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What's Your Secret Ingredient?

lisacs Oct 30, 2006 08:50 PM

I'm curious to know if other people have go-to ingredients they use to add a little extra flavor dimension to food. Some examples: nutmeg in creamy sauces or with various vegetables, lemon juice in or on almost anything, a little balsamic in a soup or stew.

Beyond salt and pepper, which can do good things for many dishes, what do you use? Is there an ingredient you added as an experiment, only to discover it took a favorite dish to new heights?

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  1. m
    MuppetGrrl RE: lisacs Oct 30, 2006 08:52 PM

    Lemon and parsley are my two favorite last-minute flavor boosters. Usually brightens the idsh considerably.

    1. pescatarian RE: lisacs Oct 30, 2006 08:54 PM

      besides the ones that you mentioned (lemon juice, balsamic), I often add a little bit of worchester sauce to soups, stews, etc. to give a little zing

      1. funkymonkey RE: lisacs Oct 30, 2006 08:56 PM


        i add colman's powdered mustard to quiches and soups (when i'm sauteeing whatever veggies go in it), i added it to braised pork and butternut squash soup over the weekend, with excellent results. i don't even love mustard, but something about the colman's spicy powder that adds a little zing to stuff.

        1. weinstein5 RE: lisacs Oct 30, 2006 08:57 PM

          Toasted caraway seeds to my cabbage soup and sweet and sour rolled meat in cabbage

          1. c
            coconutz RE: lisacs Oct 30, 2006 09:01 PM

            Mushroom Soy

            Adds depth to soups and stews, flavors stir frys

            1. phofiend RE: lisacs Oct 30, 2006 09:12 PM

              Two come to mind immediately: mixed fresh herbs, and Sriracha.

              11 Replies
              1. re: phofiend
                swsidejim RE: phofiend Oct 30, 2006 09:17 PM

                yes... sriracha is one of my favs as well..

                1. re: swsidejim
                  SuzMiCo RE: swsidejim Oct 30, 2006 10:19 PM

                  Forgive my ignorance, what is Sriracha?

                  1. re: SuzMiCo
                    mollyomormon RE: SuzMiCo Oct 30, 2006 10:26 PM


                    1. re: SuzMiCo
                      atheorist RE: SuzMiCo Oct 30, 2006 10:31 PM

                      Vietnamese hot sauce made with chilis and garlic. I like it because it is not so hot that I can not eat it plain. Try it in your next bloody mary.

                      If it's not a curry dish to begin with, curry powder is a good secret ingredient. Don't overdo it or it won't be a secret.

                      1. re: atheorist
                        Davwud RE: atheorist Oct 31, 2006 02:12 PM

                        You must have an asbestos lined mouth. I love the stuff but it's hot.


                        1. re: Davwud
                          Atahualpa RE: Davwud Oct 31, 2006 02:40 PM

                          It is hotter than he made it sound (e.g. I'm not about to take spoonfuls of it) but you certainly could use it instead of Ketchup on a hotdog.

                        2. re: atheorist
                          kare_raisu RE: atheorist Nov 1, 2006 02:20 PM

                          could i ask what you add curry to?

                          1. re: kare_raisu
                            atheorist RE: kare_raisu Nov 1, 2006 09:04 PM

                            steamed vegetables, beets, especially braised cabbage
                            sauteed onions, mushrooms, and or peppers for steak or burger topping
                            soups, borscht,
                            I like more than a secret amount in Campbells tomato soup

                            1. re: kare_raisu
                              powella RE: kare_raisu Nov 10, 2006 12:03 AM

                              Also, curried warm egg salad. YMMMMM.

                          2. re: SuzMiCo
                            mollyomormon RE: SuzMiCo Oct 30, 2006 10:32 PM

                            I meant to also post this, which should give you some great ideas for using it:

                            1. re: mollyomormon
                              SuzMiCo RE: mollyomormon Oct 30, 2006 11:54 PM


                      2. Candy RE: lisacs Oct 30, 2006 09:19 PM

                        Boyajian flavored oils. The fruit, garlic, basil, chili, have not bought the wasabi but those things are gold mines in bottles for a quick tweak. They have a website and take orders but I have been able to find them in good kitchen shops.

                        1. Carrie 218 RE: lisacs Oct 30, 2006 09:21 PM

                          Anchovy paste -- I keep a tube in my fridge and squeeze it into everything from soups to sauteed vegetables to scrambled eggs. It adds a touch of salt and a depth of flavor that is incomparable.

                          1. frankiii RE: lisacs Oct 30, 2006 09:35 PM

                            apple cider vinegar

                            1. f
                              FlavoursGal RE: lisacs Oct 30, 2006 09:35 PM

                              Red lentils - I add them to soups and stews at the beginning of cooking. They melt into the soup/stew, providing some nice flavour, but I use them mostly for their thickening powers - instead of flour or other thickeners.

                              1. m
                                MzMaggie RE: lisacs Oct 30, 2006 10:05 PM

                                I always keep a container of sherry with chilis marinating in it. I always add a splash to soups and stews at the end of cooking.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: MzMaggie
                                  frankiii RE: MzMaggie Oct 30, 2006 10:10 PM

                                  sherry has been one of my "go to" flavors for about a year now. marinating chilis in it is genius. I'll be sure to get some at the next farmer's market. thanks for the post

                                  1. re: frankiii
                                    bryan RE: frankiii Oct 31, 2006 03:42 AM

                                    Ginger sherry is good too - especially for asian dishes.

