Have you ever looked into a sparse spice cupboard and wondered how a chef would restock it? Wonder no more! We interviewed three SAGE Chefs on their go-to spices, herbs, and flavor combos. Stock up on these, and you’ll always be prepared for a delicious meal.
Steve Freas, Chef for 32 years
“Salt and pepper are my go-to’s, because underseasoned food is as bad as poorly prepared food. I like the freshness that thyme and lemon thyme bring to food, especially grains and poultry. Certain combinations are delicious, too, like blueberry and lemon in drinks, strawberry and balsamic vinegar in salads, and either pairing in desserts.
“Tomato and basil with high-quality olive oil is my quintessential summer dish. And for a garlicky barbecue sauce, lightly coat chicken with a combination of brown sugar, garlic, and kosher salt before grilling. Finally, dry white wine, shallots, and heavy cream, reduced, is one of my favorite sauces on nearly anything.”
Erin Still, Chef for 25 years
“My dried spice staples are paprika, cayenne, granulated garlic, onion flakes, parsley, thyme, and oregano—they’re super-versatile. I can turn them into a dry rub with a little brown sugar, or use the thyme and oregano to make a homemade focaccia or pizza dough.
“I always have a pot of fresh rosemary, thyme, and basil. In the fall, when it starts getting chilly and a frost looms, I cut the plants down really low, chop all of the herbs, and then use them to make a pound of compound butter. The hands-down winner for using the butter is either to flavor mussels and clams with white wine, or to season the most decadent roast chicken.”
Gena Szeliga, Chef for 10 years
“I put black pepper in almost everything. I use cumin for meats, and I particularly like to toast it and add it to black beans with garlic and onions. Bay leaves are great simmered with meats, beans, or lentils, and in soups. And I like to add smoked paprika to dry rubs—it’s really good on short ribs!
“Then there are the pairings I always go back to: celery seed for roasts and sauerkraut; sage with pork; and thyme in meats, gravies, and rice. And although it’s not an herb or spice, always salt!”