Basic Spice Rub
- 2 tsp. cumin seeds
- 1 tsp. fennel seeds
- 2 Tbs. Spanish smoked paprika or sweet
- 2 tsp. dried thyme
- 2 tsp. dried sage
- 2 tsp. dried oregano
- 2 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1⁄2 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 1⁄2 tsp. onion powder
- 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
Toasting whole spices before grinding heats up their essential oils and makes them more pungent. Heat a small, dry fry pan over medium heat. (This jump-starts the toasting process so that the seeds begin to toast as soon as they hit the hot surface of the pan.) Hold your hand, palm down, over the pan. If you can feel the heat rising, dip your fingers into cold water and then flick the water onto the pan. If, when the droplets hit the pan, they dance briefly over the hot surface and then evaporate almost immediately, the pan is ready for the seeds. Add the cumin and fennel seeds and toast, stirring or shaking the pan constantly, until the seeds are very fragrant and are toasted a slightly deeper shade of brown, about 1 minute; you may see a wisp or two of smoke rising from the pan. Remove from the heat.
Let the seeds cool
Immediately transfer the toasted seeds to a mortar or an electric spice grinder and let cool completely, about 10 minutes. Cooling the seeds allows them to crisp and makes grinding more efficient.
Grind the seeds
If you are working with a mortar, use a pestle to crush the cooled seeds, pressing it firmly against the seeds and rotating it against the sides of the mortar. Continue to grind until all the seeds are coarsely ground in small pieces measuring about 1⁄16 inch. You want them to have some texture, not be ground to a powder. If using an electric coffee mill or spice grinder, pulse the machine on and off continually until the cooled seeds are coarsely ground, about 1⁄16-inch pieces.
Mix the rub ingredients
Transfer the ground cumin and fennel to a small airtight container with a secure lid. Add the paprika, thyme, sage, oregano, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and cayenne. Using the handle of the wooden spoon as your tool, stir and mix well to combine the spices and herbs thoroughly. Paprika has a tendency to clump up, so be sure to press firmly so that you break up the clumps and incorporate the spice evenly into the mixture.
Store the spice rub
Cover the container tightly with the lid. Store in a cool, dark place for up to 3 months. Dried herbs and spices lose their flavor over time, so it is best to make the rub in small batches that will be used within a 3-month period. Before each use, mix ingredients again to ensure that the flavors are evenly distributed. Makes about 1⁄2 cup, enough for about 6 lb. meat or poultry.
Chef's Tip: If you don't have either a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, you can crush the toasted cumin and fennel with a heavy pan. Place the cooled seeds on a work surface and use the bottom of a small, clean, heavy fry pan or saucepan to crush them coarsely.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Mastering Series, Grilling & Barbecuing, by Rick Rodgers (Simon & Schuster, 2006).