                                  2. re: MzMaggie
                                    Heatherb RE: MzMaggie Nov 15, 2006 07:27 PM

                                    Are the chilis dried? Or fresh?

                                  3. bitsubeats RE: lisacs Oct 30, 2006 10:08 PM

                                    good ol' msg or pickle juice

                                    1. a
                                      AnneM RE: lisacs Oct 30, 2006 10:10 PM

                                      I keep a bottle of garlic salt with parsley(Durkee)near the stove. I sprinkle it on hamburgers and it's great on a quick stir fry.

                                      1. z
                                        Zengarden RE: lisacs Oct 30, 2006 10:21 PM

                                        Caraway seed in bean salads.

                                        Peanut butter in squash/carrot soup (as long as nut allergies are not a concern).

                                        Lime juice in red lentil soup.

                                        Kimchee for burgers.

                                        1. Anonimo RE: lisacs Oct 30, 2006 10:30 PM

                                          Lea and Perrins White Wine Worcestershire Sauce. Great in fish or chicken dishes.

                                          Spanish Pimentón de La Vera, a rich, smoky paprika, available in sweet, medium or picante varieties. This is one of my most favorite seasonings ever.

                                          Lime juice squeezed on fresh cooked or raw vegetables and in soups. It's a Mexican thing.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: Anonimo
                                            niki rothman RE: Anonimo Oct 30, 2006 10:36 PM

                                            so, what are the different ways you use the pimenton?

                                            1. re: niki rothman
                                              lunchbox RE: niki rothman Nov 2, 2006 03:47 PM

                                              I'm interested to know, too.
                                              I've started to use pimenton in all of my dredges for braised meats, I use it in a rub for sauteed chicken, I have been known to incorporate it into eggs and rice dishes-
                                              I throw it in anywhere I want a smoky character and don't have bacon.
                                              I like the hot style, but the sweet is great, too.

                                              As for an answer to the original post: Lemon juice, bacon, sherry vinegar, truffle oil, and duck fat- depending on the dish!

                                              1. re: niki rothman
                                                Anonimo RE: niki rothman Nov 3, 2006 07:08 AM

                                                Pimentón is great on skillet fried potatoes, in bean stews or soups (as in its natural element of fabadas); yesterday I used a little in the butter-garlic-cheese spread for garlic bread. Anywhere you want a smoky, slightly hot flavor, it works well, but at a much lower, subtler intensity than chiles chipotles, which I also like, but not as extensively. I might try it in tomato sauce for pasta. It would work in a sauteed shrimp dish, and it's a nice way of spiking cream sauces for some foods.
                                                And, don't forget it it on popcorn, along with parmesan type cheese!

                                            2. l
                                              Leper RE: lisacs Oct 30, 2006 10:35 PM

                                              Anchovies, especially in red sauces. (Absolutely terrific in Chicken caccitore.) When used sparingly, they add subtle flavor to a variety of sauces.

                                              1. n
                                                niki rothman RE: lisacs Oct 30, 2006 10:41 PM

                                                A big pinch of sugar, a little salt, and a tiny bit of butter make steamed veg. like carrots and string beans taste really good. Otherwise, if I think something I've cooked needs a little something but I'm not sure what, I'll always go right for the lemon and squeeze in some juice.

                                                1. kiwichef RE: lisacs Oct 30, 2006 11:27 PM

                                                  Sumac !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                                                  Its the most fantastic spice ...lemon flavoured, great fro marinading red meat especially venison...don't cook the venison past medium as it tastes like kidneys.

                                                  5 Replies
                                                  1. re: kiwichef
                                                    oakjoan RE: kiwichef Oct 31, 2006 08:55 PM

                                                    I agree about sumac.

                                                    I also use chopped up preserved lemons that I make and keep in the fridge (they last muchhhh longer than recipes say) - they're great in fish soup.

                                                    I also love chili oil - a dash in soup or almost anything adds some zing.

                                                    1. re: oakjoan
                                                      prunefeet RE: oakjoan Nov 1, 2006 02:12 PM

                                                      Really? Mine moulded almost immediately! I must have got something in the jar that caused it. I'll try again, I love preserved lemons, and they look so pretty in the jar.

                                                      1. re: prunefeet
                                                        bbc RE: prunefeet Nov 2, 2006 09:28 AM

                                                        I made preserved lemons once, and they were delic!! (for middle eastern food)

                                                        1. re: bbc
                                                          bruce RE: bbc Nov 2, 2006 01:44 PM

                                                          Where did you get the recipe for preserved lemons? I'm interested to try.

                                                          1. re: bruce
                                                            bbc RE: bruce Nov 3, 2006 06:59 AM

                                                            It was in the back of a recipe book of middle eastern food (with recipes calling for them) by Claudia Roden, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food. Here's a link:

                                                            If you don't want to buy the book I can post it later. I remember it being quite easy - just a matter of cutting lemons, & dredging them slightly in salt/sugar (honestly can't remember which one) & then shoving them into a jar & filling it with lemon juice. It takes a little time, but it's not difficult.


