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My kitchen must-haves


The most important spices needed in the kitchen. PHOTO:

The most important spices needed in the kitchen. PHOTO:

I thought to share a few of the things I cannot live without in my kitchen. I mean there’s a whole lot I cannot do without but If I had to choose, the below would be bare minimum that would make the list. I have tried not to give any recipes so to speak but I just want to inspire you on how you can use them in your everyday dishes and how some of the tips would help make you more efficient in your kitchen!

The Essential Seeds
I live by a few whole seed spice in my kitchen: Fennel. Cumin and Coriander
Fennel: I love its anise perfume aroma and its almost licorice taste it adds to food. Its rather versatile as it works with everything from Fish to lamb. It is a winner with meat and by meat I mean red meat especially lamb. For fish and seafood, it makes up a lower percentage of the spice mix we make with the other seeds. So it’s there in the background as the low notes in the taste.

Coriander: Coriander is also in the same family as the above-mentioned spices. Coriander is one of the core spices that go into curry powder! It has a sharper pungent flavour that’s like Cumin but different still. From using it as a smoke flavour on rice and meat dishes, coriander is something we use by the bucket at Chef Fregz. Like any whole seed spice, I always dry roast them first to release a more intense flavour and blend them into a fine powder with the spice mill attachment we usually use for crayfish or a coffee grinder which is best! For me, I find the seeds very versatile. Mixed with some seasoning cube and some garlic, it is perfect on poultry, meat and fish. For fish, throw in some citrus like lime or lemon. For beef, mix the powdered roasted seeds or ground semi-fine with some rosemary and black pepper!

Also, you can use it as a whole to flavour oils. Fry some seeds in some oil like vegetable oil, strain and use to deep fry some fish or potatoes for a different note of flavour. Coriander leaves are an essential in my kitchen. They have this strong pungent perfume that sometimes can even be over powering. However, (when used properly) it is the perfect finish to curries, Asian-style rice, broths and garnish for fish meats and poultry. My basic paste has coriander in it. I place some green chillies, spring onions, toasted coriander seeds, some toasted cumin, seasoning cube (Knorr being my choice), coconut oil, mustard oil, about 3/4 teaspoon of turmeric powder, coconut cream, loads of garlic and ginger –  puree away in my blender till it’s almost a smooth consistency. I use it to marinade the prawns, fish or chicken (for me it works best on deboned chicken legs) and meat of course! The leaves also make excellent coriander oil you can use to garnish meals and add a note of flavour without the seeds or leaves in sight.

Cumin: This has to be one of my favourite spice sin the world. It packs a strong anise warm flavour but somewhat light at the same time. From our rubs at Chef Fregz to the Cocoa Chilli sauce that pairs with a lot of meats at Chef Fregz, the Cumin is well loved in-house. It’s prominent in Middle East Cooking and also East, North and Central Africa. So, just in case you thought this spice and its relatives were not close to home enough think again. I recommend you buy whole seeds and toast in a dry pan to release its perfume. Mix a few tablespoons of the freshly-ground cumin powder with some salt garlic and chilli powder into your meat for the next curry you are making or even the fried meat you plan to make and see how it turns out.

Garlic: Now this really our everything. At Chef Fregz we usually peel a whole small bag of garlic and blend it till super smooth with some vegetable oil. It comes out creamy looking like the early stages of good akara (bean cake). One day, we almost scooped it as fresh whipped cream for dessert. True story!! We couldn’t stop laughing. Anyways having pureed garlic like that, don’t let it go green or change to any funny colour. You can freeze well for about 4 weeks! This way you have garlic on hand whenever you need it and do not have to worry about chopping and getting your hands smelly again. Pick a time over the weekend and have a friend or loved one peel along with you! We do the same for ginger as well. I suggest you freeze in small containers or small Ziplocs so you are not fighting big batches of frozen garlic.

Prawn Stock: At Chef Fregz we don’t throw away a lot of things and that includes prawn shells and heads. Most of the flavour in a prawn is actually in its shell. Put shells in a pot, add a tiny amount of oil and cook the shells down with herbs like rosemary, some garlic, sometimes tomato paste, celery, salt and black pepper to taste. It gets covered with water. It should cook for about 30mins to an hour or till soft. The shells and liquid are pulsed till chunky rough sieve out the shells. Trust me, you do not want shell in your food. A stock like this is handy in the moments you want to make a bomb seafood tomato sauce for pasta, a soup or even a curry stew. Try adding prawn stock to your egg stew with chopped prawns with your Sunday-Sunday yam. You will thank me after trying it. The same goes for a good home-made chicken stock and vegetable to fish stock. Make sure you have your stock on hand to heighten the flavour of some of your food and save yourself time in the kitchen.

Vinegar: Apple cider, White balsamic and Plain Vinegar. Those are my must-have vinegars before all the interesting sun-dried tomato, Tuscan and 2000-year-old balsamic vinegar that costs a rent in Ikoyi. Why Apple cider? Because it has this sweet flavour when its sharp. Plus, its healthy and good for you. It’s one of our secret weapons in the sauces and salad dressings we make. White balsamic is just our preference because its balsamic vinegar without the black stain. It’s perfect for salad dressings and for pickling anything. The plain white vinegar is probably our most valued vinegar. You may wonder why? It’s our cheapest cleaning agent and can be used for cooking too!! Mixing vinegar with baking soda or powder can clean anything in my opinion. You know how your blenders smell of pepper and you start trying to explain to everyone that you have two blenders for blending pepper and another for smoothies- Well no more. Just blend ½ cup of plain white vinegar, add a good tablespoon of baking soda with a little dish washing soap for about a minute and you have a brand new blender. Mix vinegar with a little water and spray onto surfaces and inside your microwave to clean out bacteria laying around. You can also mix vinegar with some salt and use to scrub your pots or place inside the blackened pot and boil for a minute and watch the burnt bits lift off. This is for stainless pots of course not nonstick cook ware.

Rosemary: This is like oxygen to my cooking. Its deep, woody, somewhat-bitter green olive flavour is really a winner. I honestly cannot fully explain the awesomeness of this herb and I am so excited that a lot of people are now growing it and selling it from Uzo’s Food Labs to Aralia By Nature and major supermarkets in most major cities these days. Rosemary is my best friend. It’s awesome with beef, chicken, fish and anything you can think of. However, the way you would use it with meat is not the way you would with fish. Use less sparingly with fish. Please note, I am referring to fresh rosemary. If you must use the dried rosemary, make sure it’s in a sauce or stew. Dried rosemary on meats truly doesn’t do much for it as it becomes like broken pieces of broom on the meat and confuses your palette with an over boisterous punch of rosemary that’s almost bitter because it would more than likely be burned. Those are my kitchen must-haves. What are yours?

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