*This article has been updated in January 2021.
Shake up your spice cabinet!
The word ‘dust’, when used as a noun in the context of cooking, refers to a light sprinkling of a finely powdered or granulated concentrated substance onto food to add flavor. These are 20th century versions of the old standbys – onion and garlic powder – in your spice cabinet. Chefs use dehydrator machines and spice mills to turn specific flavors into powders, also known as dusts. They give the simplest of dishes a burst of flavor. Dusts can be made from herbs, spices, dehydrated fruits, nuts, chocolate, coffee, tea leaves, cheeses and about anything that can be ground into a powder. Because all liquid has evaporated from the food, the dust has a concentrated and intense flavor.
Chefs are making cherry and passion fruit dusts, bacon and corn dusts, olive and rosemary dusts. Sound delicious? Fennel pollen, a greenish gold dust, has been popular with chefs since the mid 1990s. Umami is a long time beloved version of a flavor dust. Restaurants across the country and in Europe use these homemade ‘instant’ flavor enhancers to give their dishes a last minute boost. Home cooks do not need a dehydrator to create flavor dusts. Many of the ingredients can be found in the supermarket already dried – mushrooms for example. Dusts are not difficult to make at home. Dry your ingredients in a low temp oven and put them through a spice mill or coffee bean grinder and you’re good to go. See Bon Appetit’s instructions and their recipe for herb dust.
Other dust ideas from caterer Abigail Kirsch:
TUSCAN: tomato powder or dehydrated tomato flakes, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese
WILD MUSHROOM: porcini powder or dehydrated mushrooms, sea salt, rosemary (Hint * drizzle truffle oil on the base before adding your dust for a more pronounced mushroom flavor)
SOUTHWEST: chipotle, cilantro, cumin, dried orange peel, pumpkin seeds
FUSION: wasabi peas, ground ginger, sesame seeds, nori (dried seaweed)
DESSERT: chocolate, coffee beans, cinnamon, fennel seed (which adds a hint of licorice or anise flavor)
How to make rosemary dust (from Food and Wine magazine):
Coat the needles from 1 oz. rosemary sprigs on a plate with vegetable cooking spray. Microwave on high power for 2½ minutes, until the needles look dry. Let cool until crisp, then grind in a coffee grinder.
Click here for a recipe for making clementine dust.
If you are not a DIYer, chef Perry Hoffman, who is the culinary director at Sonoma County restaurant Shed, decided to bottle and sell the powders that they make and use at the restaurant. They sell their purple sauerkraut, Niçoise olive, charred eggplant dust, onion, tarragon-caper, shiitake and green garlic dusts and more. $15.00 each. If you subscribe to Shed’s newsletter you get 15% off your first purchase. Other flavors coming soon are sauerkraut, green garlic and seaweed.
Try Chef Adrianne’s Maximum Flavor Chef’s Dust which is a blend of savory seasonings. How to use it? They say “just rub, or sprinkle a pinch on any dish, then grill, broil, or pan-fry as usual”.
Magic Plant Sriracha Chili Dust is just like the sauce only a dust. $6.75.
How to use dusts:
Many chefs and hosts put the dusts in labeled shakers and allow guests to customize their flavor combinations. A little shake goes a long way! You can stir a dust into butter for a rub on chicken or meat. Use Shed’s onion dust (made by smoking yellow onions slowly over applewood chips) in a grill marinade. Try some dusts on your popcorn, on top of a bagel, in pasta, on steamed vegetables or kale chips, or in gravy.
Bon Appetit says “These powders have the same flavor as in their fresh state, just ultra-concentrated; use accordingly.”
Read more about unusual spices in this ASE article:
Header Graphic Credit – http://www.bonappetit.com/story/shed-flavor-dusts