                                                  2. k
                                                    KRS RE: lisacs Oct 30, 2006 11:46 PM

                                                    I make extensive use of some strongly flavored sauces and other items, adding just a couple of drops to punch up the flavor. If you can recognize the sauces are there, you've used too much.

                                                    - a bit of glace de viand, stirred in at the end
                                                    - bottled ginger juice, www.gingerpeople.com
                                                    - Angostura Bitters
                                                    - Outerbridge's Sherry Peppers Sauce
                                                    - Olivier & Co. basil-flavored olive oil
                                                    - 1/4 clove of garlic, chopped fine and sizzled in butter or olive oil for a few seconds
                                                    - a teaspoon of slivered almonds, lightly browned in a dry pan
                                                    - 1 tablespoon of sour cream, yogurt or labnee, stirred in at the end
                                                    - a teaspoon of Parmagianno-Reggiano grated over vegetables just before serving
                                                    - and finally, for almost everything, a knob of butter, stirred in at the end

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: KRS
                                                      Anonimo RE: KRS Nov 9, 2006 03:02 PM

                                                      Angostura Bitters is good in pumpkin pie and its cousins.

                                                    2. m
                                                      maviris RE: lisacs Oct 30, 2006 11:46 PM

                                                      Vinegar: A dash in sauteed vegetables makes the flavors pop.

                                                      Sesame seeds: Learned from the Moosewood cookbook's banana bread recipe - Grease the pan and coat with sesame seeds before putting the batter in. I do this with some other quick breads for a nice nutty-flavored crust. They also soak/mash the bananas in brewed coffee. This deepens the flavor too.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: maviris
                                                        prunefeet RE: maviris Nov 1, 2006 02:14 PM

                                                        Nice idea!

                                                      2. b
                                                        beef RE: lisacs Oct 30, 2006 11:52 PM

                                                        High quality anchovies in place of salt in a cooked dish - they melt with cooking and provide incredible complexity that makes people ask, "Why is this so good?" Be careful of people with fish allergy.

                                                        Finely crushed red pepper at the level that it can't be recognized as anything but a tingle.

                                                        Lemon zest for lemon flavor (especially with green vegetables), lemon juice for acidity that is gentler than most vinegars.

                                                        Salt packed capers.

                                                        1. m
                                                          Meann RE: lisacs Oct 31, 2006 12:11 AM

                                                          I make a ... well, rub, I guess. 3-4 really ripe sweet red peppers and a bulb of garlic. Clean and peel everything and slice thin. Leave in a food dehydrator overnight til it's brittle, and process to powder in the food processor. It goes into anything savory.

                                                          1. Adrienne RE: lisacs Oct 31, 2006 12:40 AM

                                                            I love this question!

                                                            I would second all of the mentionings of anything spicy - a dash of hot sauce, pepper or mustard are all on my list.

                                                            For the beginning of anything: shallots. They add that "what is that taste" dimension for me.

                                                            For all baked goods and for many stovetop combinations: allspice. True to it's name, in my opinion.

                                                            1. l
                                                              LenaNE RE: lisacs Oct 31, 2006 12:44 AM

                                                              Sesame oil, lime, cilantro, ..cinnamon & cocoa in savory dishes

                                                              1. w
                                                                wanderlustre RE: lisacs Oct 31, 2006 12:48 AM

                                                                Chinese Black Vinegar

                                                                1. byrd RE: lisacs Oct 31, 2006 01:27 AM

                                                                  maggi, the imported, not the domestic.

                                                                  1. TheGloaming RE: lisacs Oct 31, 2006 04:38 AM

                                                                    Nothing fancy for me:

                                                                    - extra vanilla extract
                                                                    - appropriate vinegar (i.e., knowing when to reach for rice vinegar, red wine vinegar, etc.)
                                                                    - a knob of butter to finish
                                                                    - aleppo pepper
                                                                    - a squirt of lemon

                                                                    1. c
                                                                      cheryl_h RE: lisacs Oct 31, 2006 01:57 PM

                                                                      Oyster sauce, just a blob, added to stir-fried Chinese greens in place of salt. It adds a bit of complexity to the dish which is hard to describe.

                                                                      I use stock in soups, stews, curries in place of water almost always. It enhances flavor tremendously. People rave about my fish chowders and I always tell them it's because of the fish stock but no-one believes it's that simple.

                                                                      As other have said, smoked paprike really enhances lots of dishes. A bit of ground chipotle en adobo can make a dish pop with lively flavors. Personally I think everything tastes better with hot bean paste or chile garlic beans which I use in place of a spread on sandwiches (just for me and DH, most of our friends aren't that fond of chiles).

                                                                      1. b
                                                                        browniebaker RE: lisacs Oct 31, 2006 02:20 PM

                                                                        A pinch of sugar in almost everything savory.

                                                                        A pinch of salt in almost everything sweet.

                                                                        1. s
                                                                          Spot RE: lisacs Oct 31, 2006 02:31 PM

                                                                          Urfa, sort of smokey, slightly hot pepper flakes from Turkey with an incredible depth of flavor. It's sold here by a few purveyors at prohibitive (for me) cost but a Turkish friend always comes home with a kilo bag and shares freely.

