Ay, there's the rub

Posted: Thursday, March 06, 2008

The use of spices is as old as human cooking, and the use of specific combination of spices and rubs have not been far behind. Throughout history they have helped to define culinary regions, areas and even countries.

Some famous examples of spice rubs include the French Herbes de Provence, which is wonderful for enhancing lamb and poultry; Indian Garam Masala, which is the main seasoning in tandoori cooking (India's skewered barbecue); Jamacian Jerk, which is a fiery scotch bonnet-based rub used to flavor pork, chicken, fish and shrimp; and in the United States, the Memphis rib rub and the ever popular Cajun rub.

Rubs define restaurants as well. Often restaurants have a house rub that they use as the seasoning for the majority of their items. This gives the restaurant a distinct flavor profile and defines it within the marketplace.

In the past, I have used a simple house seasoning that I've affectionately dubbed "Mystery Spice." In its basic form, it has been used to season fried foods, some prepped sauces and precooked foods, in addition to being used as a base for more elaborate rubs such as a Southwest steak rub and a cracked cumin halibut rub.

You should apply the following rubs at least 30 minutes before you grill your foods. Do not substitute granulated for powdered, table grind for cracked, or kosher salt for table salt in these recipes because they will not flavor as planned.

'Mystery Spice'

Put this in a shaker and try on French fries, hash browns, veggies or any savory item.

2 cups table salt

1½ cups onion powder

½ cup garlic powder

½ cup fine grind black pepper

Combine in a large ziplock bag, seal and shake until mixed well. You also can mix in a bowl, but the powders make that a dusty ordeal.

Southwest steak rub

Try this rub on grilled meats such as steak, pork or chicken. If you are not going to grill using this rub, I would suggest toasting the cumin for better flavor.

½ cup "Mystery Spice"

¼ cup dry mustard

¼ cup lemon peel

¼ cup ground cumin

¼ cup ground coriander

¼ cup celery salt

⅛ cup cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon chipotle pepper powder (you may use another smoky chili if you do not want the additional heat of chipotle peppers)

Combine in a large ziplock bag, seal and shake until mixed well.

Memphis rib rub

Rub this on your ribs a good three hours before you begin to grill.

2 tablespoons "Mystery Spice"

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon celery salt

¼ cup smoked paprika (buy good stuff, inexpensive paprika is grainy and flavorless and will make this rub mediocre. Remember, quality put in means quality comes out)

1 teaspoon dry mustard

2 tablespoons brown sugar

Combine in a large ziplock bag, seal and shake until mixed well.

Rubs are great fun to make. For ideas, make adaptations to your most used rubs by adding your favorite herb or a traditional herb for the meat you are cooking. Always use herbs and spices that are six months old or younger and buy quality. Enjoy, Juneau!

• Brady Deal works with Sysco Foods and can be reached at deal.brady@sea.sysco.com.

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