Feb 06 2011

My Top 10: Condiment Edition

Published by Christine at 12:02 am under Uncategorized

What are the things you use most often in your kitchen? I am not talking about particular pots and pans, although we all have our favorites in that domain as well. Perhaps that will be the topic of another blog post. What I want to talk about today, however, are spices and other condiments. These are the things you just can’t cook without, and find yourself reaching for all the time. Whatever they are, they have a place of honor in your pantry. Mine is, perhaps predictably, a rather French list. Most (though not all) of the oils, spices and herbs I mention here are familiar to the French cook, and likely a part of his or her basic cooking lineup. Many of these are things I grew up with, and so perhaps it is in with a view to honoring a certain culinary tradition, while showing deep appreciation for others, that I designed this list. I will give you numbers 10 through 6 today to whet your appetite, and 5 through 1 in the next post, so stay tuned.


10. Soy Sauce

I cooked without soy sauce for the longest time. I just couldn’t get into it. I found it to be too salty and without much flavor, the type of thing you occasionally use on your Chinese take-out rice. I honestly could not be bothered. I know now that the problem resides in what is available in supermarkets; brands such as La Choy (shudder) will turn you off the stuff forever, because they are not the real thing. What I’ve learned is that what matters most is to get a sauce that says ‘naturally brewed’ on the label. If you check the ingredients list and see things like ‘caramel color’ or some such added, you know you’re not getting the real thing. This turns out to be crucial. Real soy sauce (and there are a number of varieties out there) isn’t just salty. It’s tasty too. I like to use it in some of my soups, to make Brussels sprouts, to jazz up sauces and dressings, an even in mashed potatoes instead of salt. One of my sisters uses it to flavor her aligot, a regional specialty of Lozère (France) made with cheese and potatoes; one would not automatically think of using soy sauce in there, but it really works.

9. Ras-el-hanout


I wish you could smell this.


O Hail ras-el-hanout, king of all spice blends. There are probably as many recipes for ras-el-hanout as there are shopkeepers in Morocco. I gave you mine here, which I hope you’ve tried or will try. I wouldn’t know how to make couscous without it. You can also use it to flavor your rice, and as a rub on steaks or chicken before they hit the grill. In Northern Africa, it is also used in pastries. Open up a jar, and simply feel warm all over, even in the middle of winter. It’s magic.

8. Cornichons

They’re a bit hard, but not impossible, to find in the U.S. Trader Joe’s has some pretty good ones. They are tiny sour pickles that make you suck your cheeks in, and I can’t get enough of them. I’m not particularly fond of the big pickles that are popular on this side of the pond; I find them too large and somehow sweet-tasting, and definitely not sour enough. Cornichons, on the other hand, are the best condiment for a ham and swiss on baguette (with just a little bit of butter on the bread, Parisian-style), or straight out of the jar. I can’t have paté without them, and they’re also wonderful on the side with some pork roast.

7. Fleur de Sel

Think of this as a finishing salt, the kind that you sprinkle on the food once it’s all said and done, to give it a little extra zing and a tiny bit of crunch. The best of the best is fleur de sel de Guérande, from the Loire-Atlantique region of France. It’s a little expensive here in the U.S., but once you’ve done a taste test, comparing this to ordinary table salt, you’ll understand what the fuss is all about. Just use it (sparingly) on food that is ready to serve, and not while cooking. This would be a waste of a good thing since the salt would all melt away in the food before you had a chance to experience its delicate crunch and lovely taste. What I would love to try is a salt bagel made with fleur de sel. Now *that* would be great.

6. Walnut Oil

I have already talked about the oil on this blog, and you can read about it here. Bar none, it makes the best salad dressing you’ve ever had, and it can’t be beat in a tomato and gorgonzola salad. Don’t use it on the stove, however, as it cannot withstand high temperatures.


Next time: the top 5


6 responses so far

6 Responses to “My Top 10: Condiment Edition”

  1. Debon 06 Feb 2011 at 11:18 am

    Good stuff! The current favorite of The Girl and I is berbere, a ras al hanout-like combination of spices used to flavor Ethiopian food.

    It’s pretty expensive to order, and I’m too lazy to make it myself, so we just buy containers of it from our favorite local restaurant.

  2. Christineon 06 Feb 2011 at 11:25 am

    Berbere is definitely very close to ras el-hanout; many of the same spices, in different amounts. REH is heavier on the cinnamon (which is also why it can be used in pastries), less so on the paprika. But really, what can be better than a sprinkle of a blend like these on legumes and veggies? OK, now I’m hungry.

  3. Adamon 06 Feb 2011 at 11:26 am

    I do enjoy me some walnut oil :)

  4. Christineon 06 Feb 2011 at 11:38 am

    And you’re one of the lucky few who knows how delicious it is!

  5. caton 07 Feb 2011 at 9:45 am

    C’est toujours une bonne nouvelle qu’un site dédié à ce qui se mange!
    REH…c’est une épice des mille et une nuit! Le sel de guérande est en loire, mais pas haute (c’est plus loin les montagnes!même s’il a y des montagnes de sel). Pour le goût, je suis en train de lire un auteur du 19ème et ne resiste pas à t’envoyer un petit bout de ce long poème gustatif et sensuel de bout en bout. Il y a l’histoire de cette femme qui après la dévoration d’une volaille bien née et truffée s’est laissée séduire…. et aussi ce cours passage : ” mais voyons ce qui se passe dans l’homme qui mange et qui boit…Celui qui mange une pêche par exemple, est d’abord frappée agréablement par l’odeur qui en émane; il la met dans sa bouche et éprouve une sensation de fraîcheur et d’acidité qui l’engage à continuer; mais ce n’est qu’au moment où il avale et que la bouchée passe sous la fosse nasale que le parfum lui est révélé; ce qui complète la sensation que doit causer une pêche. Enfin, ce n’est que lorsqu’il a avalé que, jugeant ce qu’il vient d’éprouver, il se dit à lui même : voilà qui est délicieux!!”
    Qui est cet adorable auteur!!!???

  6. Christineon 07 Feb 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Loire-Atlantique, je ne sais pas pourquoi j’ai écrit Haute-Loire. :) Merci! Et l’auteur délicieux, Brillat-Savarin, mériterait bien un blog pour lui tout seul, non?

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