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Best Herbs And Spices For Chicken Dishes

Understanding Spices

When it comes to meats, cooking with chicken is great because it’s so versatile. Frying, baking, grilling, sauteing, boiling and roasting are just some of the ways you can prepare chicken. Chicken also has a quick cooking time, making it ideal for a weeknight dinner. There are so many ways you can spice chicken up to give it a delicious punch of flavour. Below are the best herbs and spices to add to chicken dishes, plus how to make your very own chicken spice blend.

Basil

Delicate and fragrant basil can bring a summery twist to your chicken dishes. This Mediterranean herb is frequently used fresh in Italian and Greek dishes (synonymous with long, warm summer days) and works a treat in baked pesto chicken, chicken pasta or tossed in a chicken salad. As well as the classic Italian basil, why not try the musky, minty flavours of Thai holy basil? The rich tasting leaves make a delicious and healthy addition to this chicken stir fry.

Bay leaves

When it comes to aroma and flavour, we’ll be the first to admit that bay leaves don’t hit you over the head with intense aromatic presence. This may have you thinking that bay leaves are optional, but bay leaves actually make a big difference to your cooking even if you can’t taste them in the final product. They offer a layer of flavour and can lighten up a hearty dish such as chicken soup, chicken gumbo or a chicken methi.

Oregano

Whether you’re using Mediterranean oregano or Mexican oregano, the lively and enticing flavours of this popular herb will make any chicken dish more interesting. You’ll find it featuring in all sorts of European dishes, from France to Spain to Italy. Sprinkle oregano into avgolemono soup, a rich and lemony Greek chicken soup. Use it as a base for a classic roast chicken, or in a traditional French Provençal chicken.

Rosemary

It wouldn’t be a list of best herbs for chicken dishes without including rosemary. With its strong, intense aroma and earthy, woodsy taste, it’s the perfect match for chicken. Rosemary really shines when cooking chicken over a wood fire, but also when charcoal grilling. Stuff a whole chicken with fresh rosemary before baking, add it to a marinade to drizzle over chicken thighs, or use it to season soups, casseroles and stews. Keep in mind that rosemary does have a strong flavour, so use sparingly. Expert tip: rosemary’s flavours are complemented by dried lemon or orange peel.

Thyme

There’s always time for thyme. This herb has a woody, spicy flavour with hints of clove and mint. Dried, ground thyme is great for flavouring stuffing, whereas whole thyme is delicious to make chicken stock with. As thyme has a lemony top note, it pairs well with other citrusy herbs and spices to brighten up a chicken dish. It’s herby profile also provides a lovely balance to salty ingredients like capers and olives. Thyme is commonly used in the Caribbean, and is a key ingredient in jerk chicken.

Chilli powder

It goes without saying that a bit of heat makes any dish taste better. Chilli powder is a very general term, as there are so many varieties out there. The choice is endless, whether you’re going for Central and South American flavours of ancho chillies and aji amarillo chillies, Indian Kashmiri chillies, African habanero chillies or Caribbean chipotle chillies. Each variety has their own flavour profile and spice level, so play around with them and see what you like best. Chillies can be added to peri-peri chicken schnitzel, achiote chicken wings, chipotle chicken salad or creamy chipotle chicken.

Cumin

Want to give your chicken a real flavour kick? Try cumin. Commonly found in Indian and Mexican cuisine, this warm, smoky and hearty spice is an essential for any chicken curry, tagine and balti. Cumin comes in two forms, whole and ground. Whole is ideal when you need a strong punch of flavour and ground works better in sauces and dry rubs. You’ll also find that black cumin has a stronger and more bitter taste compared to white cumin. It’s not used as often, mainly in north Indian dishes.

Paprika

If you don’t like a strong, sharp spiciness like cayenne pepper, paprika is a great alternative. Made from the milder and sweeter bell pepper, paprika is a versatile spice packed with flavour. There are several types of paprika out there, including Hungarian and mild Spanish, hot Spanish, sweet smoked paprika and spicy smoked paprika. Paprika is an essential ingredient in fajita seasoning, so be sure to add some next time you’re making chicken fajitas. It also adds a savoury warmth to this honey soy chicken recipe.

Turmeric

A relative of ginger, turmeric is a staple in Middle Eastern, Indian and Indonesian cooking. This bright orange spice adds a peppery warmth and brilliant colour to dishes, and is a must-have ingredient in chicken curries and stews. It’s also delicious as a wet rub for chicken when mixed with cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, honey and olive oil. Give colour to your chicken biryani or spice up your fried rice with pineapple and chicken.

Nutmeg

This quintessential autumn spice is commonly found in Christmassy drinks and desserts. But did you know that nutmeg pairs really well with chicken dishes? It lends a warm, subtle flavour to savoury dishes. Add a pinch to chicken alfredo, Grenadian nutmeg chicken, semur ayam (Dutch-Indonesian chicken stew) and in this marinade for BBQ chicken wings.

Make your own spice blends

The best way to get delicious tasting dishes is to experiment with herbs and spices. Whether you’re using thighs, breasts, wings or a whole chicken, this meat makes for a great ‘canvas’ for trying out different flavours. Making your own spice blends is great because you can customise them to your own taste. Use spice blends as a rub before grilling on pan-frying, add into a marinade, or sprinkle into curries and stews.

Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients—this homemade spice blend uses everyday pantry spices. It makes approximately two tablespoons of seasoning which is enough for up to 1kg of chicken.

Mix together:

  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon smoked or sweet paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or a bit more if you like it spicy!)
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ teaspoon dried basil
  • ½ teaspoon dried rosemary
  • ¼ teaspoon dried parsley

Looking for more kitchen inspiration? Have a read of our blog post for the best herbs and spices to use with fish and seafood dishes.

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