By Sylvie Bigar
Harvest season is approaching and chefs are pondering what spices to use.
Jose de Meirelles, chef and owner of Tintol, a new Portuguese tapas bar on West 46th Street uses green cardamom in his ‘chanfana de cabrito,’ a braised goat dish in red wine.
“It brings forth a lemony flavor without the acidity of lemon,” says the chef. “I also sprinkle some in my oxtail ragu.”
Made from the dried stigmas of the crocus flower, saffron has to be picked by hand.
Fairway food guru Steve Jenkins says, “The thing about saffron is trust. Saffron, the most expensive spice in the world, is often the victim of unscrupulous people. Avoid powdered saffron as it is often adulterated with non-saffron material,” said Jenkins, “look for a predominance of carmine or russet filaments and give little weight to origin. Finally, be judicious with your use of saffron, not because it is expensive, but because it is so strong; too much of it in a recipe will ruin the dish.”
For as little as $2.39, you can season your dish with a packet of imported Spanish saffron.
Sumac, a crushed berry of the poison ivy family, does not burn, but produces a lemony tang. Popular in Middle Eastern cuisine, it is often used in a paste called zahtar, mixed with marjoram or thyme, sesame seeds, salt and pepper, and then rubbed on the famous doner kebabs before grilling.
At Vong on East 54th Street, Jean-Georges Vongerichten blends it in a fragrant broth surrounding monkfish baked with special spices and seeds.
Don’t be fooled, pink peppercorns are not pepper. They are the dried berries of the baies roses plant and much of it is grown commercially on the French island of La Reunion.
Maybe that is the reason why they are often found in French cuisine. At Fleur de Sel, in the Flatiron District, chef Cyril Renaud uses pink peppercorns in a loin of venison au poivre crushing white, black and pink peppercorn to make a pungent crust. Matthew Tivy, chef and owner of Café du Soleil on 104th Street and Broadway, marinates his duck confit with pink peppercorns, serving it on a salad or with a lentil cassoulet.
Juniper berries come from juniper shrubs and are often crushed to produce oil crucial to the distillation of gin. Traditionally used in the kitchens of Northern Europe, juniper berries flavor game marinades and sauerkraut. At Aquavit on East 55th Street, chef Marcus Samuelsson serves a seared black sea bass with napa cabbage cured with crushed juniper berries. Used medicinally to relieve arthritis or as a diuretic, its properties were already known in ancient Egypt.
In an era when a popular restaurant in New York is called Spice Market, where Jean-Georges Vongerichten, a traditionally trained French Alsatian chef dazzles with pork vindaloo dusted with cardamom, it is fair to say that the culinary world has truly become smaller.
Arun Sinha, owner of Foods of India on Lexington Avenue, who supplies spices to New York’s top chefs, summed up with a huge smile. “I smell like curry and I don’t mind!”
Vong’s Pork Vindaloo
6 lb. pork butt cut in 1 1/2” squares
4 cloves garlic
4 oz old ginger
6 oz red finger chili
12 oz. red wine vinegar
1 oz. cumin – grind fine
1 oz. paprika
1/2 oz. black pepper
Blend all the above, except the pork, to a wet paste and marinade pork for at least 1 hour.
10 oz. diced Spanish onions
3 pc. green cardamom
2 pc. cloves
1 pc. cinnamon
Bloom spices in oil until fragrant. Add diced onions and sweat without color. Once the onions are translucent, add the pork and the marinade into a rondeau and cook for about 1 1/2 hours or until the meat is very tender. Season with salt and sugar half way through cooking.
Fried Thai basil, salted
Fried garlic chips, salted
Sliced red finger chilis
Half rondelles of leek