                                                                          1. s
                                                                            sandra RE: lisacs Oct 31, 2006 03:04 PM

                                                                            five spice powder on brisket...everyone always wonders what makes mine so distinctive

                                                                            1. h
                                                                              HillJ RE: lisacs Oct 31, 2006 03:16 PM

                                                                              Nutmeg. I add it to many recipes where it isn't listed as an ingredient and receive many "what did you add that tastes so good" as a result.

                                                                              1. JenMarie66 RE: lisacs Oct 31, 2006 03:21 PM

                                                                                Yes, on a bit o butter to finish sauces. I think I learned this from Marcella Hazan. A little butter in a big pot of tomato sauce (or a curry) won't do any health harm and adds so much texture and taste.

                                                                                Also, adding an extra clove of crushed garlic toward the end of the cooking process. With vegetables, curries, stews, pasta sauces etc. it adds a nice punch.

                                                                                1. b
                                                                                  blogs RE: lisacs Oct 31, 2006 03:41 PM

                                                                                  fish sauce (usually nampla) instead of salt

                                                                                  any one of several flavoured vinegars

                                                                                  1. m
                                                                                    Mila RE: lisacs Oct 31, 2006 03:44 PM

                                                                                    Anchovies - all rich sauces
                                                                                    Chipotle Chiles - anything that needs kick with depth
                                                                                    Fish Sauce - All Asian dishes, especially salad dressings
                                                                                    All kinds of vinegar - At the end to give a lift
                                                                                    Instant Espresso powder - in chili
                                                                                    Cacao powder - in chili

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: Mila
                                                                                      Claudette RE: Mila Oct 31, 2006 09:11 PM

                                                                                      Mila - you listed my faves! Fish sauce can sub when I'm out of anchovy, and I always have a tub of bagna cauda in the freezer. I also add espresso powder to chocolate, espresso powder to spice rubs, ancho chili powder to chocolate, and chipotle powder to everything!

                                                                                    2. w
                                                                                      WineWidow RE: lisacs Oct 31, 2006 03:46 PM

                                                                                      This is a great topic!
                                                                                      Mine is herbes de provence -- if that flavour is appropriate to the dish, I find it a great addition to quick dishes. Same with grains of paradise, just a little extra flavour punch.

                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                      1. re: WineWidow
                                                                                        chef chicklet RE: WineWidow Nov 6, 2006 05:47 PM

                                                                                        herbs de provence is a good one, use it all the time for soups, chicken dishes, lamb, pork, beans, split pea soup, I could go on...

                                                                                      2. k
                                                                                        Kelli2006 RE: lisacs Oct 31, 2006 04:59 PM

                                                                                        Savory recipes,

                                                                                        Red or cider or rice wine vinegar
                                                                                        red or white wine
                                                                                        sherry or marsala

                                                                                        French butter
                                                                                        double strength vanilla
                                                                                        extra fresh ground nutmeg
                                                                                        fresh ground white pepper
                                                                                        Fiori De Sicilia (king Arthur baking catalog)
                                                                                        spiced rum or bourbon

                                                                                        1. prunefeet RE: lisacs Oct 31, 2006 05:14 PM

                                                                                          I agree with a lot of ingredients already posted. Soy sauce is good in almost everythign (esp salad dressing), mustard, parsley, nutmeg, L&P's white wine worcestershire is great with fish, but I can't find it anymore. Lemon or vinegar in soup. I'm intrigued by the sherry with peppers idea (what kind of sherry do you suggest) and the red lentil idea too...

                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: prunefeet
                                                                                            KRS RE: prunefeet Oct 31, 2006 10:09 PM

                                                                                            Outerbridge's Sherry Peppers. I discovered them years ago in a famous New York Magazine article, "The Heat of the Bite," where it was #1. I'm told this is the most frequently referenced NYM article.

                                                                                            1. re: KRS
                                                                                              prunefeet RE: KRS Nov 1, 2006 02:13 PM

                                                                                              Oh! I thought you bought sherry and steeped peppers in it. I will look for Outerbridge sherry peppers for sure.

                                                                                          2. Carrie 218 RE: lisacs Oct 31, 2006 06:01 PM

                                                                                            In talking about this thread with my BF, he piped up that his secret ingredient is Molasses. He'll add a dab to every meat rub and sauce and it is quite rich and deep.

                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                            1. re: Carrie 218
                                                                                              frankiii RE: Carrie 218 Oct 31, 2006 08:10 PM

                                                                                              Molasses or Cany Syrup are wondeful additions to a lot of dishes. I totally agree with this one

                                                                                            2. f
                                                                                              FAB RE: lisacs Oct 31, 2006 06:05 PM

                                                                                              Lemon Grass

                                                                                              1. g
                                                                                                Greg Spence RE: lisacs Oct 31, 2006 07:08 PM

                                                                                                Truffle oil.

                                                                                                1. scoobyhed RE: lisacs Oct 31, 2006 07:58 PM

                                                                                                  Tony Chachere's

                                                                                                  1. scoobyhed RE: xyz_recipes Oct 31, 2006 08:11 PM

                                                                                                    xyz, you can print this all out by clicking on "expand all" at the top of the page and then printing the whole thing. It's not a perfect solution, but it'll work.

                                                                                                    1. atheorist RE: xyz_recipes Oct 31, 2006 09:34 PM

                                                                                                      Secret ingredient not secret technique! But it's all good.

