Despite a plethora of spice blends and seasonings on the market, chefs do like to make their own.
In an age where convenience is king, many chefs prefer to “do it old school.” They understand the benefits of, and are not shy about using, commercially prepared spice blends, sauces and seasonings. But they also understand that you can’t really call a recipe your own unless you’ve brought something unique to it.
We asked three chefs to share with us examples of their special flavoring techniques and mixes.
Chef Cameron's Turkey Brine
Executive Chef (Parkhurst Dining Services), Highmark, Pittsburgh
“My arrival at Highmark coincided with preparations for a Thanksgiving dinner. I came up with this brine that we used with the turkey, and it was a big hit. I used it because it helps break down the turkey, adds flavor and keeps it moist.
Brines are very forgiving and can be adjusted in many ways. The aromatics such as the herbs and garlic can be changed out with anything you prefer. You can also change the sugar to honey, molasses, agave nectar or any other sweetener. I love to add citrus. Any of those flavors—orange, lemon, lime—match up with poultry and pork products wonderfully.
Brines are especially popular for smoked items, and smoked turkey can be a great way to change up your normal holiday dinners. I use mine also for duck and pork, and you can even use it with beef on special occasions.”
Omar & Craig’s Guajillo Rub and Barbecue Seasoning
Executive Chef, Vail Commons, Davidson College, Davidson, N.C.
“The reason I like to make my own seasonings is because I have most of the base ingredients in house. I can control the flavor and heat profile, it is cost-effective for my bottom line and I am able to market on my menus that the rubs are housemade. Omar Rodriguez, who is one of my chefs, assisted me with these two blends: Barbecue Seasoning and a Guajillo Rub.
The Barbecue Seasoning has the right amount of sweet with heat. We played with this for a bit to come up with a flavor that complements the meat. I added ground espresso beans to the rub to give it some color and to balance the sweet with a touch of bitter. We use this for our barbecued chicken and ribs.
The Guajillo Rub was created when we started making beef barbacoa. Omar experimented with the rub to replicate the flavors his family has enjoyed. He wanted it authentic, using only guajillo and ancho chilies and Mexican oregano.”
Herb-Seasoned Roasted Potato Wedges
Chef/Manager (Flik Independent Dining Services), Horace Mann Lower School, Riverdale, N.Y.
“The right blend of seasoning can transform a seemingly average dish into one full of flavor. Herbs and spices are also a great way to add flavor without unwanted fat and calories. In this simple recipe, the potatoes are roasted for crunch without frying in oil and the dry herb mix adds delicious flavor.”