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Secret Ingredients

MobyRichard Dec 24, 2006 07:47 PM

Certain foods we tend to think we make better than anybody else. Sometimes we attribute the superiority of our dish to a secret ingredient. One of mine is parmesan cheese in my potato salad. Anybody else willing to share what lifts their speciality above the rest?

  1. j
    jpolk Jan 17, 2007 07:31 PM

    My wife introduced me to putting Worchestershire sauce in Kraft Mac & Cheese. Our guilty weekend in front of the TV pleasure.

    1 Reply
    1. re: jpolk
      amyvc Jan 25, 2007 08:16 AM

      try Frank's Red hot on Kraft mac and cheese - heaven...

    2. hitachino Jan 17, 2007 06:15 PM

      for all the cinnamon/chocolate/coffee conspirators -- try that combo in your next batch of chili or any latin beef or chicken filling (tacos, burritos, enchiladas, empenadas)

      it's a bit of a mexican mole experience - rich and delicious!

      1. r
        recordkitten Jan 17, 2007 04:08 PM

        Thai fish sauce. If my hubby only KNEW what i put it in....hehehehehe

        1 Reply
        1. re: recordkitten
          thegolferbitch Jan 17, 2007 04:16 PM

          FALLING DOWN LAUGHING over this reply.
          I add garlic to just about everything except pastry recipes and to sweet recipes, a dash of regular black pepper.

        2. sillyrabbit Dec 30, 2006 10:58 PM

          A small amount of chocolate is a must for my chili (Cincinnati-style).

          1 Reply
          1. re: sillyrabbit
            smrits Jan 17, 2007 07:27 AM

            A small amount of chili powder in hot chocolate.

          2. s
            Sugar Jones Dec 30, 2006 10:40 PM

            Anything that's chocolate gets a shot of cold coffee. Not enough to flavor it, just to heighten the chocolate flavor.
            Also Plugra Plugra Plugra..i don't think that can be said enough.
            Unsalted butter in EVERYTHING.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Sugar Jones
              cafesimile Dec 30, 2006 10:45 PM

              This is pretty interesting, I'll have to try it. Does it work in fudge? Is the shot in addition to or in place of existing liquids e.g. water, milk, etc.?

              1. re: cafesimile
                Sugar Jones Jan 25, 2007 01:39 PM

                I never tried it in fudge. I was actually thinking about my cookies and cakes.I guess it's worth a try. I might actually try a coffee flavored liquor in fudge instead.

            2. r
              rsafady Dec 30, 2006 09:44 PM

              A big pinch (teaspoon) of espresso or coffee in anything chocolate to punctuate the flavor.

              1. hotoynoodle Dec 30, 2006 09:27 PM

                a cup of very strong coffee in my banana bread.

                a small dollop of yogurt in soft scrambled eggs.

                salt and acid -- usually lemon zest or juice. i think most home cooks woefully underseason their food.

                also not an ingredient, but cooking on highest heat. depending on the dish, of course, but something that needs searing needs super high heat, and a smoking hot pan. i love cast iron skillets for this.

                1. a
                  amyvc Dec 30, 2006 01:05 AM

                  - Plugra or other European butter in butter-heavy recipes - butter cookies, shortbreads, poundcake
                  - Sherry and nutmeg in homemade mac and cheese (real butter and whole milk too, but those aren't secret!)
                  - Not an ingredient, but double sifting the flour in poundcake - too many people don't do this. Too bad, as the change in texture is unreal. Fights have broken out over the last piece of poundcake.

                  1. lemonfaire Dec 30, 2006 12:50 AM

                    Pinenuts and parmesan reggiano. Not in everything, obviously.

                    Cinnamon often saves the day in other dishes.

                    1. j
                      Jacey Dec 30, 2006 12:44 AM

                      cinnamon in recipes that use chocolate. i think it inhances the chocolate flavor.

                      1. atheorist Dec 30, 2006 12:42 AM

                        Bits of canned pineapple and juice in the cole slaw.
                        And amen to the cayenne or hot sauce. I get in trouble if I put too much in. It has to stay a secret.

                        1. d
                          Deborah Dec 30, 2006 12:35 AM

                          Ruth it is Kaffir lime leaves....but if I had a lime tree in my backyard I would try mincing the leaves!!

                          1. jenniebnyc Dec 29, 2006 11:33 PM

                            The smallest pinch of cinnamon in my tomato sauce.

                            Anchovies in my stuffed mushrooms.

