I am constantly surprised at the number of people who proclaim ignorance of how to use herbs and spices. Friends, relatives, acquaintances, a random librarian, and so grows the list. To help remedy the situation, I’m going to start writing occasional posts about particular foods and seasonings with a focus on how to build your own dish. These blog posts will be a basic guide for anyone who needs inspiration for their innovation. Random innovation leads to some successes, but if I remember correctly, my father once added five spice powder to pasta sauce. I believe that even the dog declined it. Appropriate seasoning makes the difference between something that is innocuous but edible and a meal that is memorable and appealing– so learn to play.
Eggs are a nice initial food to play with because it is very easy to make them in small amounts. Make one scrambled egg, and if it isn’t to your taste, it’s not much to waste. (You could also used shirred/baked eggs, boiled eggs, omelets, fried eggs, etc.) It’s also not much time to invest, and you can easily taste test an idea before serving it to your guests.
More importantly, eggs are eaten almost universally around the world. Why does that matter? Because the easiest starting point in looking at seasoning is to view it regionally. Ask yourself, “where are the given foods commonly eaten, and how do those cultures cook them?” You can then take those answers and start cooking.
Here is a handful of regions and ideas:
East Asia: soy, scallions, fresh ginger, mirin, rice vinegar
Southeast Asia: fish sauce, scallions, shallots, cilantro, basil (Vietnamese), mint, fresh ginger, lime
South Asia: turmeric, cumin, chili, coriander, or curry powder, garlic
Eastern Europe: dill, dried mustard, caraway, garlic
France: fresh chives, fresh parsley, fresh tarragon, thyme, marjoram, garlic, shallot, anchovy (honorary seasoning)
Italy: basil, oregano, thyme, marjoram, garlic, onion
Obviously, there are more regions to explore. Try North Africa, the Middle East, South America, Mexico, Cajun, etc.
Classically, eggs are thought to be particularly well suited to angelica, basil, capers, chervil, chives, dill, nasturtium, paprika, sorrel, tarragon, and thyme. Choosing any one of those would be a simple way to lightly season your next batch of eggs. When choosing more than one, think about the similar and different flavors. For example, both tarragon and angelica have strong licorice flavors. Both are not necessary. Chives and nasturtium both have strong, also biting flavors. Combining chives with tarragon would help balance out the flavors and highlight different elements– just be careful to not use the kitchen sink!
The simplest technique for preparing herbs and spices is to make a seasoned butter. Heat 1 T butter in a small pan over low heat. Add any seasonings– maybe 1 tsp dried or 1 T fresh– and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Remove from the heat immediately. Drizzle carefully over cooked eggs, like a poached egg. These butters are typically not good for cooking because you will very quickly burn the seasonings. (You may use olive oil or peanut oil if appropriate to the seasonings.)
For fresh ingredients and liquids, you can make a paste to stir into beaten eggs or a simple sauce. Grate or mince solid ingredients, like fresh ginger, garlic, or fresh herbs. Add to any liquids, until you reach the desired consistency. Slip into omelets, pour over cooked eggs, or add to egg mixtures like egg salad. Fresh ingredients tend to lose flavor quickly, so they are best if not made too far ahead of time.
Need something a little more exact? An actual recipe? More pending, but I need to measure first.
Poached Eggs with Curry Butter
You may serve the eggs as you like– over rice, on toast, on English muffins, or arrayed over sliced tomatoes or cooked potatoes.
2 T butter
1/2 t curry powder
1/2 clove garlic, minced
1 small slice fresh ginger
1/4 t lemon juice or to taste
Poach eggs (look up how if you need to). Meanwhile, melt the butter over low heat. Add the ginger and garlic. Stir, add the curry powder, and remove from the heat after about 30 seconds. Do NOT allow the garlic or spices to brown. Stir in the lemon juice. Pour the butter carefully over the eggs, allowing the spices, ginger and garlic to remain behind in the pan if you prefer.