Make This Spice Brick Tonight, Change Your Dinners (& Lunches) Forever

How community member SAVORTHIS developed this winner-winner of a recipe.

April  9, 2020
Photo by Ty Mecham

Our latest recipe contest, Your Best Recipe Starring Butter, saw a boggling flood of submissions. (We get it: You love butter. So do we.) We tested (and tasted) an array of recipes starring butter—whipped, schmeared, melted, browned, and infused.

Among them were spiced shortbread, crumbly cherry bars, and even just... better butter.

And then, our test kitchen whittled it down to two:

Miso Caramel Tarte Tatin vs. Achiote Roux Brick

The former featured an upleveled caramel sauce, where the addition of red miso echoed the inherent savoriness and richness of butter. The latter used butter to bloom and encase the spices in a pantry-friendly roux-based spice brick.

Photo by Ty Mecham
Photo by Ty Mecham

Choosing between the two—a stunning tart and deeply savory spice brick—was like choosing our favorite kitchen tool. We couldn't even. We needed help—which is where you, our community, came in. We opened the voting up to you and your kitchens, and the winner is:

SAVORTHIS's Achiote Roux Brick

A Q&A with our butteriest recipe contest winner is now below.

Coral Lee: Describe an early food memory.

SAVORTHIS: I usually share food memories from my dad because they often involved great aspirations (and thus great failures), gluttonous splurges, or pure comic relief. But my mom also made great contributions to my cooking education, not only in teaching me the basics, but in requisitioning my help in preparing her elaborate dinner parties. Most vivid in my memory is the art-cake business she ran out of the basement apartment of our house. I would hang out down there for hours while she baked, frosted and designed these incredibly intricate cakes. (And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to sneaking down there to sample candy from the various bins lined up on shelves). While I learned a lot about the fancy-cake decoration process, I can’t say any of the cakes I have attempted reached her level of vision, detail or finish.

What’s your favorite thing to cook?

This is a really difficult question—my personal love of cooking can come from the dish or meal itself, the occasion, or the people I’m cooking with or for. I most love collaborating and cooking with friends I’ve known for decades. On more than one occasion this has involved some version of the Bo Ssam pork shoulder from Momofuku. We have modified it over the years, adding cumin, coriander and garlic or chile powder, oregano and orange, but we always make a pile of complementary dishes (rice or buns, pickled veggies, something crunchy and fresh) and picking at the sweet, caramelized outer bits while we finish cooking.

How does cooking actively connect you with your family and heritage?

Funny enough, the foods we like to cook and eat tend to be Asian and Mexican, which we are not. And while I can’t say I have done much food-wise with my Swedish-Ashkenazi-Jewish heritage, our new traditions could be traced to the Chinese banquets my parents frequented in NYC before moving to Denver. Lacking decent Chinese food options in those days, they helped a chef they knew relocate to Denver. His restaurant did not succeed, but he did pass on a lot of recipes and techniques which have been staples in our home ever since.

Tell us about the process of developing this recipe.

I’ve been following Sonoko Sakai on Instagram for a while, wishing I could attend her wonderful cooking classes. When she published her Japanese Curry Brick recipe, I knew I wanted to make it for myself. As someone who cooks most meals at home, I love to have lots of different options on hand and this was a perfect way to quickly pull together a great meal using any protein or vegetable. Essentially, it's a roux packed with spices and I decided I wanted to experiment with more flavor options.

Achiote was the perfect place to start. I usually use it in marinades for pork or chicken, but thought it could also work well as a sauce--either as a simmer or a glaze. I started by modifying my achiote chicken recipe to prepare the spice mix that would be mixed into the roux. When made as a marinade, I usually will blend the dry spices with orange juice, onion and garlic. As I planned to freeze this spice mixture into butter cubes, I chose to use orange peel and garlic and then incorporate the orange juice (or broth or pineapple juice or another liquid) in the sauce phase. I tested the cubes in a thick glaze on roasted cauliflower and as a saucier simmer for chicken thighs. I loved both and think the real benefit of this concept is the versatility. So thank you, Sonoko, for reminding me of this ingredient and inspiring me to try out my own variation.

What’s been the best thing (aside from your winning recipe of course!) to come out of your kitchen?

Years ago, I made a smoked tea orange ice cream. It surpassed my original vision both in the simplicity of ingredients and in the subtle complexity of flavors. Maybe I should make it again.

If you were stuck on an island, and could only bring one kitchen tool, which would bring you the most joy (joy, not the most utility)?

The wooden spatula that I’ve had for 25 years has the perfect shape and grip. I don’t remember where it came from but when I’m looking for a utensil in our giant drawer filled with too many utensils, I actually say “Ah ha!” out loud when I find it. It’s not long for this world and will not be easy to replace.

Who are your biggest cooking inspirations?

My formative cooking years were definitely inspired by all the old school PBS cooking shows: Julia Child, Jaques Pepin, Martin Yan and the original Iron Chef. Lately my tastes and efforts have simplified a bit from the grandiose preparations I used to throw myself into. I most enjoy chefs who inspire me to turn the staples I’ve gathered into great food--things like the pickled onions, dates and sumac-toasted pita by Yotam Ottolenghi, Elizabeth Andoh’s colorful dishes from Washoku or the pickled mustard seed sauce from the Momofuku cookbook.

I love Sam Sifton’s weekly “What to Cook” emails for their relevant and timely recipes from a variety of chefs. He also includes recommendations for movies, music or poetry or most recently, how to plan a holiday meal in the midst of a pandemic. I read through them and invariably add at least a couple recipes to my collection. Most of my saved recipes lately are from Samin Nosrat, Melissa Clark and J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.

What are the top 5 recipes you turn to again and again?

Paniolo Rack of Lamb (from Gourmet Magazine), Pork and Ricotta Meatballs in Parmesan Broth (Food & Wine), Lemon-and-Garlic Brined Chicken, either roasted or fried (Thomas Keller), Instant Pot Adobo Chicken (Food Network), Tofu in Caramel Sauce (Mark Bittman)

What’s your kitchen project you’re ready to tackle in 2020?

We last redid our kitchen in 2005. While I still like its general layout and function, it could use a bit of a makeover. The deep burgundy walls and less-than-functional lighting have made me want a lighter, brighter refresh. Also, our “breakfast nook” features a salvaged 1950s diner-style table top with upholstered booths showing a bit of wear. Now that we’re all grown up and make our own custom furniture, it might be time to elevate that corner where we spend so much time.

SAVORTHIS will be receiving some Five Two wooden spoons to join her wooden spatula! Please join me in congratulating her in the comments section below.

What's been your favorite use for the spice brick? Tell us about it in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Margery Jennings
    Margery Jennings
  • Tricia
  • Coral Lee
    Coral Lee
Coral Lee is an Associate Editor at Food52. Before this, she cooked food solely for photos. Before that, she cooked food solely for customers. And before that, she shot lasers at frescoes in Herculaneum and taught yoga. When she's not writing about or making food, she's thinking about it. Her Heritage Radio Network show, "Meant to be Eaten," explores cross-cultural exchange as afforded by food. You can follow her on Instagram @meanttobeeaten.


Margery J. April 25, 2020
Great recipe, but do I need to download yet another app to print the recipe now?
Coral L. April 25, 2020
Hi Margery! You can find the recipe right here:
Tricia April 24, 2020
Can’t wait to try this! This is a very smart way to meal prep to turn virtually anything into “dinner”. 👏