I've been asked what spices and herbs I keep in my galley and it's an interesting question because it depends where we are. I like to try new spices/herbs when I can. Most of the time though, this is one area where some would consider (and I readily admit) I'm overdoing it. I have a small spice rack for my most used varieties and an entire locker dedicated to spices aboard … and truth be told, there's some overflow into an aft cabin drawer.
There are the basics … oregano, basil, salt/pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg ... parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme … all the regular stuff. But then I find a new recipe I'd like to try or remember an old recipe that calls for something we don't have and I'm off to buy it if I can. That's why there's a healthy supply of cardamom, fennel, caraway and chipotle pepper et al in the aft spice drawer. That's where the food coloring and colored sprinkles, aka “hundreds and thousands” in Australia, are kept, too … and the pickled ginger, wasabe, hot mustard, yeast. It's chock-a-block full.
Most of the herbs are dry. In my defense, I can't always run out to the store and get fresh and besides, fresh doesn't last for long anyway. I suppose I could grow my own herbs aboard … many sailors do. I'm just not green thumb material, plus lashing everything down when we sail seems an onerous task when there's so much else to do before a passage or a storm. Visions of overturned pots and potting soil on my galley sole mixed with salt water come to mind. Mud pies at sea. Quite honestly, the only thing we grow on the boat while sailing is a potato sprout or two.
If I can't find them, they're too expensive or I use them in volume, I mix up my own combination spices like Italian Seasoning Blend or Chinese Five Spice or Taco Seasonings. You need several spices/herbs to do this, so I try to keep those spices stocked. Indian food … well, you need curry and turmeric, garam masala, and coriander and cumin. In Grenada, there was a serious spice market where we bought fresh nutmeg and mace (and a mortar and pestle which I never use).
What about Mexican spices? There's cumin and chili pepper and cilantro and crushed red pepper. Many of the international cuisine spice requirements overlap, but sometime they don't and when I'm looking for just the right flavor, well, then I buy something new if I don't already have it. If we happen to be at a fresh market, it's easy to buy some of the local spices to try and perhaps pick up some new ideas of how to use them.
There are some herbs like bay leaves, for instance, that are not only good for putting in the soup pot, they're good for putting into food lockers and canisters to keep unwanted critters away. I usually have a good supply of bay leaves aboard.
The biggest issues with having so many aboard is that heat, humidity and age wear them down. I'll use a little fenugreek in November and don't use it again till the next November. It's probably lost its potency and flavor by then. Do I run out and replace it? Probably not … it'll sit in the locker till I need it again and then I'll complain that it's not very good.
As far as having so many … hmmm … it's like having extra hose clamps or screws of every size … you never know when you might need them. And yes, that is Vegemite sitting in the spice locker. Hard to believe, we still have some left.
Here's my favorite, easy recipe for Italian Seasoning Blend:
- 3 Tbsp each of dried: basil, marjoram, oregano, parsley
- 2 Tbsp each of dried: thyme, rosemary
- 1 Tbsp: garlic powder
- Grind together and mix using the back of a spoon. Place in tightly sealed jar/container to store. Good for about six months.