                                                                                                      In windows at least, hold the left button of the mouse down at the beginning of whatever text you want to copy, drag down to the end and let the button go. "Control-C" or right click and then "copy." Open any word processor and do "control-V" or right click and "paste."

                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                      1. re: xyz_recipes
                                                                                                        FAB RE: xyz_recipes Nov 2, 2006 01:24 PM

                                                                                                        You can use saffron to add a floral flavor to almost any dish,especially those that contain a sauce of some kind. The trick with it is to use very little amounts, meaning like a small pinch for a large stew or something. It is very expensive and also very strong.

                                                                                                        1. re: xyz_recipes
                                                                                                          soupkitten RE: xyz_recipes Nov 6, 2006 06:39 PM

                                                                                                          the key to making a little saffron go a long way is to soak a pinch of the tiny wicked-expensive strands in a HOT LIQUID, preferably a gorgeous homemade stock or broth or hot milk (whole milk) or cream for 10-20 minutes-- the flavor will saturate the whole dish when the liquid is added. try it in a familiar recipe to check out the flavor. :)

                                                                                                        2. l
                                                                                                          luxarles RE: lisacs Oct 31, 2006 09:24 PM

                                                                                                          Try clicking on the arrow next to "Topic Options" on the upper right, next to "Home Cooking" heading. A "Print" option should appear.

                                                                                                          1. ipsedixit RE: lisacs Oct 31, 2006 09:30 PM

                                                                                                            Rice vinegar in chicken stock.

                                                                                                            1. b
                                                                                                              bbc RE: lisacs Nov 1, 2006 06:58 AM

                                                                                                              I agree with tons of the above too - love fish sauce and cardamom. Also think ginger is underused (big slices that you can pull out) in stirfrys, and shaoxing wine - kind of like sherry - for infusing meat dishes. dark, dark soy sauce + sichuan peppercorns to numb your palette completely!!

                                                                                                              For non-Asian, I love marjoram for some reason.
                                                                                                              And butter. Oh, and bacon grease - for veggies (Asian).

                                                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                                                              1. re: bbc
                                                                                                                mamaciita RE: bbc Nov 1, 2006 09:46 PM

                                                                                                                Re: Cardamom

                                                                                                                The best coffee I've ever tasted came from a Middle Eastern restaurant. After my inquisition, I found out that they grind their coffee beans with a few cardamom seeds.

                                                                                                                1. re: mamaciita
                                                                                                                  bbc RE: mamaciita Nov 3, 2006 07:07 AM

                                                                                                                  YUM. I'll have to try that. Someone told me about an ice cream place that makes green tea/cardamom ice cream, but I haven't tried it. Thanks!!

                                                                                                                  1. re: bbc
                                                                                                                    butterchicken2nan RE: bbc Nov 6, 2006 04:10 AM

                                                                                                                    Yes yes yes - I actually take Barry's or PG Tips tea bags with me whenever I go on trips and have a jar of cardamom pods with me almost at all times. I just can't take tea or coffee without it now - and I've even hooked a few people in my office too. Even the horrible tea they give you in hotel rooms for you to make for yourself can be greatly improved by going for the pod. Many an electric kettle I have left in hotel/motel rooms with a permanent cardamom flavouring by adding it to the water as it boiled.
                                                                                                                    One other thing I tasted spectacular orange-cardamom flavoured dark chocolate from a Belgian chocolatier in Prince's Square in Glasgow Scotland last year - alas they were sold out this year on my annual trip.

                                                                                                                    1. re: butterchicken2nan
                                                                                                                      mamaciita RE: butterchicken2nan Nov 6, 2006 10:35 PM

                                                                                                                      That reminds me. . .I had Black Pepper-Cardamom ice cream in Chicago a few years ago. Talk about a memorable experience. . .

                                                                                                              2. SauceSupreme RE: lisacs Nov 1, 2006 07:14 AM

                                                                                                                Since fish sauce isn't much of a secret to chowhounds, I'll add chervil as an herb and duckfat as a substitute for butter when sauteing.

                                                                                                                1. d
                                                                                                                  daveklop RE: lisacs Nov 1, 2006 11:49 AM

                                                                                                                  This is a fantastic topic and thanks everyone for sharing your now-no-longer-secret ingredients! I'm too late to add anything new, so I'll second what's been mentioned already: shallots to start a savory dish; cilantro to finish it; and butter in just about anything. Also, cilantro and lime juice as a marinade for chicken or fish.

                                                                                                                  1. bolivianita RE: lisacs Nov 1, 2006 01:11 PM

                                                                                                                    I don't think any one has mentioned bay leaves. I don't make anything soupy or saucy without them. It is the one thing that I put in almost everything.

                                                                                                                    1. mamaciita RE: lisacs Nov 1, 2006 09:50 PM

                                                                                                                      I use a lot of what Rachael Ray describes as "grill seasoning." After I realized what it is, I found it in a dizzying array of flavors. Good on steamed/broiled/roasted/grilled meat and veg.

                                                                                                                      1. n
                                                                                                                        nosey RE: lisacs Nov 2, 2006 02:31 AM

                                                                                                                        Crazy Jane's helps most everything!

