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Ras-El Hanout-A quest for the perfect blend. Step 1: Setting the stage for a masterpiece

Here at Pinch Spice Market, our humble little spice shop in Chicago, we are continually developing new spice blends. So far we have created 8 in house blends including: Humboldt Sazón, Bay Seasoning, Popcorn Sprinkle, Lavender Sugar, Sizzling Steak,Veggie Sprinkle, and Jamaican Jerk Rub. Each of these have unique flavor profiles and
uses.

Developing a spice blend is tricky business, as you want each individual spice to play a role without over-powering the other spices. An artistic weaving of often contrasting flavors that symbiotically form a masterpiece, at least when we’ve done right. We use
our personal experiences; the knowledge of friends and customers; and tireless research to create our blends in the store. We have a tremendous amount pride in all of our herbs and spices, but specifically with the blends we showcase our love and devotion to
the craft.

This brings us to our new spice blend quest. Ras-El Hanout is a Moroccan spice blend with a rich history in the culture of spice but with no clear-cut recipe. We are going to create an authentic and delicious Ras-El Hanout. This will be the first installment of
several posts as I go through the process of creating the blend. For today we will take a look at what Ras-El Hanout is, and also explore some of the process of creating a rub.

Ras-El Hanout roughly translates to head of the shop. Each spice merchant in Morocco creates their own unique Ras-El Hanout to showcase their best products. Generally, the blends will have at least 20 ingredients many of which are rarely seen on this side of
the world. The rub itself is used to season meats, and is also used in traditional tagine cooking. So let’s explore the basics of making a spice blend.

First a little about me, Shoebocks. My cooking style is rather loose and generally based on the actual touch, feel, flavor, aroma, and general gut instinct for the foods I am cooking. I bring this style with me when I create spice blends, but at Pinch I find myself fine tuning and striving for consistency. I have been cooking since I could reach
the kitchen stove. Learning to make scrambled eggs from my mom when I was probably 7 or 8.

At Thanksgiving my job was to make the cranberry sauce since I can remember. As a starving college student I was very skilled at the “stone soup” method of cooking. Everyone would bring something and I will create an amazing meal out of it. It’s a very handy skill that allowed me to eat very well on a very tight budget. Through my twenties and now into my thirties I have continued on a path of
passion and experimentation towards food. Creating sourdough starters from grapes and other fruits, brewing beer, curing meats, building pizza ovens and custom grills, and just plain having fun with it. This is why I had to co-found Pinch and why I am excited
to start this blend journey. Pictured below is a deconstructed version of our Popcorn Sprinkle, which is one of our most popular items.

 

Our organic popcorn sprinkle has been one of the best-selling items at our shop. I was inspired to create this blend after living for years with a popcorn addict. For me popcorn is the perfect venue for a spice blend to shine. Popcorn just begs for you to add flavor to it. A very neutral flavor and a texture wrought with a plethora of tiny places to hide huge flavor. When I developed the recipe I knew the truffle salt was going to be a key player in the mix. Our truffle salt is literally an explosion of flavor just primed to stick to some freshly popped corn. I set out to find other spices that would accentuate
the rich flavor of the truffles, yet be strong enough to compete for space in our palate. Sage became an obvious choice because it has a warm, almost soothing flavor and aroma. Combined with the truffle, the aroma alone gets your mouth watering. With these two key ingredients it was a matter of rounding out the blend. Fresh ground pepper adds a nice bite, and the summer savory gives just a slight
bittersweet taste at the back of the blend. I then finished the rub with a nice Himalayan pink salt and bit of natural Atlantic sea salt. Unlike many rubs this sprinkle is intended to be used just as one would use salt on popcorn, or any dish. It is a great finish and adds an immense amount of flavor.

So that gets us started on the journey. In the next installment we will create a new blend, Berbere. This is an essential rub for Ethiopian cooking and is a great starting point to develop the more complex Ras-El Hanout.

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