for the unsung heroes of the kitchen. For all the dishes you'll be creating this Christmas, it's the big names—the roast turkey, the ham, the cranberry sauce, the apple pie—that get all the press. But the real taste hero of the season…is the seasoning!
We've been adding seasoning to enhance, pep up, and improve our food flavors for thousands of years. As we explored the globe, we discovered and coveted more and more of these exotic flavors, traded them like gold and diamonds, priced them accordingly, made fortunes from them, and waged war over them. The countries possessing them enjoyed great economic success and wealth overseas, and those who could afford to buy them won great social status at home.
Today, their possession is a little less rewarding, but spice is still a booming industry worth up to an estimated $14bn globally. Which means we ordinary mortals have plenty of options to create a masterpiece of flavors in the kitchen.
We can all sprinkle a little something on our food to help it along, but the real art is finding that perfect balance; the mixtures and combinations of seasoning to best bring out the food's taste. Too little, and you don't notice; too much, and it's overpowering. And when to add is just as important as what you add.
Some people take the “classical music” approach to finding this balance; everything is written down, measured, and counted precisely, so there's no chance of a mistake. Others take a more “jazz” approach; a sprinkle here and pinch there to see how it turns out. But whatever your strategy, here are three essential tips for good seasonal seasoning.
One, typically cold food needs a little more seasoning than hot; a few extra pinches of something over a salad can really bring it to life. Two, sprinkle your seasoning from high up; tv chefs don't just do it to look cool. Sprinkling spice distributes it more evenly across the food. And three, gently roast your seasoning first to enhance the flavors perfectly, but be careful as it's easily burnt.
So, when you're enjoying the culinary arts over the holidays, remember those underused and unsung heroes at the back of the kitchen cupboard. Use them creatively and they will reward you, turning your family meals into flavor-filled dining experiences.