Rubs are the hot thing for seasoning food. Dry rubs are exactly that -- dry (or mostly dry) mixtures of herbs, spices and salt that are rubbed on foods. Sometimes they contain a little oil or have prepared mustard mixed in so that they are damp rather than truly dry. Wet rubs are a cross between a marinade and a dry rub and sometimes contain vinegar or other tenderizing agents.
Almost anything can be used as a rub, including Cajun/Creole seasoning, seasoned salt, KC Masterpiece Barbecue Seasoning and Mrs. Dash or other salt-free seasonings. Emeril Lagasse has a new line of rubs for fish, chicken, steak and pork that are quite delectable. Nantucket Spices rubs are top of the line, and many specialty shops carry specialized rub blends, especially when summer hits.
That said, making your own herb and spice rub is easy, inexpensive (depending on the state of your spice rack!) and enables complete control over salt, sugar and preservatives in the recipes. Homemade blends also allow you to control the level of heat in the blend for children or for adults with sensitive palates.
- Choose your seasonings.
Rub the meat. First, rub a thin layer of mustard or oil all over the meat or fish if the rub consists of completely dry ingredients. Take some of the seasoning mixture of your choice and sprinkle evenly over the meat. Literally rub it in. The massaging both tenderizes meat and ensures that the seasonings penetrate well. If preparing chicken, either remove skin or make sure to loosen it and rub underneath to flavor the meat and not just fat (to do this on a whole chicken, slide fingers under the top skin at the cavity and lift skin from breast. Cut a slit on each side where the legs are attached and make sure to get seasoning down there too!).
Let meat sit for seasonings to absorb. Fish should be rubbed or marinated no more than 15 minutes before cooking, but chicken, pork and beef can sit in their seasonings for up to two days in the refrigerator as long as they are wrapped in plastic. The longer the seasonings sit, the better the flavor!
Cook by method of your choice. Grilling works well for any of the above options except the smokehouse pork, which needs about 8 hours to cook on very low heat -- longer than most people want to grill -- and is best done in a slow cooker or in the oven on 250.
- For those with milder taste: gather one tablespoon each of garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, rosemary, grated lemon or orange peel and black pepper, and then combine with three tablespoons of salt. The result is a great seasoning for fish, chicken or pork. For extra oomph, rub the meat or fish with a thin layer of Dijon mustard before sprinkling seasonings on and rubbing in.
- Caribbean rub for fish, chicken or pork: in a food processor or chopper, combine two cloves fresh garlic, one teaspoon allspice, one teaspoon cayenne pepper, one teaspoon grated lime peel and one tablespoon grated orange peel. Pulse to combine and stir in two tablespoons sugar and one tablespoon salt. For extra heat, add habanero, Scotch bonnet or jalapeno chiles.
- French inspired rub for chicken or firm fish: combine two tablespoons of Dijon mustard, one teaspoon dried tarragon, two tablespoons fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, salt and pepper to taste and two cloves garlic in an electric chopper. Alternatively, crush garlic and herbs with a mortar and pestle and then stir in mustard.
- Classic smokehouse rub for pork or beef: Mix together one cup sugar (half white and half brown), one-half cup salt, one tablespoon black pepper, one tablespoon paprika, one and a half teaspoons cayenne pepper, one-half teaspoon ground cumin and a few drops of liquid smoke. Rub this mixture all over your pork roast and let it sit overnight in the fridge.