When was the last time you used allspice? Did you even know? If you are not Caribbean by descent, if you don’t go forage for jerk chicken, then about the about the only time you may encounter allspice is when you make pumpkin pie. It’s one of the components of “pumpkin pie spice.” No, the spice there is a mix. There is no pumpkin pie bush. Time for a spice change.
In fact, it’s time for a big change, one that affects your culinary life, one that gives you a new avenue of flavors that can impact the taste profile of your kitchen.
Yesterday, I posted a cookbook review of the remarkable book Yucatan by David Sterling. His survey of Yucatan cuisine includes not only recipes but a vast sea of information on history, culture, and sociology. It’s an important work, not just a cookbook, but literally a study of the Yucatan civilization.
Often we hear about regional cuisines and most often that triggers an image of Italy. Little towns and villages, just miles apart, with quite different cuisines or at least quite different techniques and flavors for the “same” dish. Think of Yucatan as the same situation, one where the culinary roots go back 8,000 years.
In the Yucatan, spices have evolved to be basic ingredients, key ingredients. I should say spice mixtures. For what has happened there is the evolution of the recardo, a spice mix in either powdered or paste form. Recardos appear in almost every dish it seems. There are hundreds of versions with, as in Italy, the same name not necessarily meaning you get the same flavor.
In Yucatan, there are 10 recipes providing an intelligent but still very small sample of the recado world. This one, the Recado Para Escabeche gets its name from the Spanish “escabechar” meaning “to pickle.” Pickling, and vinegars, were one of the skills brought to the Yucatan by the Spanish. The Maya took that pickling idea and merged creating this spice mix.
This combination of peppercorns, oregano, cloves, allspice and bay leaves is one that you have to experience. Just make it, wait a moment, take a deep breath, and relish. It’s fabulous.
And while this recado can be used for pickling, tomorrow I’ll post using it with corn to make a side dish that is common in Yucatan as a street food. Corn like you have never experienced.
This particular recado appears over and over again in the many recipes in Yucatan. It’s wonderful on chicken, on fish, on veggies.
And that’s how I want to change your flavor profile. Instead of barbequing with one of those commercial rubs, considers making your own recados. All you need is pepper and spices and imagination. You can look in Yucatan for wonderful, authentic idea. If you Google now, you’ll begin to see a battery of recado recipes working their way onto the web. Fresh, homemade and without preservatives, this is the better way to add flavor to your food.
Oh, when I went to make this and looked for allspice berries, I found two containers. There was the little one bought last Thanksgiving, one of those inch high containers with just a few berries. And then buried away I found a two cup container that Suzen must have bought at some big box store. I hate to compare the price per ounce of my small container and her big box version. Good for Suzen and me, because we are now in the recado business. Try this recipe, and you will be, too.
Oh, this recipe says to use a spice grinder. How could I do that? I got out a marble mortar and pestal and pretended to be Maya. Thing is, black peppercorns are pretty hard. I would crush and they would soar out over the floor. I had fantasies of how to explain this debris on the kitchen floor to Suzen: "I don't know," "Maybe the cats did it," "Someone else is using our house when we are not here." I switched to the Vitamix. It's a wonderful machine: works well on pepper corns and you don't have to lie to your wife.
Recado Para Escabeche: Peppery Spice Bland for Pickled Dishes
Yield: 6 tablespoons
- 3 tablespoons black peppercorns
- 3 tablespoons dried whole Mexican oregano, lightly toasted
- 20 cloves
- 10 allspice berries
- 13 bay leaves
Place the first 4 ingredients and 5 of the bay leaves in a spice mill or coffee grinder reserved for the purpose and grind until very fine. Strain the power through a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl, crumbling any remaining bits of debris through the sieve with your fingers. Return anything left in the sieve to the grinder and process again. Pass through the sieve again. Discard any residue.
Transfer the ground spices to an airtight container, add the remaining whole bay leaves, and toss to mix.