The first time I made a crockpot stew, I was having friends over for Thanksgiving. Nervously, I added about 20 more peppercorns than were necessary and found myself fishing them out a few hours later. It was a terrible dinner. The company was a mixed bag of uncomplimentary personalities. Peppercorns cracked in unsuspecting teeth. Needless to say, my newness to both cooking and hosting gatherings in my home were apparent to all present and as awkwardly so as the deluge of unwelcome spices.
A simple sachet could have saved me a lot of trouble.
So what is a sachet? The word means “bag” in French, but the use of small bags of spices, or a sachet d’épices, is likely as old as cloth and cooking. The purpose of a sachet is to contain spices or herbs in cheesecloth so the flavors will be infused into a liquid medium without the plants getting lost in the food.
A few herbs wrapped in cheese cloth and tied with butcher’s twine, or placed in these reusable spice bags, is a quick and easy way to add flavor and medicinal intention to your home-cooked meals as well as those extra dimensions of flavor of course.
Heating food and boiling it allowed our ancestors access to a wider variety of foods. Certain plants, like Stinging Nettles for instance, require cooking or drying to become edible. Experimentation with plants through cooking led to all kinds of wonderful adaptations in our species so, while potentially quite a primitive technology, the sachet is a perfect example of how small, simple steps accumulate into complex and wonderful results that hopefully lead to better dinners than that fateful, sachetless, Thanksgiving.
Since my novice introduction to this useful technique, I’ve used a sachet in stocks, soups, and a wonderful fig compote once. I’m tempted to include tea in the mix, which is half-true as, in terms of the ceremonial hot infusion, tea comes with its own set of rules. A tea sachet is a bit larger than your average teabag, triangular, and typically includes larger loose-leaf.
The recipe below is hardly precise and hardly need be, really. Depending on the flavors I want to enhance or compliment, I’ll add or take away spices as necessary. The below is a base for most of our sachets at Cooking With Lemons. Note the anise and fennel are well complimented by clove, citrus, and white or pink peppercorn.
So, here’s the sachet. A simple, delightful little bag of spices.
Simple Stock Sachet D’Épices
1/2 Star Anise
7 black peppercorns
1/2 tsp fennel
2 Bay leaves
1/2-1 cinammon stick
Pinch chili flakes
Wrap in cheescloth. Tie with butcher’s twine. Place in stock or infusion medium. For the purposes of a stock, the sachet is strained out along with and vegetables and/or bones & giblets you may have used. Next up from Cooking With Lemons, a simple, light veg stock and homemade gnocchi. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @CookingWLemons.
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