                                                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                                                        1. re: nosey
                                                                                                                          LoN RE: nosey Nov 10, 2006 01:52 AM

                                                                                                                          I had to scroll down a loooong way to find it...but someone did beat me to it. Have used Crazy Jane's for decades....and hooked the whole clan on it as well!!

                                                                                                                          1. re: LoN
                                                                                                                            nosey RE: LoN Nov 15, 2006 02:57 AM

                                                                                                                            A friend swears my husband has some major secret ingredient in his chili. The only thing he puts in that is not "normal" is Janes. we use it in every recipe that "needs something".

                                                                                                                        2. jbyoga RE: lisacs Nov 2, 2006 02:33 AM

                                                                                                                          Some really nice music in the background and love -

                                                                                                                          a lot of garlic helps too!

                                                                                                                          1. t
                                                                                                                            torty RE: lisacs Nov 2, 2006 04:50 AM

                                                                                                                            I also use just a hint of soy, worcestershire, balsamic or sherry vinegar to perk things up. The most unusual one is something called "Mushroom seasoning".From Taiwan- it is in a smal granular form. Touted as a sub for the evil MSG. Ingredient list is mushroom powder, salt, vegetable extract, mushroom extract & sodium 5' guanylate. I'm thinking there is some "natural" MSG going on- but it makes a big diff. My son just requested chicken soup consisting of Maggi chicken powder (I KNOW that has MSG)& elbow macaroni. I added a drop of worcestershire and a pinch of the mushroom stuff and it was dramatically different than just the broth powder. Of course I did venture into the dark backyard & pluck some late parsley to tear over top....

                                                                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                                                                            1. re: torty
                                                                                                                              juster RE: torty Nov 15, 2006 09:34 PM

                                                                                                                              YES! Mine doesn't have that other stuff, though. It's just a grinder jar of dried portabella mushrooms. It's a great way to add that umami/savory quality to lots of things. Seems to make everything a little bit richer. I love this stuff!

                                                                                                                              1. re: juster
                                                                                                                                FoodFuser RE: juster Nov 16, 2006 01:39 AM

                                                                                                                                I do the same thing with "dried shiitake dust". Just get some dried shiitake, and break them into 1/2" pieces into a spice grinder. (don't use the rockhard stem, just the dried cap). Pulverize in the grinder.

                                                                                                                                The resulting dust is magic stuff. It goes into every ragu or full-bodied soup.

                                                                                                                            2. x
                                                                                                                              Xander RE: lisacs Nov 2, 2006 04:54 AM

                                                                                                                              Easy - Shallots. Thats it. Takes the dish to 11.

                                                                                                                              1. c
                                                                                                                                cookiecutter RE: lisacs Nov 2, 2006 04:58 AM


                                                                                                                                1. s
                                                                                                                                  SundanceKC RE: lisacs Nov 2, 2006 05:02 AM

                                                                                                                                  A touch of almond extract and a grate or two of fresh nutmeg in most baked goods, but especially in white cakes, pancakes and sugar cookies.

                                                                                                                                  1. Boythefoodtalksto RE: lisacs Nov 2, 2006 05:25 AM

                                                                                                                                    What a treasure trove! I like (real) anchovy or a squeeze from a tube of sun dried tomato paste for depth, a bit of horseradish or wasabi for mysterious zest, and shallots for a good base.

                                                                                                                                    1. p
                                                                                                                                      pjsace RE: lisacs Nov 2, 2006 05:37 AM

                                                                                                                                      MSG.....joking, although I do have some in my cabinet.....Siracha, anchovies, veggie or chicken broth, shallots, zest, and love!

                                                                                                                                      1. p
                                                                                                                                        pitterpatter RE: lisacs Nov 2, 2006 08:54 PM

                                                                                                                                        Worcestershire sauce (which is made from anchovies)
                                                                                                                                        Preserved Lemons -- to prevent mold, top off with a baggie full of water.
                                                                                                                                        Ginger vinegar, from preserved ginger following Barbara Tropp's recipe in China Moon is always on hand and a major flavor enhancer.

                                                                                                                                        1. l
                                                                                                                                          lisacs RE: lisacs Nov 2, 2006 08:55 PM

                                                                                                                                          I recently discovered the magic of orange zest in savory dishes: it lends a kind of mysterious brightness to both tapenade and braised beef or lamb.

                                                                                                                                          Thanks to all for the great ideas...

                                                                                                                                          1. l
                                                                                                                                            laur76 RE: lisacs Nov 3, 2006 04:16 PM


                                                                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                                                                            1. re: laur76
                                                                                                                                              kare_raisu RE: laur76 Nov 15, 2006 03:04 AM

                                                                                                                                              mexican or philipino?

                                                                                                                                            2. v
                                                                                                                                              violent beauty RE: lisacs Nov 5, 2006 04:33 AM

                                                                                                                                              soy sauce is pretty good to add a salty flavor to anything, as well as that dark caramel color. also... try using a flavored vinegar instead of lemon juice, it works pretty great. i like tarragon vinegar in most dishes, and apple cider vinegar in sweeter ones.

                                                                                                                                              1. FoodFuser RE: lisacs Nov 5, 2006 06:23 AM

                                                                                                                                                Celery seed in baked beans.

