If I were a Spice Girl, I think I’d be Bitchy Spice.
The way I see it, bitchiness is really a two-headed monster. Her left head bears an ugly countenance; eyes filled with maliciousness and anger. Warts all over the place. The right is a bit more dignified, straightforward. Her features are strong and square, but not ugly. The left mouth spews words with hurtful intent, while the right responds boldly…assertively. In other words, bitchiness isn’t all that bad. Although its first face certainly conjures negative connotation, there is another more positive aspect to ‘being bitchy’ that is worthy of at least a crumb of respect.
But what does this have to do with food, pray tell? Well a lot, actually. Where would the food world be without an ounce of bitchiness? I’d conjure to guess it would be pretty bland. And that’s because spice is the bitch of the food world.
A heavy hand of any spice will ruin an otherwise well-assuming dish. Ever had an over-salted portion of fries? We’ve all been there. Now, imagine the best fries you’ve ever tasted. Salted just so, they bring out the French fry’s straightforward potatoiness. Salt enhances the texture and enlivens an otherwise pretty boring vegetable. So methinks it is fair to say that when used correctly and in the right proportions, spices add a new brilliance to food; dare I say a straightforward ‘bold assertiveness’…see where I’m going with this??? Salt makes the potato say, “Yeah, I’m a French fry. You got a problem with that? Eat me!”
The wonderful thing about spices is there are literally hundreds to choose from, if not thousands. Several faces of food bitchiness, if one is to continue this metaphor. Each spice adds its own personality to the mix. Combining them creates infinite possibilities that completely change the flavor profile of even the simplest of foods. I think everyone needs to experiment with spices. Mix and match their personalities to create your own little pop group. Here’s mine:
Smoky Spice Smoked paprika is a spice that should be in everyone’s repertoire. It’s basically sweet paprika that’s been slow-smoked over oak. To me, its aroma is almost campfire-y. Woodsy but still well-rounded like regular paprika with a hint of sweet and spice. Its color, too, serves as a food enhancer. It’s the secret ingredient in my oven-baked back ribs, and also adds an unexpected twist to your basic deviled eggs.
Exotic Spice Cardamom is not often used in American cooking, but its sweet, pungent, floral-y flavor makes it perfect in cookies and pastries. It’s no wonder I like it so much; cardamom is a relative of ginger, my second choice for the role of exotic spice. Cardamom adds a pleasant note to butter cookies that’s unusual and other-worldly. Pair cardamom butter cookies with coffee…now that’s a phenomenal way to start the day!
Blended Spice Penzey’s sandwich sprinkle isn’t really a spice per se but one of my favorite herb and spice blends. It’s flavor profile leans strongly toward Italian, but has far more applications. I use it to flavor freshly-made croutons, or, as the title suggests, to add zing to my turkey sandwiches. It’s also the secret ingredient to my bruschetta.
Traditional Spice Cinnamon is a universal go-to spice and for very good reason. It, like cardamom, is versatile in both sweet and savory dishes. Cinnamon provides the undertones to a traditional Greek pastitsio. But it also adds extra flavor to Sunday pancakes.
Angry spice Any spice list wouldn’t be complete without the addition of some sort of chile pepper. My pick for adding heat to a dish is good ol’ cayenne pepper. Yes, it’s hot, but it also has a solid backbone. Like salt, cayenne rounds out and accentuates the other flavors in a dish. It also adds a slight bite. That’s why many folks add just a dash of cayenne to not-so-spicy things like hollandaise. If you take away all that heat, it’s really very effective as a flavor enhancer.
So there you have it. A little bitchiness is good.
“This is me. Take it or leave it.” – Melanie Chisholm, aka Sporty Spice