Like tainting a great single malt by mixing it with Coke, cooking a high-grade slab of lamb or beef with a haphazard sprinkle of spice is disrespectful to the central ingredient. A handful of Old Bay might work for your basic burger or store-bought trout, but ranch-raised beef, fresh game meat, and Gulf Snapper deserve a better rub down. That's why we asked Chef Edison Mays Jr., a farm-raised rub master, how best to put spices to work.
"Steak is steak; it needs more than salt and pepper," says Mays, who has created dozens of savory rubs – including the "Lemon Buddha," "Edison's Medicine," "Herbal Ember," and "Devil's Tail" – for Four Seasons Resort restaurants. "It's got to have some flavor. I grew up on a farm and – as far as I know – a cow doesn't come salted or spiced." That's why Mays' kitchen boasts some 40 mason jars of spices and why he encourages young cooks to experiment. A great rub, he points out, is "unique to each person."
Achieving that singularity can be complicated process, but Mays is quick to point out that the ingredients needed for rubs – unlike sauces or glazes – are easy to find. He estimates that 90 percent of the spices he uses can be found in either a grocery store or the average man's cupboard. The key is combining them the right way. Here is his process and some recipes rub rookies can use as a jumping off point.
Beginner Recipe: Fish
Mays' go-to fish rub works well with salmon and most other fish, and establishes a solid base from which to experiment. Remember that oil application is even more important on fish, which don't taste particularly excellent when it's dried up.
Angler's Catch Rub
- 15 lemons (zested), washed in hot water
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1/4 cup dried oregano
- 1/4 cup dried thyme leaves
- 1/3 cup granulated onion
- 1/8 cup granulated garlic
- 1/4 cup toasted fresh ground black pepper
Credit: Chris Fertnig / Getty Images
Toast the black pepper on a skillet while zesting the lemons over the salt to capture the residual oils, then mix all ingredients in a bowl. Place on a sheet tray and allow to slowly dry uncovered for at least eight hours before applying to the fish or storing in an air tight container.