Sometimes even simple dishes that you enjoy in restaurants are flops, even when you flawlessly prepare them at home. You are left with the impression that some key ingredient is missing. Well you are probably correct because many chefs have secret ingredients that they frequently use in their dishes to provide that extra dimension and sparkle. Over the years several of the top chefs throughout the world have revealed some of their cherished secrets. This article contains a collection of these culinary gems and jewels that you will find very useful. Many will surprise you. Many are widely available and very simple. Learn to give your dishes extra sparkle by using the chef's picks.
Dating back to Roman times, polenta is a versatile ingredient in many healthy dishes. Many chefs add polenta in a variety of ways, including breading, for fried fish, for sweets and many baked dishes. Polenta is added to gnocchi and other pasta.
Many chefs call passion fruit the 'pork fat of pastry'. It adds a little tartness and flavor to caramel and other sauces. The amounts used are very small to enhance the existing flavors. It enlivens an otherwise boring dessert.
Fish sauce is salty, yet sweet and contains 'umami' flavors, the recently discovered extra taste sensation. It can be used in many seemingly bizarre ways such as in salad dressings, splashing over steamed and baked vegetables, pizza and stir fries. Once again the amounts used are very small to make other flavors pop and sparkle. It can be used as a milder alternative to anchovies.
Togarashi is a hot and peppery spicy condiment that adds flavor and intrigue to just about everything. It is widely available in a number of varieties. Shichimi-Togarashi generally includes a mixture of poppy seeds, hemp seeds, prickly ash pods, green nori seaweed flakes, dried mandarin orange peel, sesame seeds, black pepper and of course - powdered/flaked red chili pepper. Many chefs use it to add depth of flavor to many dishes such as eggs, pasta, tacos and Mexican style dishes, stir fries and to breading based on panko breadcrumbs. Nanami-Togarashi is very similar to shichimi-togarashi, but has more citrus peel in the mixture.
Garlic puree is used instead of chopped garlic to provide a more subtle and sweeter flavor. It is prepared by slow-roasting peeled whole garlic cloves in olive oil until it starts to brown. The cloves are then pureed in the food processor or blender with a little salt and apple cider, or sherry vinegar.
Red wine vinegar, or cider vinegar is the secret to many dishes, including desserts. The acidity of vinegar adds extra dimensions to the flavor profile. The amount used is tiny as you do not want to taste the vinegar itself, but to use vinegar as a catalyst to bring out the flavor of the dish itself and the seasonings. The taste of garlic is more pronounced, and fennel seeds and oregano taste a little sweeter and more complex when vinegar is added. Many chefs make their own vinegars or use one of the special balsamic or other vinegar blends that are available.
Puree in a blender or food processor, strain and reduce slightly.
Apple cider vinegar has lower acidity and is much more subtle than balsamic or brown vinegar. It can be used to restore the acidity of baked apple pie and other fruit desserts. It adds a fruity taste when recipes call for vinegar.
The humble oranges and its zest can boost the flavor of many dishes in many subtle ways. Chefs often I sneak it in, especially for fish, seafood and chicken dishes.
Dashi is a base stock used for many Japanese noodle broths, soups and other dishes. Shirodashi is condiment that contains, seaweed, cooking sake, Katsuoboshi, salt and sugar and is aged in barrels in Japan. It is great for marinades and to enhance the flavor of seafood and other dishes.
Sriracha is a Thai chilli sauce made from a paste made from ground chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt. In Thailand, sriracha is often served as a dipping sauce, or to accompany fish and seafood. Chefs sneak it onto all sorts of dishes as a replacement for Tabasco. It is a far deeper and more complex flavor than Tabasco.
Anchovies should be used more widely than as an ingredient for pizza. They are very convenient to use and they add a deep and complex fish taste. They are a great way to add saltiness to many Italian dishes. Use sparingly.
If you grind Arborio rice is can be used to replace some of the breadcrumbs in coatings for shallow and deep fried fish. It has a higher sugar content than wheat, and so it darkens and caramelizes much quicker, which helps stop you overcooking the fish or delicate vegetables while you wait for the coating to brown.
Home cooks do not use enough bay leaves and they often omit them from recipes. Adding a single leaf can add a rich flavor to soups and stews. You can also toast several bay leaves and then grind them to add to yogurt and other sauces. They function like a fresh herb.
Brown butter is a wonderful and simple way to baste meat. It locks in the juices and it imparts a nutty flavor. To brown butter simply add butter to a light-colored pan. The light color helps you see when the color changes. Heat the pan over moderate heat until it starts to foam. Stir regularly to ensure the butter is cooking evenly. As the butter cooks the color will gradually change from lemony-yellow to a golden-tan color, finally to a medium brown hue. You will also start to smell the nutty aroma of brown butter. Remove from the pan and cool in a heat proof jar or jug.
Ground celery, or ultra-thin slices can add a mysterious flavor to salad dressings and it reduces the fatty taste of fried foods when added to sauce sand mayonnaise.
Chili-lime Rub is easy to make and is great as a rub for chicken and pork. It is easily made by adding a teaspoon of pepper, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, cumin, chipotle chili powder and red chili powder to a small bowl or cup. Add sufficient fresh lime juice to make a paste, and stir through the lime zest.
Crystalized lime zest is made by mixing finely grated fresh lime zest with granulated sugar and fleur de sel and setting aside to allowing it to crystalize. It has a lovely, vibrant green color and is great more many sweet and savory dishes. It can be used as a garnish for fruit and desserts and also sprinkled on top of cooked fish and seafood.