TAKE IT FROM THE CHEF—
AWARD-WINNING CHEF, HOTELIER AND ENTREPRENEUR
THE HEAT IS ON
By Chef Charlie Palmer
It’s hard to believe, but in the late 70’s and early 80’s, the only styles of restaurant cooking considered review-worthy were French and Northern Italian. These are primarily herb-based cuisines—what I like to call “cool cooking.” Then in the 80’s and 90’s, as the kitchen became more of a global village, emphasis shifted to spice-based cuisine, or what I call “warm cooking,” like Modern Indian and Miami’s famous Latin-influenced “New World” cooking. Although herbs and spices are often grouped together, they are actually very different cooking components with one basic similarity: both come from aromatic plants. Herbs are the leaves, stems and flowers of plants found in temperate climates (generally soft in texture like basil, or slightly woody like rosemary). Spices are the bark, roots, seeds, buds, and berries from tropical zones (generally hard, like peppercorns or cinnamon). Whether a recipe calls for herbs or spices (or how it combines the two) can provide a history lesson that links the origin of a dish to its community roots. However, the great dissimilarity between spices and herbs is in the manner and timing of their usage, which all comes down to one issue: heat. Spices like it; herbs do not.
Herbs: Because their essential oils are diminished by heat, herbs are added towards the end of savory cooking time, as a way of balancing flavor. When heartier stems of herbs are used early in the cooking process—such as making stock or in a braising liquid—they are discarded after lending their essential oil to the liquid and freshly chopped and added right before serving. Spices: Because they are typically hard in texture, spices require heat and moisture to release their essential oils. They are introduced early in the cooking process, playing more of an integral role in flavor development. Spices can produce an almost endless spectrum of flavor—from subtle to complex— providing you know how to treat them. Once you understand that the applying of the right heat method unlocks and maximizes their flavor contribution, every dish you make with spices will be noticeably better.
Whole spices are typically immersed in cooking liquid—for example, whole cloves, allspice or peppercorns in a stock or braised dish, like pot roast or lamb shanks. Place spices in a small square of cheesecloth, draw the edges together to form a bag, loosely tie it with kitchen twine (or use a small pre-made “spice bag”), and place it on a clean working surface. Using the side of a knife blade, press down on the bag and “bruise” the spices. This will crack open the surface of the whole spice (without grinding) and allow maximum flavor to be released as the liquid heats. At the end of the cooking time, it is easy to remove the bag—without straining loose spices from the seasoned liquid—and continue with your recipe. Ground spices—say in a stew or chili—should be sprinkled over the aromatic vegetables (like garlic and onions) as they are being sautéed, allowing the natural moisture in the vegetables to “cook” the spices before additional liquid is added as a way of intensifying their flavor. During this process, you should be stirring frequently to prevent the spices from burning. Dry rubs on meat that is to be seared—like a steak or pork chop—should have the surface of the skillet covered with enough oil to coat (not submerge) the crust. This allows the hot oil to “cook” the spices and prevents the dry rub from sticking.
At Aureole Las Vegas, Chef Vincent Pouessel’s signature Maine Lobster Corn Dog with Tarragon Espuma is representative of our spice cooking style. We add an exotic touch to this American classic with Togarashi, a Japanese 7-spice blend that typically includes red chile flakes, dried orange peel, white sesame seeds, black sesame seeds, nori (seaweed) flakes, poppy seeds and ginger. At Charlie Palmer Steak Las Vegas, one of the most sought-after dishes is Chef Steve Blandino’s 14-ounce Peppercorn Crusted Butcher’s Cut, which rotates nightly and is seared in a mixture of hammer-cracked Szechuan, black, and white peppercorns. This is a steak for those who truly embrace that peppery heat. Here are some of my favorite “warm” cooking style hideouts—all of them undeniably “cool.” —Charlie
Monta / Japanese Noodle House • 5030 Spring Mountain Rd. —This ramen place is right next to Raku, but really flies under the radar. The ramen is unbeatable.
Chocolate & Spice • 7293 W. Sahara Ave. —Megan Romano’s bakery on Sahara is a foodie must-stop while in Las Vegas. It’s a great break from the Strip and you should definitely try and smuggle some of her Chocolate Nutella Bombes and any of her cookies home in your suitcase.
miX • THE Hotel at Mandalay Bay —After dinner at Aureole, go to Alaine Ducasse’s miX, for a drink at the very top of THE Hotel. Hands down, miX offers the best views of Vegas with its outdoor terrace and windows overlooking the entire Strip.
Charlie Palmer Steak • The Four Seasons Hotel. • 702.632.5120 • CharliePalmer.com