If you think that a mild flavored fish means that it’s a boring dinner choice, think again.
A mild white fish (like barramundi!) is the perfect blank canvas for a variety of spices that can add exciting flavor to a weeknight meal with little effort. However, before we dive into our tried-and-true spice blends, let’s get a few things straight:
Spices do go bad eventually, so clean out the old and add in the new.
Spices don’t spoil the way fresh food does, but they do lose flavor over time. When it comes to exactly how long you can keep spices, recommendations vary. Bon Appetit advises throwing away ground spice after three months, and whole spices after 10 months. Label each jar with the date of purchase and get rid of your ground spices after about a year.
Follow the spice ratios below for balanced blends to start, then you can alter them based on your own taste.
Some spices are more potent than others, and combining them in certain ratios ensures that the overall flavor of your spice blend will be balanced. The first time you make a blend, stick to the recipe as outlined below. The next time you make it, if you find yourself wanting a little more of a particular flavor, you can add a little more of that spice next time.
Mix your blends at least an hour ahead of time. (If you really want to amp things up, you can toast them, too.)
Chef Lior Lev Sercarz, owner of Le Boite spice shop in New York City, recommends letting spice blends sit for at least an hour before using. This gives the flavors a chance to meld. For more intense flavor, toast the spices (either ground or whole) and let cool before blending.
Now, onto the spice blends: All can be used to prepare simple, flavor-packed fish.
For each of the blends below, sprinkle about ⅛ teaspoon of the spice blend over each 4-oz serving of fish (across both sides), and follow it with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook immediately after seasoning.
A little savory, a little sweet, and a touch earthy, curry powder hits all the notes. Instead of buying it at the store, make your own fresh blend at home.
2 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp ground turmeric
Give It a Go: This simple curried fish from Eating Well is a great way to try this blend out, substituting your blend for the 2 tbsp of curry powder in the recipe. If you’d rather wing it, try it on pan-seared fish with a side of garlicky sauteed greens.
Although we love fresh dill, dried dill is a great alternative that lasts for months on the shelf and packs much more herbaceous flavor per teaspoon. Pair it with paprika to add some extra peppery flavor and lemon pepper (you can substitute black pepper and lemon zest if needed) for a touch of citrus-y zing.
2 tbsp dried dill
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp lemon pepper
Give It a Go: Try it in this simple baked fish recipe from Genius Kitchen. Or, use it the next time you pan-sear or bake salmon or your favorite fish.
The anise flavor or the caraway and tarragon paired with the warmth of cumin and a touch of heat from the chili flakes, makes this spice blend both unusual and delicious. Chef Jamie Oliver uses it to season fish patties.
2 tbsp ground caraway
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili flakes
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried tarragon
Give It a Go: The next time you make fish sticks or crusted fish, add a tablespoon of this spice blend to your breadcrumb mixture.
If you’ve never had Zaatar, now is the time to try it. The classic Middle-Eastern blend is truly unique with aromatic, tangy, herbaceous, and rich flavors. It’s also incredibly versatile. Martha Stewart’s take is simple and nails the flavor profile.
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1 tsp lemon zest
½ tsp dried thyme
½ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp coarse sea salt
⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
Give It a Go: As sesame seeds might burn during pan-searing or frying, try this unique blend on baked or poached fish.
For any fan of fennel’s licorice-y taste, North Carolina-based chef Andrea Reusing’s simple spice blend is a must. With pop from the pepper and heat from the chili flakes, a little goes a long way.
2 tbsp chili flakes
1 tbsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp ground fennel seeds
Give It a Go: Try sprinkling it on whole or filleted fish before grilling.
Whenever you cook fish (or meat, or roasted vegetables), pick a blend to use. Whatever you don’t use soon after blending store in an airtight container in your pantry. (The one-year rule still applies.) Keep track of your favorites and add them to your regular rotation for a quick and satisfying dinner.