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secret ingredients

what is (are) your secret ingredient(s) that makes your version of a dish freaking incredible?

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  1. for me it really depends on the dish, but Truffle Oil or a good Sea Salt can make a difference.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Infomaniac

      When in Provence, I picked up a small jar of sea salt mixed with saffron fronds from a vendor at a market in Isle sur la Sorgue ... adds a wonderful touch to grilled fish or steamed mussels when sprinkled lightly just before serving. Would be very easy to recreate with any good quality sea salt and midrange saffron threads.

      1. re: djh

        WOW...thanks for the tip...I have some saffron threads too.

    2. Anchovie paste mixed in with almost any Italian sauce gives it a great depth of flavor. Actually, it doesn't even have to be an Italian sauce; I've used it in all kinds of sauces and gravies.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Bostonbob3

        Also worcestershire sauce, which is anchovy based. I put it in everything containing red meat.

      2. There are some old threads on this topic, btw, you might want to search.

        My classic is adding shredded parsnip to my trademark Karlslaw.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Karl S

          Would you be willing to part with your entire "Karlslaw" recipe? :)

          1. re: Funwithfood

            I'm copying this from a Thanksgiving 2004 thread on this site:
            Here's my general recipe, which I had to write down because it has been much requested over the years (probably the most requested thing I ever make: insurrections happen when it is missing from a feast unless I warn certain folks when I am *not* planning on serving it!).

            As a general preparation note: I like to cut, salt, rinse and drain the shredded and cut veggies the day before serving, put it in a heavy plastic bag and then squeeze the remaining moisture out, through a small hole cut from a corner of the bag, just before seasoning.

            Adapt as you like it:

            Karlslaw (this is more a cabbage-based shredded salad than a true slaw)

            Vegetable ingredients: proportions are completely variable.

            -1 large (or, better, 2 small) head(s) green Savoy cabbage (has fine, ribbed leaves), shredded [Chinese cabbages could also be used, as they are a bit sweeter and less sulfurous that common white cabbage]
            -1 small head red cabbage, shredded (smaller heads of cabbage have thinner leaves) - use no more than 1 part red cabbage to 2 parts green cabbage
            -Italian parsley (flat leaves, not curly), minced (adds an essential lemon flavor)
            -1 red sweet pepper, diced coarsely
            -1 yellow sweet pepper. diced coarsely (opt.)
            -1 peeled carrot, shredded or peelings
            -1 peeled parsnip, shredded or peelings (use less if you don’t like its nutty, sweet flavor, but I consider it a vital ingredient, along with the parsley)
            -1 or 2 ribs celery, diced thinly (adds a slightly salty note)
            -1 hothouse English cucumber (the long ones; use 2 if you de-seed them; even better are the wonderful Japanese cucumbers), quartered and sliced medium. I don’t peel these cucumbers, but you can if you wish, or you can run fork tines down the sides.
            -White part of one medium leek, sliced finely and loosened up (opt.)
            -any other small non-leafy vegetable you like (e.g., peas, diced broccoli florets, diced fresh tomato pulp, etc.; use your imagination for color, flavor and texture)

            Seasonings: add no more than an hour or two in advance of serving
            -12 to 24 fl. oz of a sour-cream dressing of your choice (only enough to moisten all vegetables evenly) [alternatively: 3-4 tablespoons chopped fresh dill mixed with 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice or mild vinegar, 1 tablespoon salt, 2 tablespoons minced onion, 3 cups sour cream and/or plain yogurt, and 1.5 teaspoons ground white pepper]
            - 1 or 2 tablespoons of sweet pickle relish (opt.; to taste); alternatively, some kosher or dill pickle brine, to taste [you could also try diced olives or capers if your guests will appreciate them]
            -Celery seed (a critical seasoning), dill seed and/or freshly chopped dill, to taste
            -Freshly ground black or white pepper, to taste

            and, just before serving:

            -Salt, to taste (adding this too soon will cause the vegetables to exude too much water before serving)

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            1. re: Karl S

              Thanks, I'll put it into my "to make" pile. :)

        2. Here is the link to a thread on this topic a couple of months ago.


          1. I find that dry mustard makes the difference in several dishes

            1 Reply
            1. A few squirts of fish sauce in any savory pan sauce or meat sauce for pasta - undetectable but divine.
              Also excellent when cooking mushrooms.

