I believe, in everyone’s kitchen, there is a collection of seasonings and flavouring agents that one leans on quite heavily. I’m not talking about salt — which, for me, is another discussion entirely. I’m talking about the other shakers and bottles, the ones that are used so often they never make it back into a cabinet. I have begun keeping mine in a little blue basked right beside my stove so that they are never too far out of reach. Let me show them to you.
I know I said salt was “another discussion entirely,” but garlic salt kind of straddles the salt/seasoning divide. My fondness for garlic salt dates back to childhood. Besides pepper, I think it was the only seasoning my grandmother used with any regularity. Her pot roast? Chuck with a can of condensed mushroom soup and garlic salt. Her “garlic bread”? White sandwich bread with butter and garlic salt (toasted). It really does have the ability to impart a super savoury, garlicky deliciousness to anything and everything you sprinkle it on. It packs so much flavour, it almost feels like cheating.
Friend to omnivores and vegans alike, nutritional yeast is known for bringing a “cheesy,” savoury flavour without the presence of actual cheese — though I’ve always thought of it as a little funkier and nuttier than shaker parm. It is iconically good on popcorn, but I have been known to mix it into mashed potatoes and gravy (both vegetarian and not). I’ve also been known to eat it by itself with a little salt mixed in, but that can make one’s tongue feel kind of weird.
Hello panda, my old friend. If you read this blog with any regularity, you know I love this little guy very much. I add MSG to my french fries, my breakfast sausage, my chicken nuggets, my dirty martinis, my caramel sauce, even my dang Thanksgiving turkey. It is a good and purely savoury ingredient that brings the umami only glutamate (and its salt) can bring, and there’s no reason to fear it.
Speaking of breakfast sausage, white pepper is the pepper I use when grinding my own. It’s still peppery, of course, but it’s a little fruitier, a little funkier, and a little softer than the black stuff. It’s a nice morning-time pepper, really. Try it on some eggs, in a savoury oatmeal or in your breakfast ramen. It’s also very good in a fried chicken situation, if that is the kind of situation you like to find yourself in.
I do not, of course, have anything against a mixed peppercorn scenario, particularly if the peppercorns are freshly ground. A flurry of fresh pepper makes dishes feel finished; even something as simple as a bowl of potato chips benefits from the berries’ intensely aromatic and mildly aggressive oils.
Hot honey is not a seasoning, exactly, but it is a superb finisher. Nothing cuts the salt and fat on a pepperoni pizza quite like hot honey, and it absolutely smashes in vinaigrettes and sauces (both BBQ and marinara). You can buy it in most grocery stores, but it’s pretty easy to make yourself.
Red pepper flakes may be the easiest way to bring a lot of heat to any given dish, but they also bring a kind of fruity flavour that I quite enjoy. There really isn’t anything they’re bad on, but it can be easy to overdo it if you’re not careful. The earlier you add them to a dish, the more heat they will provide, so sprinkle them on at the end if you’re a heat novice.
I lean on Tajin for its combination of chilli, salt, and lime quite heavily in the summer months, when all I want to eat is bowls of fresh watermelon. It’s good on fruit, on charred vegetables, and in all kinds of dips and spreads, but it’s really fun on the rim of a Bloody Mary, Michelada or margarita. You can also use it to quick pickle some onions, which I highly recommend.
I got these popcorn powders at Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia last year, and I have been rationing them out ever since. They are (obviously) good on popcorn, but you can sprinkle them on any salty snack with equally dope results. Both are good in mashed potatoes and sour cream-based dips, but the sour cream & onion does very well when mixed into the filling of deviled eggs.
Sesame seeds bring a pleasant, nutty sweetness and delicate crunch to whatever you sprinkle them on, and right now I am sprinkling them on bowls of cold noodles, on rice bowls, on scrambled eggs (often with mirin) and on plain white rice.
I bought this nanami togarashi somewhat by accident, thinking I was grabbing the shichimi. The two are similar — they both contain chilli peppers, Szechuan peppercorns, sesame seeds, ginger and nori — but nanami contains a bit more orange peel, which I am super into. This all-purpose seasoning is good on noodles, rice, cooked meats and vegetables, but I cannot stop putting it on popcorn.
Then we have these two remarkable products from Trader Joe’s. Pre-mixed everything bagel seasoning can be found almost anywhere now, but TJ’s was one of the first to popularise it, and I like the fact that theirs includes black sesame seeds. I wrote a whole blog about all the things I put it on but, if nothing else, you simply must use it as a cheeseball coating.
The umami seasoning blend doesn’t quite read as pure umami, but it’s a very nice mixture of thyme, red pepper, onion, mustard, salt and — obviously — mushrooms. It’s a fantastic all-purpose seasoning that’s particularly good on roasted chickens and roasted potatoes; it’s good on anything roasted, really.