Now that grilling season is upon us, I have been making a lot of spice pastes. I like spice pastes better than marinades for grilling or roasting bone-in chicken pieces with the skin on, because the spices adhere to the skin, produce a nicely browned crust and provide a more powerful flavor wallop. Spice pastes are also a good choice for strong fish like tuna, as well as beef and pork. And you don’t have to worry about leaving time to marinate before dinner. You just rub the paste onto the meat and you’re ready to cook.
Spice pastes are easy to mix up and improvise on. I have a basic formula (for 2 servings of meat):
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 tsp. lemon or lime juice
- ¼ tsp. zest
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tbsp. coarse salt
- plenty of freshly ground pepper.
To that, I try to add herbs, spices or aromatics that will complement the other dishes, and to have fun with it. But if I am pressed for time, a teaspoon or 2 of high-quality seasoning mix (such as Penzey’s) usually rounds out the flavor profile nicely. I process it all together and rub liberally on the meat just before grilling or roasting.
Here are a few of my favorite combinations, added to the basic palette above:
- use 2 or even 4 cloves garlic and add 1 tsp. mustard — a classic combination
- ½ tsp. cayenne + 1 tsp. smoked paprika — hot and smoky, particularly nice on grilled shrimp
- 1-2 dried chiles, toasted and rehydrated in hot water for 30 minutes, ground with a pinch cloves and a pinch cumin — spicy, Mexican flavor for any meat
- 1 lemongrass stalk, ½ small chile, minced, and ½ tsp. red pepper flakes — a spicy Asian flavor that works nicely with chicken
Notes: A small food processor works nicely for quickly blending the paste, or you can pound it out the old-fashioned way with a mortar and pestle.