              1. Nueske's Applewood Smoked Bacon "au jus" (adds a wonderful saltly/smokey flavor to soups).

                1. I like adding a touch of good roasted sesame oil to many of my asian dishes. nice way to round out the flavors.

                  1. Vya Dry Vermouth - beautiful to drink (half sweet/half dry on the rocks) and gives incredible herbal flavor to soups, sauces. Deglaze next time you're sauteeing any mirepoix type mix.

                    1. For baking, I always use Penzey's double strong vanilla extract, and I'll often add a pinch of cinnamon to chocolate chip cookies so you can't really taste it but it adds something I think.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: bolletje

                        I use the tiny pinch of cinnamon in lasagne sauce. Gives it a certain something that no one can quite figure out. Just the tiniest pinch, you shouldn't taste it.

                      2. In baking things with chocolate especially a few drops of Angonstura (spelling?) bitters really adds something subtle bu special

                        1. I don't know about freaking incredible, but for me the basic ones I'm always reaching for to add various notes of flavor are:

                          * a splash of a good vinegar to point up flavors
                          * fish sauce or anchovies, depending on the technique used, to add roundness and depth of flavor
                          * truffle oil for the clean meaty flavors that only fungi seem to deliver
                          * crushed Red Savina habaneros (from just a pinch to a dash depending on effect desired) to add anything from that almost subliminal "what is that?" quality, to a more pronounced and fruity heat
                          * Hon-dashi (Japanese powdered soup stock) for a mildly marine/savory note - (great mixed into eggs before cooking!)
                          * lightly toasted dry herbs (quickly toasted on a dry skillet), in particular herbes de Provence or French Tarragon
                          * roasted garlic, roasted in its skin on a dry skillet and usually thin sliced on a truffle plane (BTW truffle planes are great for making those impossibly thin slices of garlic - think of the scene in "Good Fellas" where Paulie was preparing the raw garlic with a razor blade for cooking, though I reverse the order by roasting it first; also great for thin slicing okra...)

                          1. I use smoked paprika to add some smokiness and depth to sauces, meat rubs, and aioli/dips.
                            Truffle Oil is great drizzled on things.
                            Lemon juice to brighten up heavy dishes.
                            Bacon can do wonders to salads & dressings, or side dishes like sauteed vegetables.

                            1. Sometimes I dice some prunes, soak them in hot coffee & cinnamon and substitute it for a bit of the sugar & liquids in a chocolate cake. There are chocolate prune cake recipes out there, but if I used them then I might feel compelled to confess the prune part to my dinner guests, which might gross some people out. For some folks, prunes and bathroom issues are linked. Better to say it's a secret ingredient.

                              1. cumin in egg salad or deviled eggs
                                lemon juice in chicken or tuna salad
                                dill in vichysoisse
                                sea salt always

                                1 Reply
                                1. Nutmeg. No matter what -- that's my secret ingredient. Sweet or savory, dessert or entree.

                                  1. Salt. A judicious pinch is often the missing link. Especially in sweets and in sauces.

                                    1. Cointreau in just about anything with fruit. It amplifies flavors beautifully.


                                      NYCnosh* http://nycnosh.com

                                      1. I buy a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce at my local Mexican grocery, then puree it in the food processor. I keep it in the refrigerator and add a spoonful or so to anything that needs a little extra spice.

                                        1. Caramel in a chocolate milk shake.


                                          1. A squeeze of lemon
                                            A splash of wine
                                            A dash of maple syrup

                                            1. Pomegranate molasses picks up the flavors in anything from roast chicken to salad dressing. Think of it as the new balsamic, only better. Kinda tamarindy, lemony, vinegary,cherryish,yum.I use PM everyday in something or other, great on melon, mango ,in yogurt, marinades,stews(lamb)or in mixed drinks. I am about to leave for a trip to the Republic of Georgia where pomegarnates abound and everyone makes their own syrup by cooking down the juice. I will report back about this next month!