Food Lover's Guide to Portland

The Food Lover's Guide to Oils & Spices

By Rachel Ritchie August 23, 2012


0912 mark bitterman onbxws

GUIDE: Mark Bitterman

 The Salt Vault

Portland’s maestro of all things saline—co-owner of the Meadow and author of Salted: A Manifesto—shares four salts no kitchen should be without. 

Black Flake Salt 

“With flake salt, you get a bright, electric snap that subsides quickly—a fresh pop of salt that doesn’t  overpower food. It’s great on salads and steamed veggies. A black flake salt also has fantastic visual drama—it’s tantalizing on baked potatoes with a dollop of crème fraiche.” 

Image: Michael Novak 

Sel Gris

“Any good French sel gris is a fantastic option: it’s coarse and briny, with a ton of moisture. It’s dynamic and playful. Put it on top of something big and moist and hearty, like rib-eye steak or bone marrow, and you get amazing flavors. It’s almost like sprinkling fresh herbs on top.” 

Fleur de Sel

“This fine, granular, moist salt has a delicate, minerally crunch. It’s the perfect all-purpose finishing salt for most foods, from cooked vegetables to scrambled eggs to fish, and it’s the best thing in the world with bread and butter. It’s badass salt to have in the kitchen.”  

Smoked Salt

“My favorite is cold-smoked with alder wood—it’s got a clean, bright, and woodsy taste. Put it on vanilla bean ice cream, or on seafood. A furtive sprinkling sets off an outdoorsy flavor. It’s great for the Northwest—people would suffer from less depression in this city if they had smoked salt.”

Spice Route

 The lowdown on intriguing spices showing up on portland menus

Image: Michael Novak

 Korean Chile Powder 

Spotted at: Boke Bowl

“I love it for its sweetness and mellow spice finish, and its unique smokiness. We use it for a number of things at Boke Bowl—primarily as a base for our kimchi, but also as a garnish for ice cream or on our corn, with bacon. It’s also amazing sprinkled on summer melons or mango. In any recipe that calls for chile powder, like a rub or a sauce, give it a try!” —chef Patrick Fleming 

Image: Michael Novak


Spotted at: Beast

“I think cardamom is one of the most underused spices. It’s got this great, intense flavor—just a few little pods really brighten things up. It’s so floral, so menthol-y. People think of it as a spice for ethnic foods, but I really like sneaking it into unexpected things, like bread, or ice cream, or apple pie—or in a brine or pickling liquid. There’s just so much bang for your buck.” —chef/owner Naomi Pomeroy

Image: Michael Novak

Nigella Seed

Spotted at: Smallwares

“People also call it black cumin. It’s really common in Indian food like curry powders and flatbreads. It’s got a kind of oniony, cumin taste. I throw it in our squid salad for a nice sesame-seed note. I also use it in my spice blend for our quail dish. It’s really versatile, and it lasts forever. Sprinkle it in a salad for some texture and flavor.” —chef/owner Johanna Ware 

Image: Michael Novak

Amchoor Powder

Spotted at: Bollywood Theater

“At the restaurant, we make our own amchoor powder by drying green mangoes, but it’s also available at Indian markets. It’s got a really bright, slightly fruity but also acidic flavor—it’s tart and lively. We use it in our samosa filling because it pairs really well with potatoes. It’s really nice sprinkled on fresh cucumbers with salt, or with grilled corn. It kind of plays the same brightening role as lemon, but in a more interesting way.” —chef/owner Troy MacLarty  

Image: Michael Novak

Piment d’Espelette

Spotted at: Laurelhurst Market

“Viridian Farms is really making this Basque chile powder famous throughout Portland. I tend to use it as a finishing spice—I put it on pork loin as it’s resting or on tuna carpaccio for a nice, sweet heat with peppery, floral notes. It’s perfect for a home cook—just a half ounce can last you months.” —chef/owner David Kreifels 

Oil Consumption

0912 cooking oil wfioqs

Image: Michael Novak

Portland’s top chefs spill their olive oil secrets. 

Tony Demes, Noisette

Unio Siurana ($15)

It’s mild and fruity—not too woody or oaky. I use it to finish dishes like tartare, or I mix it with lemon juice, shallots, and salt and pepper on a salad.

Kevin Gibson, Evoe

Marques de Valdueza ($22)

It’s buttery and rich with just a hint of herbaceous notes. It’s more graceful, subtle, and elegant than its Tuscan peers. Use it to finish a seafood salad or raw vegetable salads like shaved zucchini. It’s OK to serve warm (tossed in a warm portobello salad), but never heat it or cook with it.

John Taboada, Navarre/Luce

Occhipinti Olio ($16)

It’s peppery, but still has a richness and finesse to it. I use it to dress salads and vegetables—it’s especially good with fennel.

Cathy Whims, Nostrana/Oven & Shaker

California Olive Ranch Arbequina ($12)

It tastes of a sweet and fresh green apple, and its creamy yet mild, peppery finish works great as a dip for ciabatta, or as the backbone of a vinaigrette, or as a finishing touch on grilled steak with rosemary and sliced garlic. Its reasonable price also makes it a no-brainer for cooking.

How to: Tool Up

 Four gadgets to take your kitchen to the next level

0912 salt grater d75hgx

Salt Grater

These may not have any true culinary advantage, but they are undeniably cool. And when you grate a huge pink rock of salt over your guests’ food at the table, it’s simply inconceivable that they won’t be impressed.

Peugeot Pepper Mill

Every pepper mill releases flavor from peppercorns differently. Peugeot’s wooden mills are mechanically sound, long-lasting, and perfectly adjustable—Mark Bitterman calls them “a badass mechanism for grinding pepper.”

 Mortar & Pestle

Nothing can bring out the oils and aromas from spices quite like a mortar and pestle. And the traditional granite Vietnamese versions will last forever, allowing you to pulverize your spices like
none other.

Pour Spouts 

This is the easiest—and cheapest—way to streamline your cooking: simply top your bottles of olive oil with pour spouts for clean, measured drizzling. You’ll never go back.

Filed under
Show Comments