                            1. s
                              Seldomsated Dec 27, 2006 09:25 PM

                              I've been using homemade stock when making soups and stews - SO much better than plain water or anything commercially prepared. Sometimes I will boil it down so it is super concentrated, when I won't dilute the dish I am putting it into.

                              A few splashes of wine in a soup or sauce make all the difference between good and sublime.

                              Using Plugra or other premium butter steps things up a notch.

                              I make a tomato cream sauce that is wickedly good - because of the tablespoon of brandy nipped in at the finish.

                              I use extra vanilla extract when baking or making desserts on the stovetop - double the amount usually. Of course there is always scraping the inside of a vanilla bean for the most flavor!

                              Buttermilk is a great secret ingredient, in baking. Marinading chicken in buttermilk before frying yields excellent results.

                              But, you know, the real secret ingredient is love.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Seldomsated
                                cayjohan Dec 27, 2006 09:35 PM

                                Buttermilk is a great "secret ingredient" for mashed potatoes or mashed parsnips, as well. It's the only liquid I use. An added bonus is that less butter is needed, for those who are watching fat intake. It gives the potatoes that subtle tang that sour cream on a baked potato would have.

                              2. s
                                silence9 Dec 27, 2006 03:46 PM

                                One *small* squeeze of ketchup, to mellow out an overly tart tomato sauce or to give a bit of color to a stir fry... Also, a teaspoon of Panko (japanese breadcrumb shards) adds a bit of texture to the browned bits in a rustic pan gravy...

                                1. Will Owen Dec 26, 2006 11:39 PM

                                  Cayenne pepper or Tabasco sauce, depending on the dish. Not enough to make it taste spicy, just enough to slap the taste buds to attention. By the same token, I'll add a good dollop of Chinese hot-chile oil to the olive oil I'm using to marinate pork, chicken, fish or potatoes prior to roasting or grilling them.

                                  I've just recently begun to use saffron and Spanish smoked paprika, especially in Mediterranean-accented casserole dishes. I was sort of forced into it when my pa-in-law gave me a big box of saffron last Christmas, and while it lasts pretty well if sealed and protected it won't last forever. And that paprika is just wonderful, too.

                                  1. d
                                    Deborah Dec 26, 2006 08:22 PM

                                    Minced fresh lime leaves added to any Asian dish, Indian dish but also just thrown into a tossed salad. Adds a depth and a flavour that jumps out at you. Always have fresh ones in the fridge.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Deborah
                                      Ruth Lafler Dec 26, 2006 11:21 PM

                                      [Ruth runs out to her lime tree and plucks some leaves]You mean regular old lime leaves, not Kaffir lime or some other special variety?

                                      My housemate says she puts red pepper flakes in everything; I tend to reach for the curry. I agree that salt is important, especially a small amount in an otherwise sweet food. I recently discovered that minced shallots will vastly improve my salad (my other "secret" for salad is that I've started mixing some iceberg lettuce in with the spring-mix-type greens, which gives the salad more body and crunch).

                                    2. RShea78 Dec 26, 2006 05:53 AM

                                      Mine is- Concentrated Crushed Tomatoes.

                                      (Declared as per ingredients label, nothing else added.)

                                      However, it is hard to find and is different than the regular crushed tomatoes which may be nothing more than a mix of tomato paste, water, and salt.

                                      I use it mostly as a base for my Chili, salsa, and tomato sauces of which I can spice, season, and adjust the thickness or consistency accordingly. It is a must for my home made Pizza.

                                      If anyone is asking why do I go through all that trouble (?), is that I enjoy the end results far much better than other processed (or over processed) tomato products. Tomato paste to me seems to have a burnt taste to it, so it is unacceptable for my tomato "base" needs.

                                      1. concordjeff Dec 26, 2006 03:42 AM

                                        Preserved lemon. Discovered it a few months ago. Can't stop thinking about it.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: concordjeff
                                          cayjohan Dec 26, 2006 04:05 AM

                                          I'm two weeks into the making of a jar of preserved lemons for a Moroccan chicken/lemon/olive dish scheduled for the first week in Jan. I won't need all of them - any suggestions for what else they can be a "secret ingredient" in?

                                          1. re: cayjohan
                                            concordjeff Dec 26, 2006 08:41 PM

                                            I used preserved lemon in a lamb stew recently. Also Moroccan influenced. Found it here:

                                            when I was searching for what to do with preserved lemon. Easy to make, and delicious.

                                        2. p
                                          personalcheffie Dec 26, 2006 03:11 AM

                                          White pepper. I use it more than black or any other color. Especially in mashed potatoes and vegetables. I have three grinders next to the stove. One for black, one for quad color, and one for white (Sarawak).

