Spice Blends & Dirty Secrets

Have you ever been to a restaurant and wondered what was the secret that made the food taste so delicious? It could have been a delicate piece of fish with just an extra little something that took it over the top and paying $30 for it was suddenly okay because it left you saying : “Damn, i wish i could have one more bite!”

Every great chef aim to keep that teasing going throughout the meal and when they succeed, chances are the guests will have long lasting memories of the food. A little bit like a conductor with his orchestra, a chef like Thomas Keller will keep the timing, the intensity and the playfulness of the food all the way to the Grand finale thanks to an arsenal of great recipes developed over a lifetime.

A dirty chef secret in the making.

It’s complicated to keep such levels of excellence on a large scale when you rely on so many chefs, purveyors and crooks but what most people don’t know is that the so-called ‘chef’s secrets’ are often quite simple. Fresh produce is already half the battle and if the technique is flawless and that extra little something is used sensibly you have great chances to wow your guests and you can even do it at home and without taking your pants off! (I had to scrap that, it was just wrong and uncalled for.)

What i would call a great weapon of mass satisfaction in fancy kitchens is the expert use of spices, marinades, flavored oils and salts which – when used wisely – can turn good produce to new levels without too much efforts. And God knows how much i dislike giving too much efforts – just kidding! It doesn’t take much sometimes, just a sprinkle of a fragrant blend of spice or even some ‘fleur de sel’ could take some sea scallops or a pristine piece of fish to new heights.

Shhh… licorice, citrus zest, vanilla bean…

In my time working in fancy kitchens, i stole learned chefs secrets that i still use to this day. Spying on the executive chef is an art in itself of course because the bastards will keep you busy. That’s when i quickly learned the primitive method of writing hieroglyphs in the palm of my hand. I was later introduced to the pen and notepad which tremendously helped my spying. So once again, at the risk of pissing off a few chefs out there i will share some of my findings spying with you. If this blog stops abruptly one day it’ll probably be because i got busted by the chef’s secret services for revealing too much. In the event i don’t update again, i would like Foodhuntress to have my books, Manggy to have my knives, Ann can have my bottle of Brunello di Montalcino, Tartelette can take my tartelette pans, and my shoes… eh..any takers for my smelly shoes?

On this note ladies and gentleman… Adieu.

Oh wait! I didn’t share the secrets with you! hahaha… making an ass of myself…

Okay, two easy spice blends that go well with fish. The first one with coriander, star anise, cumin seeds, cloves, nutmeg and red pepper flakes goes particulary well with salmon and cod. Apply before searing the fish in a hot pan. It’s good, it’s really good!

The second one with a licorice stick (i mean the stuff that looks like a piece of wood, and not the candy – available in health food store or asian markets), dried orange and lime zest, dried vanilla bean and dried mint leaves will take you and your sea scallops straight to the thirteenth floor. Season the scallops generously with the blend before searing. It’s also known in the business as ‘Sex and the Scallop’. You’ve been warned!

Secret Spice Blend #1
  • 1 tablespoon whole coriander
  • 1 tablespoon whole star anise
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 whole nutmeg, split in half
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 whole cloves

Place all the spices in a dry skillet and toast over medium high heat until fragrant (when the toasted spice smell reach your nostrils it’s time to stop. 2 minutes max). Grind in a coffee grinder or in a mortar and pestle. Store covered at room temperature for up to two months.

Secret Spice Blend #2 (okay those aren’t really spices)
  • 1/2 stick of licorice, chopped (it’s woody so be careful)
  • Zest of one orange
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon
  • Zest of 1/2 lime
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, chopped
  • 8 mint leaves

Place all the ingredients on a tray and let dry overnight in a warm and dry place. The next day, place in a coffee grinder and grind to a powder. A mortar and pestle can also be used.

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  • Manggy

    Aha! When I’m greeted on my doorstep by a set of knives (er, wrapped, hopefully not pointed at me), I’ll know what happened! Won’t you also send me your coffee mill? I have the muscle to use a mortar but ceramic chips from the pestle occasionally fly about! That’s not good eats!

    Thankfully I have only nutmeg missing from the first recipe :) You will probably never find licorice here, though.. (on that note, I just bought a half-pound of passionfruit… YES!!)

  • cakebrain

    Those spice blends sound positively wonderful! That, and I’ll try anything that has been procured through espionage. My favourite pic is Spice Blend #2. The colours are so vibrant.

  • Claude-Olivier

    Ah oui, le genre de secret qu’on aime bien gardé pour soi mais que tu nous donnes aussi…bon on est bien d’accord, le mélange ultime, tu ne nous le donneras pas 😉 Thanks a lot mister Gone Wild! Bonne journée, ciao !

    P.S mon frère est de passage à NY, j’aurais bien aimé venir te dire bonjour 😉

  • Dirty Kitchen Secrets

    Can’t wait to try this!

  • Ann

    I promise to drink the Brunello di Montalcino in your memory. When can I expect it? :-)

    I am totally going to try out that second mix on some spices! Great photos!

  • glamah16

    Thanks for this. I have been playing around with my coffee grinder creating my own and it does make a worls of diffrence. Plus way cheaper than buying some premade stuff.

  • Ben

    I’ve already taken notes of these secrets. Is it OK if I come to your kitchen and spy on your cooking? :-p

  • Mary Coleman

    My Great Pyrenees, Lily, would love your shoes!
    The spice blends look simply wonderful. I can’t wait to try them.

