Spice Shopping with Angelo Sosa
February 17, 2011
“I really like soups, stews, and meats, so what kind of spices should I buy?” — Customer Sue
Angelo Sosa responds that in general you want spices to have volatile oil, which is like a perfume; brighter spices have more oils and a fresher flavor. One of his favorites right now is Saigon cinnamon. As chef and an extractor of flavor, Sosa tears opens a bag of Saigon cinnamon and says, “take a piece and gnaw on it…gnaw like a beaver.” (Which we all did). “It tastes like an atomic fireball now.” He says that the best thing to do with spices is to lightly toast them over low heat, which releases more of the oils. If you toast it over too high of a heat, you will lose the fragrance. Let them cool and then grind them and blend with other spices (If you blend them while hot, you will also risk losing the fragrance.)
“How would you use this in cooking?” — Customer Sue
Angelo likes to use it on French toast blended with cardamom, or says to blend it and make it into a marinade.
“If you could rub meat with any spice, what would it be?” — Customer Sue
Sosa thinks for a moment and comes back with, "Certain spices stimulate smokiness together, so I’d probably combine something like clove, allspice, black pepper, brown sugar, and salt." He adds, "But certain spices go a long way like clove, so you only need a little for a big impact, while the brown sugar is used to draw out the flavor of the spices." He’d toast them, blend them, and then marinades the meat at room temperature.
“What about fish?” — Customer Sue
Sosa is a trooper and without showing any sign of annoyance, patiently explains that he really likes using turmeric and fish sauce for a marinade for white fish like tilapia and sole. He looks for fish sauce that has an amber color and looks clean and pure – this means it is a better grade. (His favorite brand is Three Crabfish.) He usually combines four tablespoons turmeric with two tablespoons fish sauce, no salt, and marinades the fish before grilling or sautéing.
“What about beef?” — Customer Sue
Sosa says that he tries to use earth-grounded spices, ones that resemble soil more when cooking beef so he recommends all black spices, like black pepper, black cardamom, Nigella onion seeds, and others like that. But most importantly, he explains, is that all spice mixes are about experimentation, “Everything works together, it's just a matter of moderation.” He tries to tell Sue that it’s all about relating the spices to yourself, how you like it, and that’s a good start point to figure out what you like.