Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Aug 17, 2010 09:33 PM

Do you employ any of these "secret supermarket ingredients" used by chefs?

From the Bon Appetit Blog:

"Time was, what we're about to tell you would have been a dirty little secret. But lately, supermarket ingredients are showing up on restaurant menus across the country in not-so-hush-hush ways, delivering results that fancier ones can't. Here are 16 chefs who use humble foods for a lofty outcome."

Read about all of the 16 "secrets" here:

I've used some of these (e.g. corn flakes, Worcestershire sauce, bread in meatballs, Nutella, etc.), but the use of Altoids was new to me.

What about you?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I think I've used every one of them in one thing or another, EXCEPT the orange flavor Pop Rocks. That is new and strange to me. I assume they must be used as a garnish sprinkled on top at the last minute. To mix them into the actual mousse would just end up as pockets of gas, it seems to me.

    Oh wait. I don't use Altoids in lamb sauce either. I may try it one day, but meantime I don't believe it would be mare satisfactory than real mint. A possible substitute if you can't get real mint? Maybe.

    Everytime I make saurbraten -- last time was about a week ago -- I am newly amazed at what a fantastic thickener crushed ginger snaps are in a gravy. Don't know why I don't use them in more than that one dish.

    And I only wish I could buy Wondra flour in any old supermarket at any old time of year. In my area it seems to have dwindled to a holiday commodity. I have to stock up in the most budget unfriendly stock-up time of year!

    I think the most universally used ingredient on their list has to be Worcestershire Sauce. It's ubiquitous!

    Fun article. Thanks!

    2 Replies
    1. re: Caroline1

      How Worcestershire sauce is a secret ingredient is beyond me.


      1. re: Davwud

        I agree... If she used W sauce in making ice cream... That would definitely qualify as a "secret ingredient". :D

    2. Yes, the Pop Rocks, I'm clueless, I've never actually tried them.

      Many items of the list are packed in large quantity for the food service industry, anyway. How about a 50# bag of Wondra, Caroline?

      14 Replies
      1. re: bushwickgirl

        LOL! I don't think it would all fit in my flour canister at one time! Maybe we can find another two or three people to go in on one with us? '-)

        1. re: Caroline1

          I was actually shocked by the price listed for the Wondra at the link, $5 for a 13.5 oz container? Sounds like NYC prices, although with the $4 15 oz jar of Hellman's. I suppose, since Wondra's processed futher than AP flour. Not to change the tone of the thread, but have you tried rice flour for breading? Very crispy.

          I like Wondra for it's blendability, especially in gravy or sauces, no fooling around with roux or cornstarch, and I have a biscuit recipe that uses it, for a very tender crumb.

          1. re: bushwickgirl

            I'm not Caroline, but I have discovered the wonders of breading w/rice flour, bwg, and a great discovery it was as the only way I could get it was to buy a 6 lb. bag (for a cup or so needed in a recipe) at a local international market, albeit a very cheap 6 lbs.. (Wondra, otoh, is readily available in my neighborhood supermarket, but not cheap.)

            1. re: nomadchowwoman

              Wondra used to also be available in supermarkets in 2# bags. Wish they'd bring that back. Trader Joe's has rice flour in a smaller, maybe 1#?, bag.

              1. re: nomadchowwoman

                you should be able to find smaller packages of rice flour than that! Look for Arrowhead Mills or Bob's Red Mill at Whole Foods Market, or small 1-lb boxes of Mochiko rice flour at Asian supermarkets...or you can buy as much or as little as you need in the bulk section of Whole Foods if your store has a good one.

                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                  when I was looking, I couldn't find it at WF, but it never occurred to me to check the bulk bins--and I've since discovered that the Arrowhead Mills products are in their own special section . . . it's moot, of course, b/c I still have a lot of that lg. bag left.

              2. re: bushwickgirl

                Any chance of that biscuit recipe, m'dear?

                1. re: buttertart

                  Whoops! I just checked the recipe, I made a little mistake, they are not made with Wondra, rather White Lily; What was I thinking? I should have known better that a good biscuit would be made with a self rising soft wheat flour.

                  RLB's The Bread Bible makes popovers with Wondra, maybe that's what I was thinking of. Have that one?

                  1. re: bushwickgirl

                    :) thank you! Read the article, I mean really, these seem obvious to pretty much any clued-in home cook - the Pop Rocks are a trifle out there but I've seen mention of them a good number of times in restaurant reviews. (PS Pop Rocks are made in early outlier of Spanish whimsy in food?)

                    1. re: buttertart

                      I've had Pop Rocks (or popping candy, as they're known in the UK) in a dessert at Ramsay's RHR restaurant...they were a great addition!

