Season in Layers
by Sandra Bowens
We all know that herbs and spices are what make a dish interesting or different. Lemon chicken or tarragon chicken are still just chicken without the additional flavors. But you can add further depth to a dish by seasoning in stages, or layering, throughout the cooking process.
Layering works especially well in longer cooking stovetop recipes like soups or braised meats. Let's use a pot of chili as an example. Start by browning the meat. Drain it and then add chopped onion and bell pepper. After cooking and stirring for a few minutes, add the first layer of spices.
Use about one third of the amount of seasonings you think will use for the whole recipe. Sprinkle it over the meat and veggies and mix it in well. This meeting with the heat of the skillet heightens the initial flavor as well as deep-seasoning the base ingredients. The second spice layer will go in with the liquids.
Toasting seeds or spices in a dry skillet will create a much deeper flavor. Try using these toasted seasonings as a garnish to top a dish that has been prepared with the same untoasted spice.
Another trick is to heat oil and a spice or combination of several in a skillet over low heat. This creates a seasoned oil that may be used as the base for a dish or as a garnish. Try cooking garlic and crushed red pepper in plenty of olive oil as a simple sauce for spaghetti.
Use fresh and dried combos
You can really punch up flavors by using a combination of the same herb in fresh and dried forms. When you use an herb in a dish where it will cook for more than a few minutes, a dried herb may be preferable.
Consider fennel seeds in your meatballs and then sprinkle some snipped fennel leaves (from a bulb of fresh fennel) over the top of the final dish. Or rub a roast with dried marjoram and finish with a handful of fresh leaves over the top after you've cooked it.
Try it, you'll like it
Experiment with this trick of layering the next time you whip up a pot of something on the stove. You will taste the difference.
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