By Chef Peter Martin
As a young chef, I read countless cookbooks to expand my knowledge and help me develop my own style of cooking. While I have many favorites there are probably only a few that really helped to truly define me as a chef. One of those books was Steven Raichlen’s “The Barbecue! Bible.” I had been dabbling in barbecuing and smoking foods for a number of years by then, but it was while reading that book that I became inspired to really delve into the world of barbecue and learn all its aspects and nuances.
Needless to say, in the intervening years I’ve read most of Mr. Raichlen’s books, followed his website and taken much of his knowledge and rolled it into my own arsenal of culinary skills. So it comes as no surprise that I was thrilled when I found out that Steven was releasing a line of spices, rubs and pastes under the “Planet Barbecue” label. I have to admit; normally I am not much of a fan of spice mixes and premixed “rubs.” Generally I prefer to make them myself, customizing them to the food, my tastes and my mood, but having been a fan of Steven Raichlen for so long I was excited and rather curious to see what he would come up with. Overall, I was pretty impressed by what I have sampled although some, I thought, hit the mark better than others.
The whole line consists of 9 different pastes and rubs. I only had a chance to sample 7 of those, but I think they offered a good range of styles. Of those I tried, 5 were spice rubs and 2 were spice pastes. While each item had its own suggested uses I wanted to be able to try all of them in a way that I could concentrate on tasting the seasoning and not having to contend with “background noise” in the form of different meats so after tasting each item right out of the jar, I used each spice rub and spice paste to season a boneless, skinless chicken thigh. I then allowed a 1 hour rest for the spice to works its way into the chicken and then I grilled the thighs on a gas grill.
After tasting each spice, on its own, I certainly had my favorites and my not so favorites, but I wanted to hold off making any judgment until I could taste each spice mix on a cooked piece of meat. So then, here are the 7 “Planet Barbecue” items I tried (in no particular order) and my brief thoughts on each one.
Argentinean Spice Rub – the bottle compares this spice rub to the traditional Argentinean condiment “chimichurri” and while good I felt it missed that mark. Chimichurri uses parsley as a major ingredient but I didn’t really get much parsley flavor out of this, mainly due to the fact that these are dried spices and dried parsley can be off-putting in too large a quantity. While I feel it misses the mark, the rub was quite good nonetheless.
Black Forest Spice Rub – a wonderful rub that would work especially well on game meat or pork. Well balanced although (and this is definitely a personal preference) if you advertise using juniper berry in something that I really want that juniper come through. It was there but it could have been stronger.
North African Spice Rub – a wonderfully exotic mix of sweet and savory spices that really lends a wonderful accent to just about anything although it would work best for lamb and poultry items. It would also work wonders with pork. I just wish it had a bit more heat to it.
Spanish Spice Rub – this was one of the more complex spice rubs I tried with cumin, coriander and paprika as the main accents and saffron making a very subtle appearance. Would be great with most meats, but it tends to lose the subtle saffron accents with stronger meats such as beef, lamb or game.
Sicilian Spice Rub – this was my least favorite of the ones I tried. It was still a good spice rub, but I found it rather uninspired. Basil, garlic, and hot pepper flakes. It also contains dried orange peel, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to really detect it any time I tried. Again, not a bad mix at all, just a bit underwhelming.
Colombian Spice Paste – a great paste that has just enough Latin influences to make it somewhat exotic, yet familiar enough for those who are not overly adventurous. This one definitely packs a lot of flavor though I would have liked a bit more heat.
Moroccan Spice Paste – this was my favorite, by far. Lots of flavor and complexity. This paste could be used to channel the flavors of many cuisines, from those of North Africa all the way to India. The perfect match for lamb or chicken. It even makes a great flavor booster for hummus; just add a tablespoon to each cup of hummus for a different take on this dip.
Again, overall I really enjoyed every one of the spices, from “Planet Barbecue” that I tried. Sure some were a little underwhelming while others exceeded my expectations. If I had one complaint, in general, it would be that I think that all the spice mixtures could have used a bit more heat, especially those meant to evoke the flavors of regions where chiles are used extensively, but this is a minor quibble. I have no doubt that I will happily use up all the mixes I received and will probably end up keeping a couple of them around on a permanent basis.
These are all available at http://www.grilling4all.com/