Shichimi Togarashi means "seven flavor chili pepper" in Japanese. Besides ground chili, it has nori, sesame seeds, citrus peel, sansho pepper, and poppy and hemp seeds in varying proportions. Many in the West like to call it "togarashi" because it's easier and sounds cool, though sticklers point out that that basically just means "chili" and thus is not accurate. Those people also tend not to get invited over for dinner very often, but that's sort of beside the point. (And I have an Alinea menu that just says "togarashi" on it, so there). It's a complex and useful seasoning, imparting a bright yet earthy heat to everything it touches. I like it on soup especially, where it can really embellish the transparent flavors.
A jar of particularly fine shichimi that John brought me from Japan. Also note the brand new, boner-inducing countertop that I totally put in all by myself.
But since I'm kind of a Mediterranean guy at heart, I've been inspired to invent a sort of European alternative that's better suited to certain preparations. After much tinkering, I've arrived at a blend that works very well for the purposes I had in mind. The iodine notes of nori are not present, and there's no citrus–though I have added sumac on a couple of occasions, since it's local, and ironically enough I just got a bag of Iranian sumac from a friend–but the beauty of hacks like this is that they're infinitely malleable. Every time I make it, it's different, and that's appropriate to how I make pretty much everything.
Look–I say just LOOK–at that counter.
This mise is not complete; I left out some tiny little dried hot pepperoncini from Siena that I keep in a not very attractive vessel. Sue me. The basic ingredient list is as follows:
Maldon salt or similar
Cracked black pepper
Pimentón (sweet, hot, bitter, or a custom mix)
Dried hot pepper (chile de arbol or pepperoncini)
Herbes de Provence (homegrown if possible; this blend is rosemary, thyme, lavender, savory, oregano, fennel seed, and basil)
I bust everything up in my little suribachi until it's fairly fine. Everything plays a part, and of course it can be adjusted every which way. Sumac makes it wicked with duck or lamb. A pinch of sugar would not be out of place for certain applications. Pink peppercorns really do something special with the Basque and Spanish peppers, adding a horsey note that's not as strong as that of white pepper, and with that floral character that makes pink pepper so lovely and entwines so well with lavender. (I have a grinder for black, and another with a mix of pink and white in it for dainty things).
If you look down there at the bottom right, you can see a little sliver of my new counter.
I've used this blend on seafood, chicken, meat, grilled buttered flatbread, beans, pasta, and more. It works. Above all, though, it owes its invention to one pressing need that haunted–nay, tortured–me for weeks: what the hell was I going to use to cure this ham?
Sadly, that's not the counter; it's just our giant speckleware canning tub.
Prosciutto is sometimes rubbed with hot pepper during the curing process and/or coated with black pepper afterward while it hangs. The great hams of Bayonne often, but not always, get rubbed with Espelette pepper as part of their long journey towards total awesomeness. Lacking any sort of a tradition to draw from, I built this blend, mixed into copious quantities of salt and brown sugar, and slathered it all over this here big hunk of pig leg. I've been turning it every few days, and soon–it's not a whole ham, so I'm curing it for a bit less time than recipes call for–I'll rinse it and hang it to dry until next fall. If the smell at this stage is any indication of the final flavor, it will not suck.