                      And Heston Blumenthal adds them to lots of desserts. Maybe it's more of a British chef thing at the moment?

                2. re: bushwickgirl

                  Nothing is cheap any more, and that includes Wondra flour. I want to earn now and shop then, when it first came out! I'm not sure, but I think my first container was something like 79 or 89 cents, and I thought it was a bit on the expensive side. But you simply cannot beat it for gravies and sauces!

                  Yes, I've tried the rice flour and like it. Actually, I loke most rice stuff. One of my big favorites is rice noodles. For chow mein (or whatever) I deep fry them in really hot oit and they explode like popcorn without a lid on. Great snacks and when you put sauce on them, they revert to a boiled consistency except for the parts that stay sauce free. I also use a mixture of rice flour and AP flour in tempura batter. I think it comes out a little crispier than my usual mix of AP flour and corn starch. I keep intending to try the rice flour in a slurry, but never remember until after I've already used flour or corn starch. I need to put Post It reminders on my vent hood!

                  1. re: bushwickgirl

                    i love rice flour for breading. it's a godsend for those of us who can't have gluten!

                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                      Makes excellent tempura batter as well. I guess you can include that under "breading."

              3. Worcestershire--check; Wondra--check; jarred mayo--check; frozen pearl onions--check; ginger snaps--check.
                My mother has always made meatballs using commercial soft white bread and milk.
                And then there are secrets which should never be revealed--maybe Altoids in sauce (yikes!) and Pop Rocks (which really are a secret to me; I've never heard of them.)

                3 Replies
                1. re: nomadchowwoman

                  I thought everyone used Worcestershire. I have used most of these but not all. Where I come from Dr. Pepper and other colas have been used in a variety of things for years.

                  1. re: swamp

                    Agree that Worcestershire sauce is hardly a secret (seems to be in almost everyone's fridge), and Coke (rather than DP) has been used for baked ham and in braises (even in some BBQ sauces) in the South for as long as I can remember. But I guess the fact that the chefs' secret ingredients are not-so-secret is the secret.

                    1. re: nomadchowwoman

                      "But I guess the fact that the chefs' secret ingredients are not-so-secret is the secret."

                      My thought exactly.

                2. None of these are surprises...just about every restaurant uses some type of commercial item in one way or another.

                  1. I think the altoids with lamb and the orange pop rocks with chocolate mousse were creative and interesting.

                    In case you don't know what pop rocks are. They were a candy craze back in the 1960's or early 70's. As I can recall they are freeze dried carbonated soda. You would put a teaspoon or so in your mouth and the moisture in your mouth would make them explode with flavor and literally.

                    11 Replies
                    1. re: Hank Hanover

                      Pop rocks were first offered to the public in 1975. If they had been available in the 60's, I definitely would have tried them. By that 70's decade, I wasn't eating junkie stuff any longer, just the hippie natural foods veggie diet, yum.

                      I do remember the big Pop Rocks stomach explosion controversy, however.

                      1. re: bushwickgirl

                        There was something similar when I was in elementary school in the 50's. I don't know the name but I remember buying the little packets at the soda fountain, where they also sold the candy cigarettes and the wax candy red lips. I guess the latter two were that era's equivalent of today's slutty clothes in kindergarten sizes.

                        1. re: greygarious

                          Your last remark cracked me up completely.
                          Are you talking about sherbet fountains? Tart powder in little bags with licorice straws to suck it out with?

                            1. re: sbp

                              Fizzies were Alka-Seltzer-like deals, that you put in water. These were Lik-m-ades.

                            2. re: greygarious

                              Pre-Pop Rocks, we had Space Dust, which was the cocaine to Pop Rocks' crack. I cannot believe I'm even making this analogy. (It's true, though.)

                            3. re: bushwickgirl

                              For a real blast take a mouth full of pop rocks and a glug of soda or some of us would pop an alka selzer and mouthful of water. Well we wouldn't swallow it. It was a manhood thing.

                            4. re: Hank Hanover

                              Pop Rocks were *huge* in the early-mid 80s (my childhood). We were bummed they didn't come in bigger packages. Fun Dip was the "powdered candy" that would come in little packets and you'd lick and dip a flavorless candy stick into it. Pixie stix were much easier to eat and nothing could compete with the giant ones. Nothing like ingesting dyed, flavored sugar straight-up.

                              1. re: Jen76

                                And getting Pixi Stick (or lik a made) powder down your throat!

                                1. re: roxlet

                                  Oh yeah...and then coughing up a cloud of it!

                                2. re: Jen76

                                  We fed a couple of pop rocks to my poor, long suffering cat once! don't worry, she lived to be 19!! please don't think i'm normally an animal torturer. i was much, much younger, and am still a huge animal lover. but it WAS funny to see.