Give these seasonings a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Local chefs say some flavors don't get the appreciation they deserve

Local chefs say some flavors don't get the appreciation they deserve

April 18, 2007|by JULIE E. GREENE

"Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme."

If you asked chef Paul Giannaris which one of these didn't belong, he'd say sage.

But, if you asked personal chef Sally McKee, rosemary would be her first answer.

While Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel paid respect to sage and rosemary in "Scarborough Fair," Giannaris and McKee say some seasonings don't get the respect or appreciation they deserve.

Giannaris, chef and owner of Nick's Airport Inn north of Hagerstown, says he's found sage and curry powder tend to be underused in the local area - not per dish, but in the amount of dishes they're featured in.

He's found people shy away from dishes with curry powder when the specials menu lists the seasoning as an ingredient. Yet when he substitutes the term "Indian spices" in dishes such as salmon or shrimp with red curry, the dish gets more orders.


Perhaps it's because curry, like sage, is potent in small doses, Giannaris says. If people in the past have had dishes with too much curry powder - a mix of spices including turmeric - they might be inclined to avoid trying other dishes with curry, he says.

McKee, whose Shepherdstown, W.Va., personal chef business is known as The Eclectic Skillet, says she thinks people use dried rosemary over fresh rosemary because they don't know how to use fresh rosemary properly. In McKee's opinion, rosemary, more than any other herb, loses potency when dried. Dried rosemary also has the texture of little splinters.

Fresh rosemary also can be an unpleasant texture because it is sticky, McKee says. Fresh sprigs should be treated like bay leaves, used for seasoning and removed from the dish before eating.

"You've gotten all the essence of the herb into the food without having to deal with the leaves," she says.

Fresh rosemary sprigs also are good for flavoring grilled food. Grillers can soak the sprig in water for at least 30 minutes and lay on top of smoldering coals or add to a packet of wood chips in foil for flavor.

With marinades, the entire sprig can be dropped in the marinade with the meat and removed before the meat is cooked, McKee says.

When Ann Metzgar, a personal chef in Brunswick, Md., has offered a dish containing lovage to her customers, they've tended to shy away from it.

But once they've tried it, they've liked it, says Metzgar, owner of Jake's Mom Cooks, a personal chef service.

Lovage is a heaalthy herb indigenous to the Mediterranean whose roots, stems and seeds can be used for seasoning. It has a strong celery flavor and resembles overgrown celery, Metzgar says.

Metzgar says she thinks the reason people don't try some seasonings is because those people are unfamiliar with them. That used to be the case with cilantro, which has some bite to it and is used in salsa.

Once a seasoning becomes used widely, perhaps at a chain restaurant, and people become more familiar with it, then everybody tries it and likes it, Metzgar says.

Metzgar uses lovage in a cold soup and uses the leaves to create lovage oil as a salad dressing.

McKee said she thinks garlic gets a bad reputation because too often it's burned.

"They try to brown it like onions," McKee says. Garlic should go in the pan 30 seconds before the rest of the food. Browning garlic can make food taste bitter, she says.

Slow-roasting garlic gets rid of its sharpness and brings out a sweet, nutty flavor, McKee says.

Chicken with 40 garlic cloves, a dish found in some cookbooks, doesn't have an overpowering garlic taste, McKee says

"The longer you cook (the garlic), the sweeter it gets. It gets soft like butter, and you can spread it on bread," McKee says.

Mediterranean Grilled Leg of Lamb

2 pints of plain yogurt, regular or low-fat (not nonfat)
2 large bunches of fresh rosemary
Zest and juice of 3 lemons
1 crushed garlic clove
1 teaspoon kosher salt
10 whole peppercorns
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 boneless butterflied leg of lamb, about 5 to 6 pounds
Canola oil or nonstick cooking spray for grill rack

Mix all ingredients, except the lamb, in a large bowl (glass, porcelain or stainless steel) that won't react with acid. Submerge lamb in marinade, turning to coat well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours or for a full day. Longer is better.

Remove from refrigerator and let it come to room temperature while you prepare the grill. Brush or spray the grill rack with oil to prevent sticking.

Remove the lamb from the marinade and wipe the marinade with paper towels - do not rinse in water. Open the lamb so it's in a butterfly position and place on rack, grilling on both sides to desired doneness.

To prepare the lamb rare, cook until the internal temperature reaches 120 to 125 degrees (check with meat thermometer). This takes about 40 minutes to an hour.

To prepare the lamb medium rare to medium, cook until the internal temperature is 130 to 140 degrees. A higher temperature would mean that the lamb is overdone.

Remember meat continues to cook for a little while after you remove it from the heat source; rising about 5 degrees. Let rest for 15 minutes before slicing.

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