Vive La Différence
Secret Ingredients can make a big difference in a dish. I would like to tell you about six of my favorites. I had originally planned to take them to my grave; however, I can’t in good conscience not tell you.
Up until now they’ve been closely guarded. The only exceptions where I’ve shared them have been with good friends and blood relatives, and I had each of them sign documents saying they would not divulge this information. The magic six are listed in no specific order:
Truffle Salt (an essential addition to your larder)
Naturally, one of the components of truffle salt is truffles. And, as you can imagine, it will impart the taste of truffles when sprinkled on a dish. It’s a fraction of the cost of actual truffles, so you will be able to afford to enjoy that wonderful taste for much less.
Important: Never cook with it. The cooking process will break down the essence of its taste and smell. Add it to the dish after it’s cooked but before it’s eaten. Add it to such things as pasta, eggs, French fries (now on many restaurant menus), soups and popcorn. Its uses are only as limited as your imagination.
I have yet to see it in a store. You probably will have to order it online. A good brand of truffle salt is made by the company FungusAmongUs. Yes, that’s right. FungusAmongUs. This will change your life.
Beef Demi Glace (a must if braising meats)
I discovered this when I was researching braised short ribs (beef bourguignon). It was an ingredient that was added to the broth in which the short ribs were to be braised (available through Williams Sonoma).
It’s addition makes a huge difference. Not only does it give the dish a much richer taste, but it also darkens the gravy making it even more appealing.
It comes in several different types other than beef. I would highly recommend it. I have made beef short ribs with it and without it, and it is so much better with this addition.
Saffron (I’m just wild about it)
This is another secret ingredient that can set you back a bit financially. Luckily, it doesn’t take much to make a huge difference, and you need to use it sparingly because it can overwhelm a dish.
The contrast of enjoying a dish with saffron and one without is dramatic. First of all, it lends a yellow to yellow-orange color that almost glows. It adds a honey-like taste which is slightly bitter with grassy notes.
It’s often used in rice dishes, soups, stews (especially fish), pasta, curries, macaroni, and many other uses. A little bit goes a long way, so it’s really not that much more expensive than other spices.
Dark Chocolate (For An Exotic Chili)
Dark chocolate in chili? But of course. Its bitter-sweet taste can counteract the spiciness of the pepper, giving your chili a mole flavor.
As the chili is simmering on the stove, add this ingredient towards the end. Grate some over the top, and then stir it into the mixture. Don’t overdo it. It can adversely affect the taste of your chili if too much is added.
It also darkens the color of the tomatoes and broth of the chili. I also add some beef demi glace, and a teaspoonful (or two) of honey. I think this is chili’s Holy Trinity. Experiment with the amounts of these three secret ingredients to get the maximum benefit of the combinations.
Bottarga Brings The Sea Even To a Midwestern Table
I was introduced to this spice as an optional addition to a seafood Bolognese (in this case shrimp). I ordered it online. While waiting for it to arrive, I tried the recipe without it. It was okay, but not great.
I made some changes to the recipe by using a 50:50 mixture of water/clam juice. I also sprinkled on the bottarga (dried tuna and/or gray mullet) at the end of the entire cooking process. It complimented the clam juice by providing a sharp salty flavor. I am also anxious to try this in soups (especially chowders), fish sauces, and other pastas.
Taking Mac and Cheese To Another Level
And last but not least, the secret ingredient that changed my life. I feel as if I’m cheating a bit because this ingredient is a commercial cheese product. I’m not going to name it, but it is a cheddar cheese spread that comes in small jars with blue lids and is made by a company whose name rhymes with “draft.”
I have many comfort food favorites, but right at the top is mac and cheese. I would recommend you take your current mac and cheese recipe that you think is the best ever (it’s not), and replace the ingredient cheeses with the magic spread.
And There You Have It
These are six of my secret ingredients. Should you even try one of them, I would be satisfied in knowing that the world is now a better and happier place.