                                                                                                                                                1. billjriv RE: lisacs Nov 5, 2006 06:57 AM

                                                                                                                                                  Top Ramen shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh dont tell anybody,all the Pho resturants will be angry when they find out I told there secret ingredient to there 6$ soup.Good with Char Siu,Swiss Chard,dash of five spice powder squeeze of lemon and a drip of Sirachi sauce.Sometimes I add fresh rice noodles to the Top Ramen.Million variations on this.

                                                                                                                                                  1. litchick RE: lisacs Nov 6, 2006 01:17 AM

                                                                                                                                                    Old Bay! It's so good in just about everything!
                                                                                                                                                    chipotle powder (just a touch adds smokiness w/out heat)
                                                                                                                                                    anchovy paste
                                                                                                                                                    penzey's northwoods spice mix
                                                                                                                                                    and of course, lemon. In everything.

                                                                                                                                                    1. doctor_mama RE: lisacs Nov 6, 2006 01:29 AM

                                                                                                                                                      Other people have said these, but--
                                                                                                                                                      smoked paprika
                                                                                                                                                      alepppo pepper

                                                                                                                                                      1. c
                                                                                                                                                        carolle217 RE: lisacs Nov 6, 2006 02:44 AM

                                                                                                                                                        Oyster Sauce on steamed greens and in Ramen Bowls
                                                                                                                                                        Balsamic vinegar...add a dash to meat gravy (not milk gravy)
                                                                                                                                                        Sugar.....add a teaspoon to homemade italian dressing
                                                                                                                                                        McCormicks Montreal Seasoning

                                                                                                                                                        1. marthadumptruck RE: lisacs Nov 6, 2006 03:03 AM

                                                                                                                                                          red pepper flake

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                                                                                                                                                            saffy RE: lisacs Nov 6, 2006 03:23 AM

                                                                                                                                                            There is a lot of interesting stuff here. I put a shot or 2 or 3 of Tabasco in just about everything savory. I also like to use left over mashed potatoes to thicken soups and sauces. It works just as well as corn starch or roux and you don't get the flour-ey taste and texture.

                                                                                                                                                            1. amyzan RE: lisacs Nov 6, 2006 04:20 AM

                                                                                                                                                              This isn't strictly an ingredient, but more of a technique, I guess. Deglaze almost anything with cognac, and the reaction you'll get is WOW! I do this after browning a trinity, mushrooms, or any meat or poultry. You can brown some veggies in a little oil, deglaze with cognac, and add canned soup to it, if you're so inclined. It works wonder, that alcohol!

                                                                                                                                                              I'm also big on paprika right now. It's good in a number of things, from egg salad to potato soup to sauces.

                                                                                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                              1. re: amyzan
                                                                                                                                                                bbc RE: amyzan Nov 6, 2006 09:03 AM

                                                                                                                                                                I love paprika too, and one thing I was taught by a Hungarian is to add it to pork - even just ham - I wouldn't have immediately thought of that. I even add it to flour mixtures that I coat meat with (even fried chicken).

                                                                                                                                                                The deglazing with cognac sounds fantastic. What's the actual taste or texture that makes it so good? Sweet? Just perfectly cooked? Just curious.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: bbc
                                                                                                                                                                  amyzan RE: bbc Nov 6, 2006 05:25 PM

                                                                                                                                                                  It's a little sweet, but also just sort of deepens or hgihlights the flavor of whatever you've made.

                                                                                                                                                              2. Missy2U RE: lisacs Nov 6, 2006 05:47 PM

                                                                                                                                                                My favorite is fyra kryddor - my mom goes to Sweden every few years and brings me back a few bottles. I use it for a ton of dishes. It gives a great flavor to just about any meat/poultry and vegetables as well.

                                                                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Missy2U
                                                                                                                                                                  kare_raisu RE: Missy2U Nov 15, 2006 03:08 AM

                                                                                                                                                                  could you tell me more about this ingredient?

                                                                                                                                                                2. b
                                                                                                                                                                  ben61820 RE: lisacs Nov 6, 2006 06:27 PM

                                                                                                                                                                  definately MISO. the japanese fermented soybean paste-stuff. if you can find a good quality (hopefully UNpasteurized version) one, you can throw into soups at the end, sauteing veg in a pan at the end etc etc. of course, the old hot water with some green onions in it classic japanese style works so well, too. but with anything itll add this great, usually unknown dimension to your dishes. just remember to go easy on the salt when seasoning because miso is quite salty all on its own.

                                                                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: ben61820
                                                                                                                                                                    kare_raisu RE: ben61820 Nov 15, 2006 03:05 AM

                                                                                                                                                                    i like it with butter and steamed or mashed potatoes

                                                                                                                                                                  2. billjriv RE: lisacs Nov 6, 2006 09:31 PM

                                                                                                                                                                    Fry garlic,bacon with olive oil till golden brown,then add to cooked noodles.Put cheese on top,then keep on low burner till melted.Best eaten in an emergency room.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. chef chicklet RE: lisacs Nov 7, 2006 05:05 PM

                                                                                                                                                                      I cannot resist unusual ethnic spices and sauces in a bottle or bag. I recently was in a Filipino market/deli and bought "Banana Sauce".
                                                                                                                                                                      Has anyone tried it???

