Smart seasoning can turn a so-so dish into a sparkling experience. If you have any doubt, consider the brilliant addition of garlic powder that elevates basic mashed potatoes to a gourmet delight. Or how just the right blend of spices turned what was once considered a wasted part of the bird – wings – into the crowning glory of tailgating parties and sports bars everywhere.
Yes, seasoning can make all the difference, yet many Americans may be unsure of how to expand their spice cabinet beyond the basics like pepper, paprika, chili powder, some garlic powder and (for the adventurous) a bit of curry powder. Fortunately, ready-made seasoning blends can eliminate the guesswork when you’re looking for just the right flavors to enhance any dish.
“A pre-packaged spice blend can be a wonderful way to add flavor and excitement to food,” says culinary legend Chef Paul Prudhomme, creator of the popular Magic Seasoning line of spice blends, which have been staples in American pantries for more than 25 years. Prudhomme recently introduced new packaging that is more eco-friendly and eye-catching in recyclable glass bottles.
But not all seasoning blends are created equal, and not all blends will be appropriate for every dish you’re making. So how do you choose a blend that will get the job done, appeal to your palate, and also ensure you and your family aren’t consuming any additives, preservatives or chemicals you don’t want?
Ask yourself these questions when evaluating a spice blend:
Does it contain all-natural spices?
“All-natural seasonings provide the best flavors and health benefits,” Prudhomme says. Be sure to read the label of any seasoning blend you’re considering and avoid those with obvious chemical additives. Look for ones that incorporate only all-natural spices. Magic Seasoning blends are all-natural, gluten-free and contain no MSG or preservatives.
Were ingredients selected based on taste quality, rather than price?
Some blend manufacturers may use lower quality spices in order to keep costs down, or to make the production process easier. Yet spices should be chosen based on how well they taste, not on cost, Prudhomme believes. “We taste every batch of spices before we buy – often directly from the growers,” he says. “Selecting spices based on the quality of their flavor, rather than their price, ensures the blends taste better and do a better job of enhancing food.”
Will it work with dishes you love, or with new ones you would like to try?
Not every blend will work with every dish. For example, a blend that includes thyme, basil and oregano would dress up poultry dishes, but might not be a perfect fit for fish or vegetables. Check the ingredient list on any blend you’re considering; if the blend contains some flavors you favor, it might be a good choice for you.
Does the maker give you helpful hints on how to use the blend for the best effect?
What good is a seasoning blend if you don’t have any idea how to use it? Most manufacturers will include some hints on the package, often even in the name of the product. For example, Magic Seasonings varieties specify what dishes they’ll best enhance, from meat, poultry and fish to pizza, pasta or veggies. You can also find helpful hints and Chef Paul’s recipes that incorporate the seasonings at www.chefpaul.com.
“You should get creative when using seasonings. Trying new flavors can be easy and fun, especially if you choose a blend that improves the taste of your food,” Prudhomme says.
Try these recipes that rely on spice blends to add flavor and interest:
Blackened fish filets
3 tablespoons of your favorite Magic Seasoning Blend
1/2 stick unsalted butter (melted)
6 8- to 10-ounce fish filets, such as red snapper, catfish, redfish, salmon or tuna
Start with room temperature fish, cut about 1/2-inch thick. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over very high heat until it is extremely hot. Use a spoon to spread a little butter on each side of the filets. Sprinkle one side with the Magic Seasoning Blend and place the filet in the heated skillet, seasoned-side down. Sprinkle top sides with the remaining spice blend. Cook, turning frequently, until fish starts to flake, about four minutes. Repeat with remaining filets. Serve piping hot.
Bronzed lamb chops
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, olive oil or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon Pork and Veal Magic or Meat Magic
8 2- to 3-ounce lamb loin chops, about 1 inch thick, well-chilled
Heat a heavy nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot, about seven minutes. Lightly coat one side of each chop with the butter or oil, then sprinkle buttered side evenly with 1/2 teaspoon of seasoning. Place chops in skillet, seasoned sides down, and sprinkle top sides evenly with remaining seasoning.
Cook about three minutes. Turn chops and, if they’re extra lean, pour about 1/2 teaspoon of melted butter on top of each. For medium rare, cook chops three minutes more. For medium, cook four minutes per side. Remove chops and place them on a serving platter (don’t stack them).