The importance of seasoning

Published 4:18 pm Saturday, May 13, 2017

Have you ever eaten a salad, or a soup, or a serving of turnips or green beans, and thought, “if only it had a taste of …”  What? What was lacking? It may have been a perfectly good salad, or soup, or vegetable, but the taste was, well, flat.
I came to a better understanding of the importance of seasoning when we briefly had the little restaurant, CJ’s in the Maze. After a while, I figured out that what I was creating was “stock.” I hadn’t thought of it that way; I added a little of this and a little of that, and after a while, I began to refer to the recipes of well-known chefs, and sure enough: I had the beginning of an excellent stock. But there was more to learn.
The best chefs, or cooks, make their own seasonings and add them in varying amounts to many dishes they prepare. Recently I was reading an Emeril cookbook (Lagasse of TV fame) and came across his recipe for something called Essence. I know that he has bottled and sold some of his spices and flavorings. I prefer to use his recipes and make my own.
The Savannah cookbook author, Dora Charles, who wrote “A Real Southern Cook in Her Savannah Kitchen,” has a similar recipe. She keeps a dish of it on the stove and adds it to numerous dishes. It’s not rocket science, but it does take time and thoughtfulness to produce a seasoning that will be the difference between “blah” and “ah”.

Emeril’s Essence
5 tablespoons sweet paprika
¼ cup salt
¼ cup garlic powder
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons cayenne
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons dried thyme
Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl and blend well. Store in an airtight container in your spice cabinet for up to three months.

Use Essence to flavor fish or chicken when frying or baking, in numerous cheese and egg dishes, and those of your imagination. Also it’s a good addition to chili, or to rub on a beef roast that is going to cook slowly in the oven, covered, in an iron Dutch oven. (Omit cayenne if you don’t like hot peppers.)

Dora Charles’ Savannah Seasoning
1/3 cup Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
¼ cup salt
2 scant tablespoons granulated garlic or garlic powder
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
In a small bowl, mix everything together very thoroughly. Store the seasoning in a tightly sealed glass jar. It will keep up to three months.

Ms. Charles says this seasoning is good with almost everything, from eggs to chicken to pork and even some vegetables. She suggests always tasting what you’re cooking. You may need to add more seasoning as you go along. She uses this seasoning on her famous fried green tomatoes. You could, too.
Native Georgian Virginia Willis is a trained French chef who came home to Georgia where she has published several cookbooks and writes for national magazines. Her recipe for Chicken Stock — the foundation of numerous soups — will sound familiar, for it includes the ingredients that many of us use, in varying degrees. Of course, hers is perfect.

Chicken Stock
2 pounds chicken wings or bones
14 cups water
3 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
3 onions, preferably Vidalia, coarsely chopped
3 carrots, coarsely chopped
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
2 sprigs of parsley
2 sprigs of thyme
4 to 6 whole peppercorns
In a large soup pot, combine the chicken wings, water, celery, onions, carrots, bay leaves, parsley, thyme and peppercorns. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to low and simmer for 1 ½ hours, skimming the foam off the top as it rises. Strain through a colander, reserving the stock and discarding the chicken and vegetables. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to one week, or freeze up to three months. Before using, discard any fat that has risen to the surface.

This basic stock can be used for several soups. I have even cooked rice in chicken stock, to give it more flavor. The key ingredient to good cooking? Imagination. Let yours wander. With a little help from friends.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at