The next time you start cooking, quickly fry your spices in oil. No amount of simmering will extract as much flavor from them as a spice-infused oil will. There are many reference titles or names for what you call this. This technique is often used in much ethnic home cooking and is called tempering or cooking the spice. Every meaningful bite of a curry carries the essential flavors of the oil. We can call this happy union. Chopped onion suddenly has the piney taste of cardamom or the nutty taste of cinnamon throughout. Potatoes kiss your lips with trailing fingers of garlic.
Once you have your spice or herb infused oil, use it just like you would any oil, sparingly and as necessary. Really transcend the base recipes you use by cooking the spice before you make that next soup or vinaigrette. Treat your tongue to a pan seared bass or salmon with an oil you can’t buy.
Heat a pan over medium-high heat. Let there be flames that are hot but not at their brightest level. When hot, add an oil with a high smoking point. My favorite is grapeseed oil. The burn temperature is high. Heat it up for about a minute before adding whole spices. These can include but are not limited to bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, cardamom pods, and coriander seeds. Any whole spice will open up its aromatics in oil. When this happens tears may fall and you may find yourself doing this just because. If you buy potpourri or use wall flowers you can definitely do this.
In less than two minutes, the spices are fragrant, the oil is flavored, and the pan is ready for the other ingredients of your stew or curry. You can also bottle it for later use. Avoid overcooking the spices. Don’t let them burn. If the warm spices can linger in every ingredient, then so can an acrid burnt taste. Use a slotted spoon to remove the whole spices before continuing to cook.
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