Zingerman’s Spicy Coffee Spice Rub

by Ari Weinzweig

If you don’t know the story of how this whole thing started, Alex developed the Spicy Coffee Spice Rub a few years ago; it came out of a discussion with writer Francine Maroukian, who’d asked him to create a spice rub for Thanksgiving turkey that used coffee. What he came up with for her is this mix of ground Roadhouse Joe coffee, blended with a good dose of Urfa red pepper from Turkey, Portuguese sea salt, Telicherry black pepper from India and some ground cloves. The mix came out unlike any other spice blend I’ve experienced. It got a great write up a few years back in Esquire and it continues to make for really good eating today.

Although I like to use the spice rub in the summer for grilling meat and fish, there is something nicely autumnal about it. Kind of “Fall in a Bottle.” The look of it is kind of fall colors; the deep purple of the Urfa pepper, the spice of the clove, the dark brown of the roasted ground coffee. It’s definitely got that exotic, complex kind of aromatic thing going that I always associated with being in the markets of Morocco or somewhere else in the Middle East. Even the label is all reds and browns and oranges.

The Spicy Coffee Spice Rub is, as per Francine’s article in Esquire great on a turkey. But that said, don’t dismiss this as a turkey only item because it’s actually pretty terrific with all sorts of other foods. Over the years it’s been on Roadhouse specials lists on the likes of wild boar, chicken and pork. Very, very good—it’s got cloves and coffee—on roasted buttered squash. Francine Maroukian swears by using it on pot roast. It’s also really good on the eggplants that are now out in the market in profusion. Great on roast chicken too. Wondering how it would be on eggs of all sorts . . . .

One thing I’ve done with the Spicy Coffee Spice Rub fairly regularly is to put it on catfish. Dice some Broadbent’s Kentucky, or Benton’s Tennessee, dry cured (for bigger flavor) country bacon and panfry it ‘til crisp. Then pull it out of the pan. Meanwhile sprinkle the spice rub very liberally on the catfish and then toss it into the pan to cook in the bacon fat. (This is creates some sort of inverted version of red eye gravy, which if you don’t know is made by pouring brewed coffee into a hot skillet in which country ham has just been cooked. But in this case the pork fat becomes the “liquid” and the coffee goes on the “meat” instead of the other way around). Served up with some green and local potatoes it’s a really excellent and exceedingly easy meal.

I really, really love the spicy coffee spice rub on potatoes. In fact if Alex hadn’t invented it with turkey in mind I’d probably just tell you that it was made for potatoes, because that’s what it seems like. Seriously if you want fast food . . . all I do is cook up some really good spuds, which you can of course still get at the market en masse, then stir a bit of olive oil up with a good dose of the spicy coffee spicy rub. When the potatoes are done just break ‘em open while they’re hot and smush em (broken side down) into the bowl with the oil/rub mixture. The potato seems to just naturally absorb, highlight, and accent the spicy sensuality of the rub. Somewhere in culinary heaven the food gods are eating this dish. It’s got one of those finishes that’s so great I don’t want to eat anything else afterwards. I almost never use the phrase about licking my lips cuz it’s so clichéd, but in this case . . . it is actually what I want to do.

In conclusion just to state the almost obvious Spicy Coffee Spice rub is one of those things that you have to actually tell people about—hardly anyone is going to come in asking for it, but the truth is that anyone who cooks and has even a moderate interest in spicy flavors would want to know about it. Once they get to using it I think they’re pretty likely to come back for more so . . . Talk about it and hand out smells at will!

Thanks to Alex for making it up, thanks to everyone else for helping get it out to guests. As far as I know, this is a totally unique blend for cooking, one of those things that, if we do our job well, will be known far and wide down the road.