Are you ready to step up your cooking game? Here are 7 simple ways to take it to the next level.
We’ve all seen the movie where a chef claims to have a secret ingredient, a magical flavour booster that revolutionizes their recipe and makes food critics weak at the knees. It’s an excellent showing of how just one small change to the spice mix can have drastic differences in the final outcome — but is it just movie magic?
Chefs, and home cooks too, have been adding their own flair to cooking for many centuries, usually it’s a family secret or a small life hack, but sometimes they stumble upon something great. Something so great that it’s only fair that we all know about it.
Just like normal mustard, the sharp flavour profile of ground mustard is a great compliment to rich ingredients like beef and cheese. In fact, it’s one of the best spices that you can use in your favourite mac and cheese due to it being an excellent emulsifying agent as well as making it taste exceptional.
You will even find it in many homemade mayonnaise recipes as a way to help bind together the eggs and oil. It doesn’t have to be used in large quantities, but a little pinch in rich foods can provide an excellent counterpoint to an otherwise overwhelming tasting note.
It may surprise you to learn that one of the best uses for cocoa powder in a professional kitchen is in the Chili Con Carne — it certainly surprised me. It is all down to the richness of the chocolate because as it turns out, it is an excellent balance to the acidity of the tomatoes and peppers in the bowl.
However, it is essential that you use dark chocolate, as using anything else may just end up becoming too sweet. Thankfully, you will not be able to taste it (unless you add so much that it becomes a chocolate soup) and the depth and complexity it adds will be sure to leave your guests begging for the recipe.
Cocoa powder also helps to produce that wonderful deep colour that everyone loves!
Nutmeg (The Secret Ingredient to the Best Mac and Cheese)
This Christmas spice is one of the biggest favours you can do for your mac and cheese game, it brings an excellent earthy smokiness to your cheese sauce, but without any of the heat or spice of other options.
It is a classic addition by traditional French chefs to any bechemel recipe that has unfortunately been lost on its journey to our personal recipe books.
However, just like mustard powder, it is undergoing somewhat of a resurgence and people are becoming wise to the nuances of the perfect cheese sauce. Just make sure that you only use a small pinch, otherwise, your mac and cheese may end up tasting a little festive.
Okay, this one could be considered a modern miracle and less of a secret ingredient anymore — espresso powder in chocolate recipes. Not to be confused with instant coffee, this magical powder doesn’t impart any coffee flavours into your chocolate cake recipe, but what it does do is intensify any chocolate notes that are present and make them more complex.
Not only this, but if you find yourself in a pinch and you have to use low quality chocolate, then this is the perfect pick-me-up to turn that cheap chocolate into something a lot more decadent and exciting!
Black Pepper in Desserts
Ancient Romans were notorious for putting pepper into their desserts, but they also fought lions and wore sandals all day — so should we trust them?
Adding a little bit of black pepper (or if you’re feeling particularly ambitious — a lot) can greatly enhance certain flavours. Most prominent of all these flavours are strawberries and fruits; a generous amount of ground black pepper adds a mild spice and brings out the deepest levels of sweetness from almost any fruit.
If this seems strange to you, don’t forget that cinnamon is an excellent baking spice, but can also be found in thousands of savoury dishes all around the globe.
It even works great with ice cream!
MSG Is The Ultimate Secret Ingredient
This is the difference between your stir-fry and the restaurant stir fry; MSG adds so much umami flavour that it is almost impossible to create certain dishes without it. Substitutes such as soy sauce and fish sauce may be used to get close, but without this magical seasoning you might as well just pick up the phone and order if you’re craving anything with it in.
I have a great overview of MSG and where you can use it here:The Transformative Power of MSG for the Home Cook
The misunderstood life of salt’s big brother.medium.com
Spoiler alert, it’s nearly everything!
Honey Whiskey for Caramelized Onions
Finally, my personal favourite!
An essential component of caramelized onions is the deglazing step, it picks up all of the fon and flavour you would have left in the pan and throws it right back into the onions — but what do you use to deglaze? Common liquids other chefs use are:
- Balsamic Vinegar
- Red / White Wine
- Broth and Stock
But if you use honey whisky, what remains is a sweet, smoky punch to your jammy mixture. I use this trick all the time when I am having a BBQ, so much so that the onions are typically the best-tasting thing on my menu!
Did you learn anything new? Or do you have a secret ingredient that I missed? I would love to know if you do, I am always on the lookout for brand new flavours and recipes so let me know! And I’m sure that everyone else reading would also like to know, so don’t be shy!