A Little Spice Goes a Long Way

_MG_0688Located one block from the Old Town Farmers Market is one of Temecula’s Hidden Gems—The Old Town Spice Merchants—purveyor of fine spices and teas from around the world.

The owners Sue & Anthony DelBono, go out of their way to educate you about the various spices and their uses. My first trip to the shop was on a bustling Saturday, and I was slightly overwhelmed at my options.

I timed my next visit on a slow weekday, and gave myself a good half hour to smell every spice in the store. Some of the spices were so fresh, and powerful, you had to waft the aroma to your nose or risk damaging your scent receptors.

In addition to the spices, the Spice Merchants carry a fantastic selection of teas and a small assortment of related cookbooks and spice accompaniments to keep you collection nice and organized. With the holiday season approaching a Spice Merchant gift basket is a surefire winner for the Foodie in your life.

_MG_0653A Chef’s Prospective on Spices

As a Chef I work with a lot of ingredients that all but the most determined and well-heeled home cooks can only dream about. I have always considered spices a necessary evil, I want and many times need their flavor to complete a dish, but have been disappointed time and time again, by stale spices, and blends that taste like the remnants of a warehouse floor.

Old Town Spice Merchants provide a quality-level of spices that I did not know existed. I have been cooking for most of my life, and have never had access to such a wide-range of fresh spices. The difference they make to cooking is profound. Compare it to the difference between a Five Dollar generic bottle of wine a classic French Burgundy.

If you think you know what Paprika, Turmeric and Sumac smell like, go wonder into the Spice Merchant and try again, you will be amazed.


Pork Loin with Roasted Potatoes

Serves 4

Pork Loin

1 Pork loin, approximately 2 pounds

2 tbs smoked paprika

1/4 tsp ground long peppercorn

½ tsp Fleur de Gris/Celtic sea salt (use in lieu of standard salt)

4 tbs Virgin Olive oil, or Grapeseed Oil

Generous pinch of Black Lava salt to finish

Turn on oven to 350 degrees. Trim the loin of all silver skin with a boning or paring knife. Rub with paprika, peppercorn and sea salt, let rest an hour in the fridge if possible. Add oil to saute pan, and sear all sides until a dark red on all sides. Throw the pan in the oven for 10 minutes, or to 155 degrees. Let rest at room temperature for ten minutes before slicing.

Factoid: Trichinosis is nearly a thing of the past, and pork is best enjoyed cooked medium to medium well. Trichinosis itself is killed at 137 degrees. On the other hand, trying to retrain generations of Pig eaters that pink meat is safe is a futile battle.

Hint: never cook with finishing salts, it is far too expensive, and their nuances are wasted by the cooking process, only add them at the very end.

Roasted Potatoes

4 pounds peeled potatoes, ideally an heirloom such as Carola (German), Yukon can be substituted

¼ pound Normandy or Irish-style butter

¼ cup Virgin Olive oil (the cooking process kills the subtly and aromas of fine oils)

1 tsp Fleur de Gris

Generous pinch of Fleur de Sel to finish.

Add potatoes to two gallons of water with 2 tbsp of salt (regular is fine), bring to a boil, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Drain water, place potatoes back in pot and place a tight fitting lid over top. Shake vigorously a few times, the goal is to round-off the potatoes sharp edges which makes them softer and helps to develop a crispier skin. Place onto baking pan, with oil, melted butter and salt, roast at 425 degrees for 30 – 45 minutes. Baste or rotate every ten minutes. They are done when they are dark brown crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle. Finish with Fleur de Sel.

Grilled Cedar Planked Wild Salmon

If you’re from the Pacific Northwest, this classic never goes out of style.

6 oz piece of salmon per person

½ lemon per person, sliced into rounds

Fleur de Sel, generous sprinkle

4 tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 Cedar Plank per 2 pieces of fish.

Create an indirect fire in your BBQ, either move all the coals to one side or use the furthest burner as the heat source.

Soak the Cedar Planks in water for at least 1/3 hour. Oil each piece of Salmon, then place on planks, apply salt, then place lemon on top. Set on the cold side of the BBQ with the lid closed. Should take about 45 minutes, or until the fish flakes somewhat easily, better to aim for medium as overcooking this dish destroys the subtlety.

You have to experiment a few times to get to know your BBQ’s personality, vent-settings, knob placement etc…what you are going for is 275 degrees internal temperature.

Hint: Do not have the Cedar boards over a heat source, they will scorch, thus ruining them. If the boards warp during use, place a cutting board weighted down with a few pots on them over night. If you take care of the boards, you should be able to get about ten uses from them.

The Old Town Spice Merchant is located at: 41925 5th St # 101, in Old Town Temecula, click here for a map.

(951) 587-2223

By Crispin Courtenay, Temecula Valley Chef

For sources or more information please email Crispin at or check him out on Facebook.

Photography by Chip Morton for the photos (view them all here).

One thought on “A Little Spice Goes a Long Way

  1. Pingback: A little spice goes a long-way - Wine Pros

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