                                          1. bryan Dec 26, 2006 03:00 AM

                                            Lemon zest or juice. Really brings out a brightness that wasn't there before. Especially in salad dressings or anything that requires vinegar. But a subtle hand must be used.

                                            1. c
                                              Cate Dec 25, 2006 10:49 PM

                                              It sounds a bit weird, but just a bit of unsweetened apple sauce in mashed potatoes can be lovely- it gives a really fresh, not readily identifiable flavor. We also add roasted corn to everything from hummus to chili.

                                              And yeah, salt rules. I got some truffle salt from Santa and can't wait to try it.

                                              1. b
                                                bill_in_dunn Dec 25, 2006 03:32 PM

                                                Around our house "the secret ingredient" is code for butter or cream. Not much of a secret, but they do have a magical effect.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: bill_in_dunn
                                                  butterfly Dec 25, 2006 10:23 PM

                                                  In our house, it is olive oil--same general idea. Though in Spain, this is hardly a secret...

                                                2. t
                                                  Tony Miller Dec 25, 2006 02:19 AM

                                                  Inspired by the spicy Ground Nut Stew at Rosalind's, I have added peanut butter to my chili (usually Carrol Shelby's but any decent mix will do) for years. I have fed it to swarms of people, and it always gets compliments.

                                                  1. amkirkland Dec 24, 2006 08:27 PM

                                                    I'm going to posit a theory that many secret ingredients add umami.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: amkirkland
                                                      cayjohan Dec 26, 2006 03:29 AM

                                                      I'm in agreement. A dash of soy in "non-asian" foods, simmering a parm rind in soup, a coupla anchovies hidden in a dish (my Hub would sooner open a vein than eat an anchovie - I'm expert at hiding them!). All of these umami flavors add the depth and savor that make us say mmmmm. BUT! you don't taste the ingredients *as themselves*.

                                                      I'm curious to hear more about your theory of secret=umami.

                                                    2. Andiereid Dec 24, 2006 07:49 PM

                                                      Salt. I often feel that people do not salt enough during the cooking process. I attribute a lot of the flavor of my food to the fact that I use salt effectively to carry flavors.

                                                      8 Replies
                                                      1. re: Andiereid
                                                        Walters Dec 24, 2006 07:51 PM

                                                        Andiereid, Pick up a bottle of Italian truffle salt. You'll be a lost soul in no time.

                                                        1. re: Walters
                                                          Andiereid Dec 24, 2006 07:53 PM

                                                          Really? Ooo! Will have to give that a go! Thanks for the tip! Sources?

                                                          1. re: Andiereid
                                                            mimolette Dec 24, 2006 08:06 PM

                                                            while you are at it, get the saffron salt too.

                                                            1. re: mimolette
                                                              Glencora Dec 27, 2006 01:35 AM

                                                              I just saw saffron salt for sale for the first time. The grains were quite large. It was pretty, jewel-like, but I wasn't sure how I'd use it. How do you use yours?

                                                              1. re: Glencora
                                                                mimolette Dec 29, 2006 11:10 PM

                                                                I sprinkle it on shrimp, lobster, monkfish and other seafood mostly. It is good with eggs too. Sometimes I mix it with a little orange flavor olive oil, macadamia nut oil, or butter to dip the bread with. you can use it in gnocchi or ravioli dishes too.

                                                        2. re: Andiereid
                                                          TomOHaver Jan 16, 2007 11:57 AM

                                                          How do you feel about letting people salt their own food to taste? Or do you think that adding salt during cooking, rather than at the table, makes a big difference? After all, you can always add it, but you can't remove it once its in there. I worry about over-salting, especially for guests who are on low-salt diets. I personally am very sensitive to over-salted foods - it's the only reason I've ever sent food back in a restaurant (except to be heated) - so I tend to under-salt things habitually.

                                                          1. re: TomOHaver
                                                            JK Grence the Cosmic Jester Jan 16, 2007 12:21 PM

                                                            Salting during cooking makes an ENORMOUS difference, especially when things get cooked in water. For blanched vegetables or pasta, dissolving 1 tablespoon of salt in 1 gallon of water brings out the flavors of things better than sprinkling salt on top of the finished dish.

                                                            1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester
                                                              TomOHaver Jan 17, 2007 01:27 PM

                                                              Interesting. I never really realized that. Guess I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place if I'm trying to prepare low-salt dishes to please myself and other salt-sensitive people, while still pleasing my salt-loving guests.

                                                        3. Covert Ops Dec 24, 2006 07:49 PM

                                                          I put fines herbes in my Velveeta Shells and Cheese. :-D

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