Spices of the Month - January
Posted: Tuesday, January 1, 2013
This month, Kowalski's is featuring bay leaf, fennel and paprika.
Bay leaves are used in cooking for their distinctive flavor and fragrance, notably in Mediterranean and European cuisine, especially French. Bay is similar to oregano and thyme. The most common uses for bay are in soups and stews, but they are also used in roasted or braised meat, seafood and vegetable dishes. Fresh bay leaves are very mild and aren’t often used in cooking, though in Elizabethan England people believed that if they pinned bay leaves to their pillow on the eve of Valentine's Day they would dream that night of their future spouse.
Fennel is a highly aromatic herb similar though sweeter and not as strong as anise or star anise. Fennel seed is brown to grayish, somewhat resembling cumin seed. Fennel is sold both whole and ground. Whole fennel in particular is commonly used in Italian sausages and meatballs. Though not as common in regional cooking, it is used worldwide in cakes and breads, fish dishes, salad dressings and cocktails.
Fennel adds a nice touch to tomato-based pasta sauces, especially meat sauces. Start with 1/4 tsp. for every 2 1/2 cups of sauce and add more to taste. You can also add 1/4 tsp. per lb. of ground pork or beef used to make meatballs or meatloaf.
You can try fennel in our recipes for Fennel Butter.
Paprika is a spice made from ground dried bell peppers or chili peppers. While sweet paprika is most common these days, until the 1920s, hot paprika was the only kind. Sweet paprika differs from hot in that most of the seeds of the peppers are removed before grinding. Though the seasoning is used in many food cultures to both color and flavor foods, it is most commonly associated with Hungarian and Spanish cuisines. It is used in rice dishes, stews, soups and the traditional Hungarian dish, goulash. In the United States, paprika is frequently sprinkled on foods as a garnish. For this reason, when many people think of paprika, they may automatically envision a deviled egg dusted with a bit of the bright red powder.
Both Spanish and Hungarian paprika are available in mild, medium and spicy varieties. The Spanish are known for making a popular variety of smoked paprika called pimentón de La Vera. Hungary is a major producer, so Hungarian paprika is both commonly available and generally considered superior. Most Hungarian paprika sold in the U.S. is on the sweeter side. Kowalski's Hungarian Paprika is the édesnemes (meaning "noble sweet") type; it is bright red and slightly pungent.
In recipes calling for paprika with no variety specified, Hungarian (sweet) paprika is generally suitable.