Spicing Things Up

The saying goes, “Adding spices to a dish is easy to learn, hard to master.” So it comes as no surprise that gifted chefs do it so thoughtfully. So effortlessly. So deliciously.

Edible Cleveland approached four local culinary talents and asked them to divulge their favorite spice and share a recipe that includes it. Here are their revelations.

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“I love the uniqueness of the guajillo chile, which not only has a very distinct flavor, but also adds notes. As one of the newest chiles to explode on the food scene, most Latin chefs are now leaning toward it. It really imparts a well-rounded, consistent, lingering medium heat. This premium product in powdered form, however, isn’t the same as the saltier, dryer chili powder found in most stores. Chicken Pinchos was an original menu item at Momocho and is still a bestseller. I also like to use the Tinga Spice Rub by itself when I’m grilling steaks, burgers, salmon, shrimp, or vegetables at home.” — Eric Williams, chef and owner of Momocho and El Carnicero and chef and partner of Happy Dog

“Coriander is one of my favorite spices because it has a nice, subtle flavor that isn’t overpowering and complements a wide range of foods, from meats and fish to vegetables and soups. It also marries well with other spices. It’s sweet with a little lemony note that’s similar to sage and caraway. Many people don’t know coriander is actually the seed from the cilantro or Chinese parsley plant. This liver paté is a favorite of mine because of its sumptuous texture and complex flavor. I like to serve it for the holidays, and it really goes a long way, especially if made in a paté terrine mold.” — Carmella Fragassi, chef and owner of La Campagna

“I think cardamom is a forgotten spice, and many people just aren’t that familiar with it. You don’t see it used too often as a focus spice, but I’ve personally always enjoyed it. It’s versatile and works well with both savory and sweet dishes, from fish to desserts. I like to buy the whole green pods, toast the seeds, then grind them myself. That way the flavor is more intense and pure. This recipe is one I’ve served at my restaurants as an element of a dessert. For instance, I’ll pair it with corn panna cotta or chocolate mousse. It’s a delicious combination.” — Dante Boccuzzi, chef and owner of Dante, Ginko, DBA, and The D.C. Pasta Co.

“Fresh lemongrass, a hybrid herb/spice that gives both a mild flavor and a really beautiful citrus aroma, is involved in Asian cooking big time—especially curries and soups. It’s also great with poultry, beef, pork, and seafood. Growing up in Bangkok, everyone in my neighborhood used to plant it in their gardens. Now I plant it at my restaurant here in the summertime. Make sure you chop only the young, white, tender part at the bottom. I cook this dish a lot for myself at home, but occasionally offer it at the restaurant. People love it.” (It’s also good for sinus colds by boiling in water.) — Sunny Ting, chef and owner of Ty Fun