Buying fresh spices is one of the fastest ways to improve the flavour of your home cooking and reduce the amount of unnecessary preservatives you eat through using supermarket pastes. One of Australia’s leaders in the culinary herb and spice field is Ian Hemphill, who used to operate Herbie’s Spices from a little red corner store in Rozelle. By moving his full range to The Essential Ingredient in Darling Street, Rozelle, Ian freed up time to spend at his Central Coast Spicery, developing new spices, often based upon customer requests. Across the last month I’ve been road-testing four of his latest creations, shipped quickly from the Charmhaven Spicery.
The spice I will struggle to live without is the Yellow Chilli Crushed ($4.25/30g). Made from crushed Himalayan yellow chillies, the first thing you’ll notice about this (and all Herbie’s Spices) is the volatile aroma. The fragrance is sweet and fruity, but be warned, if you take a big honk you’ll sneeze! Labeled with a 9/10 on Herbie’s own heat scale, this crushed chilli powder is hot. We converted about a third of the packet (10g) into a pork and pineapple yellow curry for 6-8 people and got a nicely spicy heat level. We teamed it with fresh ginger, garlic, and turmeric, amped with powdered turmeric, mace, jaggery, fenugreek, salt, pepper and yellow mustard seeds that were toasted in a pan before using a mortar and pestle to create the paste.
With fresh curry leaves added during cooking, we enhanced the tropical feel of the dish with freshly grated coconut and pineapple, ending up with the kind of curry you wish you were eating from a banana leaf on a beach somewhere in Goa.
Sadly we were eating it on a cold night in the Inner West, so we made do with turmeric and coconut rice and an array of Indian condiments. Don't be constrained by the Indian country of origin, these crushed yellow chillies were equally at home in a turmeric-heavy chicken soup we made to help fight off a niggling sore throat.
While I’ve eaten plenty of Japanese katsu curry, I’d never actually made it at home. Herbie’s Spices Katsu Japanese Curry Blend ($5.25/40g) encouraged me to give it a go. The first thing that surprised me was learning that katsu curry is roux-based. It’s made by frying together oil, onion and carrot together in a heavy pan until they’re soft before adding the katsu curry powder and flour to make a roux.
This is then lengthened into a sauce with stock, rice wine, and – another surprise – soy sauce. The spice blend contains everything from coriander seeds to turmeric (to give it the yellow colour) to cumin, fennel, cassia and cardamom seed powder. Once everything is soft, you blitz it (we just used our blender) to make a smooth sauce that’s mild and enjoyable (it’d be amazing on a Japanese style loaded fries). The only thing I’d do next time is up the heat level, using the crushed yellow chilli powder I told you about earlier.
Now, while you could add chicken directly into your katsu curry, we opted to eat ours in the more traditional way, with crumbed chicken, turned more Japanese with the addition of Furikake Japanese Seasoning ($5.95/40g).
Think of this one as your basic Japanese table-salt to sprinkle onto everything at the table. It’s an umami-rich blend of sesame seeds, nori flakes, sugar, red chilli, orange peel and sansho powder.
It helped turn our crumbed chicken fillets into something even more compatible with the katsu curry sauce.
As I’m in an area where there are plenty of Asian supermarkets, this was a product I already had in the cupboard, so I probably wouldn’t purchase it again, however I was delighted by the katsu curry sauce.
Rose Harissa Spice Blend ($4.10/30g) is based upon a Tunisan spice blend that works as marinade or a paste. While it’s made using rose petals and red chilli flakes, I must confess that to me, right from the outset, it smelled very brown, dominated by cumin, coriander seed and mild paprika.
We followed the on-packet recipe and combined the rose harissa powder with water and a little bit of oil into a paste, and brushed it onto quail breasts and tulips before pan-frying them off as a bar snack.
They were tasty but I struggled to get any hint of rose petals in the very mild, faintly Middle Eastern mix. I wanted for both more chilli and more salt, so I think I’ll team the rest of the packet with Greek yoghurt and crème fraiche as a dipping sauce for grilled meats, or try it sprinkled onto haloumi before pan-frying it.
While mail order is the best way to pick up Herbie’s Spices (as you’re guaranteed to get the full range), you will also see them in spice racks in stores across Australia. I spotted one in my favourite Glebe fruiterer, Galluzzo’s Fruit Shop, recently when picking up my first ever purple Brussels sprouts.
4/25 Arizona Road, Charmhaven
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