Spices -- the seeds, bark, roots, fruit, or flowers of plants -- add flavor and color to savory dishes.
Blends of herbs and spices let you add an intriguing combination of flavors with just one measure. Common blends include:
Barbecue seasoning: This zesty combination blends spices that bring a smoke-flavored heat to foods. These spices may include salt, sugar, garlic, hot red pepper, hickory smoke flavor, onion, and others. Sprinkle it onto meats before grilling, roasting, or broiling.
Bouquet garni (boo-KAY gar-NEE): This is a French term for a bundle of herbs that is either tied together or placed in a piece of cheesecloth, allowing you to remove it easily from a cooked dish. A bouquet garni is especially handy for blends that use bay leaves, which should always be removed from a dish before serving. A traditional French bouquet garni includes thyme, parsley, and bay leaf, but you can create one from just about any herbs you like. Just bundle the herbs together in several thicknesses of 100-percent-cotton cheesecloth, then tie the cheesecloth closed with kitchen string to form a bag.
Cajun seasoning: While the blends available may differ, most are peppery hot. They can include onion, garlic, and salt with the classic Cajun trio of white, black, and red peppers. Sprinkle it into crumb coatings or directly onto fish, poultry, or meat before cooking.
Dry rub: A dry rub is a blend of several different herbs and spices that is rubbed over or patted onto the surface of meat before it's cooked. Purchase dry rubs in a variety of flavor combinations from the supermarket. You can also experiment making your own dry rubs with complementary flavorings from your spice rack.
Fines herbes (feenz ERB): This French phrase describes a mix that usually contains chervil, parsley, chives, and tarragon. Use it in place of individual herbs in gravies, sauces, creamy soups, and poultry stuffings.
Five-spice powder: Combinations may vary, but this fragrant blend usually includes cinnamon, anise seeds or star anise, fennel, black or Szechwan pepper, and cloves. To make your own five-spice powder, in a blender container combine 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon; 6 star anise or 2 teaspoons anise seeds; 1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds; 1 1/2 teaspoons whole Szechwan peppers or whole black peppercorns; and 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves. Cover and blend until powdery. Store in a covered container. Makes about 1/3 cup.
Herbes de Provence: This melange of herbs, common in the South of France, usually includes basil, fennel, lavender, marjoram, rosemary, sage, savory, and thyme. Add to poultry stuffings, creamy pasta dishes, soups, and salad dressings.
Italian seasoning: Common herbs found in this mix include basil, oregano, thyme, and rosemary; sometimes garlic and red pepper are included.
Jamaican jerk seasoning: This lively mixture can include salt, sugar, allspice, thyme, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, onion, and chile pepper. It adds spice to fish, meat marinades, and salad dressings.
Lemon-pepper seasoning: This mixture, primarily salt with black pepper and grated lemon peel, adds a delicate lemon flavor to poultry and vegetables.
Mexican seasoning: This spicy blend often includes cumin, chile peppers, salt, onion, sweet peppers, garlic, oregano, and red pepper.