Season This With That: A Quick Guide to Common Spices for Common Dishes

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As the resident food lover in my family, I often get panicked 5pm phone calls asking how to season a bowl of steamed veggies or what can replace thyme or if there's a way to make this chicken taste less boring. While there is really no "One Right Way" to season or spice your favorite foods, here's a quick guide to some of the most common — and dependably tasty! — ways to do it.

A Million Ways to Roast a Chicken

When given the choice between fresh herbs and dried herbs, fresh herbs are going give you better flavor every time. Likewise, whole spices freshly-ground right before you use them will also taste better. This said, dried herbs and pre-ground spices are better than none at all!

I included several spice mixes here because they are convenient for seasoning a quick weeknight meal and also because they can be good gateways into new ways to spice your food. It's also good to learn what spices are in the mixes so that you can get a sense for which ones are making your food taste so good (see our complete spice and herb guide, below).

Think of this guide and the seasonings I suggest as a starting place. Use it to learn the basics of what herbs and spices tend to go best with which basic dishes, but don't stop there. 

What particular herbs and spices do you like to use when seasoning your favorite foods?

Teeny Tiny New Potatoes with Lemon

A Reference Guide to Common Spices for Common Dishes

Chicken

  • Dried herbs and spices: thyme, rosemary, coriander, marjoram, sage, garam masala (spice blend), harissa (spice blend), jerk seasoning (spice blend), dukkah (spice blend), chili powder (spice blend), herbes de provence (spice blend)
  • Fresh herbs: thyme, rosemary, parsley, tarragon, marjoram, sage 
  • Other: lemon, garlic, soy sauce, white wine, ginger, pesto, miso paste

Fish

  • Dried herbs and spices: coriander, chili flakes, jerk seasoning (spice blend), dukkah (spice blend), za'atar (spice blend)
  • Fresh herbs: chervil, tarragon, chives, dill, marjoram, cilantro
  • Other: lemon, mustard, ginger, sherry, pesto, miso paste, soy sauce

Pork

  • Dried herbs and spices: sage, rosemary, thyme, chinese five-spice (spice blend)
  • Fresh herbs: sage, rosemary, thyme
  • Other: mustard, garlic

Beef

  • Dried herbs and spices: rosemary, thyme, chinese five-spice (spice blend)
  • Fresh herbs: rosemary, thyme
  • Other: red wine, garlic

Lamb

  • Dried herbs and spices: cinnamon, harissa (spice blend), dukkah (spice blend), za'atar (spice blend)
  • Fresh herbs: rosemary, thyme, parsley, mint
  • Other: garlic

Steamed or Roasted Vegetables

  • Dried herbs and spices: thyme, rosemary, oregano, marjoram, chili flakes, za'atar (spice blend)
  • Fresh herbs: dill, thyme, rosemary, oregano, marjoram
  • Other: lemon, good extra-virgin olive oil, butter, pesto

Potatoes

  • Dried herbs and spices: rosemary, thyme, garam masala (spice blend), herbes de provence (spice blend)
  • Fresh herbs: rosemary, thyme, parsley
  • Other: good extra-virgin olive oil, butter, pesto

Also, take a gander through our herb and spice archive:

A Quick Guide to Every Herb and Spice in the Cupboard

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Ginger and Cilantro Baked Tilapia

Related: Do It Now! Throwing Away Our 4-Year-Old Spices

(Images: Roast Chicken/Sara Kate Gillingham-RyanSpices/AlexeiLogvinovich/Shutterstock, Potatoes/Tilapia/Faith Durand)