Do you want to make your food taste so much better without having to enroll in cooking school? The best advice I can give you is to be assertive. One way to distinguish your food from someone else’s—whether it’s to impress your family, for friends at a dinner party, or to best a fellow contestant on a television cooking show (insert laugh)—is with bold-flavored herbs, spices, and condiments.
The hallmark of my food is aggressive seasoning. “More fresh herbs! More acidity!” is a call my sous-chefs constantly hear from me, because those are my key tools for making up the flavor in my dishes. I concentrate on harnessing strong-flavored ingredients—so bring on the fresh lemon juice, tear up the parsley leaves, splash on the Worcestershire sauce. The most important thing in my pantry at home is my spice rack, which is loaded with spices, mixes, and blends. (Buy bulk spices; they’re cheaper and they stay fresher longer, whether it’s something commonplace like oregano or something exotic like ras el hanout.) The most important thing in my fridge? My condiments, including different kinds of mayonnaise, ketchup, chutney, and vinaigrette.
There isn’t a condiment I don’t like (in other words, I don’t question it when somebody puts ketchup on their scrambled eggs or mayo on their fries). And my favorite, bar none, is tartar sauce. Early in my career, when I was training with French chefs, I would have blanched at the thought of a sauce that didn’t rely on expertly minced, precisely blended ingredients; but as I’ve matured, I’ve come to embrace the pleasure of chunky sauces laden with hand-ripped herbs, chopped hard-boiled egg, and bits of cornichon—my mouth waters writing about it. Ketchup is another favorite, especially a version I make with precious San Marzano tomatoes, which come from a village near Pompeii at the foot of Mount Vesuvius.
When my family and I sit down for dinner, there is always a collection of condiment jars set out on the table. Both of my daughters enjoy a good drizzle of red wine reduction or a chunky salsa verde on their veggies . . . or mac ’n’ cheese.
So here are some must-have recipes that will help you appreciate and adopt my almost obsessive desire to season (herbs, spices) and complement (condiments) my food.
The Three Great Mustards
Makes about 1-1⁄2 cups
For some reason, I used to be embarrassed that I liked honey mustard. In retrospect, it’s probably because it’s such a simple, sweet condiment that lots of children love. So, I thought, what is the anti-child’s ingredient? Beer. I make a sweet honey mustard that any chicken finger would love and then ratchet it up by adding beer extract. It rounds out the sweetness and gives it a bit of a hoppy edge. (Beer extract is available at home-brew equipment suppliers and good spice shops; you can also find it online at SpiceBarn.com.)
1 cup Aioli (page 24) or good-quality store-bought mayonnaise
1⁄2 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons agave syrup
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon beer extract
Pinch of cayenne pepper
In a small bowl, whisk the aioli, Dijon, agave, cinnamon, beer extract, and cayenne together until well combined. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
Serve with: Vidalia Onion Rings.Pastrami Mustard
Makes about 1 cup
You eat a pastrami sandwich slathered with mustard, so why not add pastrami spices to the mustard and use it to flavor another dish, such as grilled salmon? Sometimes cooking is about connecting the dots: Ask yourself, for example, what else is good with mustard? A turkey sandwich is one answer, and wouldn’t that taste even better with the pastrami spices? That’s all it takes to make new and interesting dishes.
1-1⁄2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1-1⁄2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
1-1⁄2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 teaspoon paprika
1 cup Beer Mustard
1. Put the coriander and mustard seeds in a small skillet and toast over medium heat, swirling the pan, until fragrant. Transfer the seeds to a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, add the peppercorns, and grind until fine. Transfer to a small bowl.
2. Add the paprika and mustard and stir until well combined. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
Serve with: Corned Beef on Rye.Violet Mustard
Makes about 1-1⁄2 cups
If honey mustard is for kids, violet mustard is for old ladies. I say this only because a restaurant critic once wrote that one of my flowery mustards smelled like the inside of a grandmother’s purse. I loved my grandmother’s purse . . . with its cool, snappy clasp.
2 tablespoons candied violets
1⁄4 cup honey
1⁄4 cup balsamic vinegar
1⁄4 cup Dijon mustard
1⁄4 cup whole-grain mustard
1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Mince the violets on a cutting board until very fine, or mash until pulverized using a mortar and pestle.
2. In a small bowl, stir together the honey, vinegar, and Dijon and whole-grain mustards until combined. Add the violets, salt, and pepper and mix thoroughly. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Serve with: A cheese plate or, for a floral note, Corned Beef on Rye.
Excerpted from Try This at Home by Richard Blais, Foreword by Tom Colicchio. Copyright © 2013 by Richard Blais, Foreword by Tom Colicchio. Excerpted by permission of Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.