Whether in menu planning or trying to answer the common question of "What's for Dinner?" you need to consider what herbs and spices are going to mix well with the dishes you plan to prepare. It's at this point in cooking where the most mistakes are made, for the sole reason of seasoning is not to kill the taste of the food but rather to ENHANCE the natural flavors of the food you're working with. In some restaurants, it may be desirable to "kill the taste" of food that's not all that great, but if that's the case, it's time to do one of three things: 1) Get better quality food; 2) Change the menu; or if this is happening too frequently, in extreme cases 3) Get a new job. This concept (ENHANCING flavors) is applicable in much more than just herbs and spices. For example, have you ever eaten a dessert that looked great, but had so much liqueur that you couldn't taste anything else? How about some pasta saturated in salt? Or maybe even fish that all you could taste was saffron? Seasonings are absolutely fabulous, but using the wrong seasonings or using the right ones to excess can make a meal outright repulsive. The proper and knowledgeable use of seasonings can be the big difference between people savoring the best meal they've ever had or their having eaten just another everyday meal. The choice is yours.
The first decision you will make when choosing flavoring matches for your food is whether to use fresh or dried herbs. Fresh will generally add a better flavor to the dish being prepared, but time and care will need to be given to get the freshest herbs available. Additionally, in order to get the greatest flavors, one must chop the herbs as close to serving time as possible. Dry herbs, on the other hand, are very convenient, for all that needs to be done is to sprinkle some of the flakes on the food. However, dried herbs are very often stored improperly, which adds to flavor loss. Heat and oxygen are the most common causes for this. Most often heat is the culprit deteriorating the dried herbs because many people keep these herbs stored right over the stove. Or oxygen has robbed the herbs of flavor because of how long it has taken to use an entire container of the herb. For example, how long has it been since you first opened that container of dried oregano at home? If you don't remember, and notice that it now has a musty or "flat" aroma to it, you may want to consider replacing it. Within the professional kitchens, it's very tempting for a chef to buy a gallon-size container of each dried herb, even though it will take numerous months to use it up. A chef should buy only the amount of dried herbs that can be used within two or three months, and then take care to store them away from heat.
The most popular seasonings in the world are the two that are on just about every dining room table in the world: salt and pepper. Salt does more than just add an additional flavor to the mix. It works to unite, balance, and deepen the natural flavors of the dish. As with any other ingredient, the use of salt can help create a dish that is fabulous or it can make it into a culinary disaster.
Many inexperienced cooks don't have the education or experience required to be able to properly flavor and season their foods. Therefore, we've provided some "Seasoning Recommendations" charts within CCF's website (link below), covering popular matches to many herbs and spices that are frequently used to enhance the flavors of food. The charts, however, should only be used as reference until experience can take over, because, as we all know, there is only so much you can learn from a written chart. Our hope is that the charts will allow inexperienced cooks and chefs a starting point in gaining their experience. AND give others a general reference point for expanding their personal knowledge of ingredient matches. Have fun and don't hesitate to experiment!