                                                                                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: chef chicklet
                                                                                                                                                                        kare_raisu RE: chef chicklet Nov 15, 2006 03:07 AM

                                                                                                                                                                        Once...I think its called Jufran. Pretty sweet and artificial dyes.

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                                                                                                                                                                        lisacs RE: lisacs Nov 8, 2006 06:00 PM

                                                                                                                                                                        Chef chicklet: No, have never heard of the Banana Sauce, but I'm curious. What's in it? How does it taste--or are you waiting to try it?

                                                                                                                                                                        Also, I am a big fan of garam masala and smuggle cardamom into just about anything I can--especially rice and chicken dishes and anything coffee-, tea- or chocolate-flavored.

                                                                                                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: lisacs
                                                                                                                                                                          kare_raisu RE: lisacs Nov 15, 2006 03:06 AM

                                                                                                                                                                          do you have to open the pod for pilafs?

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: kare_raisu
                                                                                                                                                                            lisacs RE: kare_raisu Nov 15, 2006 08:18 PM

                                                                                                                                                                            Hi, I usually don't but will sometimes bruise the pods a little to release some of the flavor. Most of the biryani and pilau recipes I have saute the rice in a little butter/ghee or oil; I throw the cardamom and any other whole spices in right at the beginning so they can infuse the oil a bit. Subtle, maybe, but it works.

                                                                                                                                                                        2. f
                                                                                                                                                                          foodrocks RE: lisacs Nov 8, 2006 06:34 PM

                                                                                                                                                                          bacon fat.
                                                                                                                                                                          not really healthy, but it makes anything taste better.

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                                                                                                                                                                            Sentiamo RE: lisacs Nov 10, 2006 02:10 AM

                                                                                                                                                                            My mainstays are avocado oil, karengo seasoning and smoked paprika ( hot and sweet varieties) but not all at once!

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                                                                                                                                                                              TapasBoy RE: lisacs Nov 15, 2006 03:01 AM

                                                                                                                                                                              Crushed hot peppers in vinegar...I add them to the frying onions for all my sauces and gravies. I am also a big fan of nutmeg and cinnamon, even when you think they would be weird. A touch works.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. kare_raisu RE: lisacs Nov 15, 2006 03:10 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                instant dashi, msg sub. fantastic in japanese fried rice, chahan- gives slightly smokey taste.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  bacchus RE: lisacs Nov 15, 2006 03:15 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                  This is a terrific topic. I think all of mine have been mentioned already...

                                                                                                                                                                                  cardamom-it's my secret substitution for cloves in carrot cake, I also add extra cardamom instead of cloves when I make my own chai...hmmm, do you see a pattern? I wonder if I should try studding the Christmas ham with it? It's also fantastic with fruit, yogurt and rice pudding.

                                                                                                                                                                                  sriracha-not sure how we ever lived without it

                                                                                                                                                                                  smoked paprika-when I want a subtle smoky or roasted flavor

                                                                                                                                                                                  and definitely a little squeeze of lemon to brighten a dish before serving.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    RiJaAr RE: lisacs Nov 15, 2006 03:20 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                    red wine/ balsamic vinegar
                                                                                                                                                                                    lemon juice
                                                                                                                                                                                    garam masala
                                                                                                                                                                                    curry powder

                                                                                                                                                                                    just don't add them all to the same dish!

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                                                                                                                                                                                      chowdear RE: lisacs Nov 15, 2006 12:57 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                      I enjoy using a traditional Portuguese sauce/marinade called "Molho de Piri-Piri", which is usually a combination of olive oil, ground piri-piris (a type of chili, so you can substitute piquin or Thai chiles), paprika, garlic, salt and oregano. I make my own, store in the fridge for a few days so the flavors meld and then use in sauces, marinades, soups, stews and a number of savory dishes.

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. billjriv RE: lisacs Nov 15, 2006 07:22 PM


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                                                                                                                                                                                          hotandsour RE: lisacs Nov 15, 2006 09:39 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                          A tablespoon or two of balsamic vinegar added to blueberry pie (instead of lemon or whatever) takes it into a new and much, much better dimension. That and make sure there's enough salt in your chocolate.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. potterstreet RE: lisacs Nov 16, 2006 09:39 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                            Latesly been using a high quality sherry wine vinegar for salads and deglazing purposes. absolute heaven.

                                                                                                                                                                                            partial to anchovies for years - make a simple pasta tossed with sauteed arugula, garlic and anchovies that rocks.

                                                                                                                                                                                            i'm also a very big fan of certain asian ingredients, which when used judiciously, can really add character - especially lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, thai basil, shrimp paste, and good fish sauce.

                                                                                                                                                                                            nothing beats good french demi sel butter.

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. frenetica RE: lisacs Nov 16, 2006 09:49 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                              When in doubt, cover anything savoury in a snowstorm of grated parmesan.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. opinionatedchef RE: lisacs Nov 17, 2006 05:56 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                tamari for depth of flavor. but lemon juice is what i couldn't live without.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                  fshippen RE: lisacs Nov 17, 2006 11:24 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                  A favorite of mine that hasn't been mentioned: Lawry's seasoning salt. It's salty and sweet and interesting in the place of salt. Though to really do it justice, it should sprinkled over popcorn or other starchy, fresh out of the oil fried treats.

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