Cooking with spices sounds easy enough. Toss them in for some added seasoning, and there's nothing more to it, right? Not exactly.
Whether you're using whole spices or ground, there's one crucial step that brings out the flavor tremendously. Since the whole point of using spices is to enhance flavor, it's important to know the correct way to maximize your seasoning.
To extract natural flavors and enhance the effect on your dish, heat up spices before cooking.
While spices are naturally aromatic, "it's heat that really wakes up those aromatic oils," chef Floyd Cardoz, formerly of North End Grill in NYC, explains.
If you're using whole spices, simply toss them in a pan over medium heat and toast them until they're fragrant. Shake the pan frequently to prevent burning. If the spices are different sizes, it's safer to toast them separately, since they'll cook at different rates. If they're all generally the same size, you can toast them in one batch.
For ground spices, Cardoz recommends mixing them with whichever cooking liquid you're using—vinegar, stock or even water—before heating them in the pan, because dry, ground spices will burn easily, even when you're cooking in oil. Add the paste to a pan with hot oil and cook until the liquid has evaporated, Cardoz says. Also known as blooming, heating ground spices in oil first before cooking will make all the difference.
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