  • Meghan

    Thank you so much for sharing these dirty secrets with us!

    I love your blog…

  • breadpitt

    now thats sounds cool , will try this in future, nice post pal!!!!!love ur blog…..

  • Function of Time

    Awesome. Thank you for revealing some secrets. Now, if you could please tell me how to replicate this cream sause I had at an Italian restaurant, I would be forwever grateful!

  • Helene

    Now I’m steeling your secrets.

  • Elle

    I don’t read French–is that guy Claude-Olivier up there threatening to break your kneecaps and fit you for cement shoes? Such intrigue!

    😉 I know 2 Corgis that would seriously love your shoes.

    And thanks for the secrets! Keep them coming…as long as it’s safe!

  • Vicarious Foodie

    Great post! Any secret blends for chicken??

  • Chef Erik

    Thanks for sharing your secret. I love those kind of hints, they make my cooking so much better. I have great respect for chefs with great ideas.

  • farida

    wow, interesting combination of spices. the first has ingreds familiar to me from our cuisines, but the second is totally new. thanks for revealing the secret:)

  • Jack

    Ha! I understand Claude-Olivier’s post! I am so proud of my dodgy seventies education right now!

    Good looking spice blend there. I think I’ll have to try it.

  • taste memory

    enticing insight.

    esp. coriander seeds in #1, very bright!

    for #2 excellent w. orange zest, v. bean + mint….reminds me of Persia.

    yes, quite the arsenal!

  • Kevin

    I like the sound of using vanilla bean in a spice blend. It sounds really good.

  • daphne

    oh yeah. love the sound of the blend! hm.spice blend 1 appeals to me more..

  • Jenny

    I was reading your post with such intrigue, I love all your tips, since I’m a total chef wanna be that will probably always be “amateur!” I’m ok with it, I’ll just pick your brain with the fancy stuff! Very cool!

    And no, the birds didn’t make it in the brownies!

  • Cakespy

    Oh my…I’m scared to leave my apartment now because I’m scared you’ve put out a hit on everyone who knows the “secret” now! Ok, I know you wouldn’t do that. Right? Right? But seriously–spying? You KNOW I am down with that. Especially if it results in deliciousness.

  • Mochachocolata Rita

    ohhhh soooo “taking pants off” eh? is this one of your secrets? haaaaaaaaaaaahahahaha

    i’ll take your smelly shoes if you throw in a 3×3 muffin tray (do you have one?) LOL LOL LOL

  • foodhuntress79

    I agree, perfectly, with spice mix #1 on fish.

    Wait, wait…. hey. Your books… for me? You serious? At making me your apprentice? Or rather, you know that I need to go back to school… Haha. I should simmer the thought a little gently. Wow.

  • Emiline

    HEY! I want something. No shoes though. Perhaps another kitchen appliance?

    I love these secret spice blends. They sound wonderful…I’ll remember this for the future.

  • Karina

    I just love hearing dirty little secrets. Vanilla with lime and mint? Dude.

  • FlaNboyant Eats

    so i want a bag of the coriander seeds, star anise, etc.. blend! how lovely i can smell it now!

  • cakewardrobe

    Speaking of Sex and the scallop, in your picture in your previous post, you really look like BIG from sex and the city.. yum yum!

  • b

    Oh my God… I love these. You do continue to tease us with your amazing recipes and “secrets.” I’ve long been looking for something amazing to season scallops with and am now ridiculously excited to try this second blend. The first also sounds incredible and will definitely make salmon more exciting. Thank you for sharing… or, teasing us… with your wisdom!

    P.S. Do you find taking your pants off helps you creatively in the kitchen? Or is that just to impress guests? 😉

  • aria

    uhm, i think you might be a real chef — these are wonderful – so advanced i can just imagine how delicious. i have no business here, bye!

  • Tartelette

    Everybody breathe, no sign of tartlet pans at my doorstep yet!! Those spice blend are beyond excellent!

  • Lauren @ Parsnips Aplenty

    Damn! Yes.

  • Clumbsy Cookie

    Hello, love your blog! This was soooo funny! I was in some kitchens that didn’t even allow the notebook and pen. I had to rely on my memory to bring home some dirty sectrets like these! I know you don’t know me… but any chance I can get your notepad if something happens to you? Lol! The spice blends look great I can almost smell them! Good job on the spying, keep the secrets comming!

  • Cindy. Lo.

    Where’s my note and pen?!?
    I need to write it down everywhere so I won’t loose this excellent recipe,
    I’ll just recite the whole thing for like 1000000 times so it’ll stick in my head forever!

  • charlotte s

    great post! and those spice blends sound delicious- cant wait to try them! my husband loves going fishing and actually has a little trip planned for tomorrow- so i’ll have some fresh fish to experiment on! though no scallops- that’ll have to wait…

  • White On Rice Couple

    Love the spice blend!! We are so addicted to spices, there just not enough room in our kitchen for more! Now they go into the garage!

  • Heather

    Again, you are too nice. I will never reveal my secret sauce!

  • Lisa Doricchi

    Does anyone actually try these recipes and give constructive feedback – good or not? Most of the feedback are just friendly silly comments!

  • Ebethquinn

    I made this rub for a cedar planked salmon.  Added salt and sugar to get the flavor profile I was looking for.  Have been using it on potatoes and grilled vegetables also..  Thank you for posting this and as soon as I come across licorice root, I’ll do the SS#2