In fact, it is very easy to cook delicious food. As the great Michelangelo said when asked about the secret of his sculptures, “I just take a block of marble and cut off everything superfluous!” Like any art, cooking is about making simple things beautiful. Suffice it, for example, to recall the incomparable Julia Child and her famous phrase: “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.”
Yes, it really is all about the ingredients. The same little thing or its absence can completely change the taste of the same dish – turn something tasteless into incomparable, and vice versa. We all probably have stories in our minds about how someone, literally with a pinch of something special, made others lick their fingers and beg for more.
Recently, another popular thread on “secret” ingredients appeared in the Reddit Cooking community. Its topic starter asked just one simple question: “What’s an ingredient you held out on buying only to later realize you’d been missing out?” As of today, the thread already has 725 upvotes and almost 660 different comments, revealing many personal culinary secrets.
KristenBellTattoos.com has created a special selection for you of the most non-standard, outstanding and simply the most popular comments of the original thread, so now please feel free to scroll to the very-very end of the list, save the best ingredients and receipts – and be sure to tell your own cooking secret in case it’s not in our selection!
More info: Reddit
This isn’t one I’ve held off on, but it’s one that once I got it, it’s replaced a bunch of other ingredients for its ease of use.
Regardless of cuisine, if a recipe calls for hot peppers, no longer do I bother with trying to keep them in my fridge, chopping them up, etc. A spoonful of sambal oelek goes in, done. (The only exception is for pickled jalapenos in nachos or roasted green chiles.)
(And, yes, this may make me “bad,” but I’m disabled and I only have so much energy for cooking, even if I love to do it. Making one step easier with minimal negative effects? I’m there for it.)
(And this is from someone who doesn’t like the flavor of sriracha, so I replace it with sambal oelek in recipes too.)
Very often, the so-called “placebo effect” can affect the taste of food – when you think that there is some ingredient in a meal, but it is not there, though you literally feel it! Remember “Michael Jordan’s secret drink” in the first Space Jam? Here is something in this style. After all, making our brains believe that food is incredibly delicious is the main task of any cook. Hence the various requirements for serving, because beautiful presentation of a dish is already half the battle.
High quality/real maple syrup. I could never justify spending so much money on so little product, finally had some extra money at the farmers market and grabbed some. I’ll never go back. The flavor is so concentrated you only need a tiny bit so it lasts just as long but tastes 100% better.
When I first lived in my own apartment (sophomore year of college) I didn’t really know anything about cooking. When I went grocery shopping for a recipe, I would never buy an onion, because I didn’t think it would make a difference and I didn’t want to spend the money/time on it. Now I feel like I put onions in everything and it’s so funny to remember my ignorance 😅
“It’s hard to give an example offhand, especially when you have hundreds and even more of these examples in your head, accumulated over the years of professional experience – and you just can’t choose which one,” says Roman Sardarian, a chef from Odessa, Ukraine, whom KristenBellTattoos.com reached out to for comment. “However, I’ll try to give probably the simplest. Kebab or barbecue. What makes this dish incredibly flavorful, while completely retaining the texture of the meat? For me, the simple answer is dried red basil, which is also sometimes called regan.”
“Probably, it has happened to you that you passed by some good meat restaurant, felt that incomparable smell – and then tried in vain to recreate it at home? Well, it’s all thanks to dried red basil. In fact, we first perceive food with our nose, thanks to the smell, then with the eyes – and if the aroma and appearance of the food tell us that it is tasty, then most of the work has already been done,” says Roman Sardarian.
Not so much an ingredient, strictly speaking, but a zester. Since using that I’ve added lime zest to things and love the fragrance it gives to dishes. I’m going to try using orange zest rather than orange essence in a chocolate porridge later this week.
I wasn’t aware til recently (ignorant American here) that there were more than one kind of white rice. I grew up with instant. Now I’m married and experimenting with cuisines, I find the rices are different. Short grain vs long grain vs Jasmine long grain are ALL different, and the dishes are also. Short grain goes great in Risotto, Sushi and Glutinous balls (with the yummy stuff inside), long grain is good for breakfast, as a side to something with gravy or sauce (think gumbo, red beans and sausage or salisbury steak) or very long grain (jasmine or extra long grain that is tasty with curries and stir fries and bulgogi).
Once I understood the difference, I buy them individually from the Korean or Japanese markets near me. Like using brown sugar vs White vs Honey.
Each has it’s use and each tastes great in the other recipes but there is a thing for the specific rice or sauce.. It CAN be interchanged but they are better if you know the proper cuisine to match them with.
In the end, the most important secret ingredient that can turn any, even the most clumsy cooking into an absolute triumph of taste is love. After all, when you cook with love and for someone who loves you, it completely transforms any dish, because you literally put a piece of yourself into it. As the same great Julia Child once told, “I think careful cooking is love, don’t you? The loveliest thing you can cook for someone who’s close to you is about as nice a Valentine as you can give.”
I have always used canned beans out of laziness. Finally decided to go for dried beans recently and I can’t believe I didn’t do it sooner. They do take longer to cook, but as long as I plan ahead it’s fine. They taste so much better than canned.
Multiple forms of ginger: fresh, pickled, crystallized, big soft chunks, ground. I’m not big on spicy peppers (old people digestive issues), but spicy ginger goes in so many things! I’m probably an addict, tbh. I grew up with just ground ginger for baking at Christmas. Had no idea what an amazing thing it is until I was well into my 30s. I wasted so many years!
I bought crème fraiche to put in my mashed potatoes…life changing.
Used to buy basic ground pepper, out of habit. I’ve since then started to grind my own, it’s life changing 😀
Also, beer yeast flakes as a salad topper.
Continuing the Chinese theme, have you tried the various vinegars (such as Chinkiang vinegar), chillis or fermented pastes? White rice vinegar and miso are great, but they create a very different dish.
Black garlic. I realized how much I was missing out when I decided to try it recently. Mashed up with some olive oil and goat cheese then spread on a sandwich has been my go to lately but it goes great in so many dishes.
Sesame paste instead of peanut butter. Spicy sesame noodles. Makes a big difference.
Edit: dashi with miso soup
Edit2: Kerrygold butter (pure Irish butter) makes a difference in taste on toasted bread instead of regular butter.
Edit3: szechuan peppercorn. I would toast it and grind it up for Taiwanese popcorn chicken with Thai basil. Or use it for tea-smoked chicken drumsticks.
Kashmiri chili powder. Most American recipes for Indian food use cayenne for heat, since that’s more typically available here. Once I ditched cayenne for Kashmiri chili, my food started tasting a lot more like the Indian takeout I was trying to reproduce.
Kewpie mayo. It’s pricey (which is why I held off) but for sandwiches & dishes where you can really taste the flavor of the mayo, it’s absolutely incredible.
White wine. I would use vinegar and lemon juice to risotto and other dishes that brought it up, and it just added an acidity that I really disliked. White wine adds a super awesome dimension of fruitiness with some acidity. It’s really great to cook with.
Semolina flour. I used to make homemade pizza without, and always got frustrated with how easily the dough/pizza stuck to the peel. Not anymore, thanks to _Semolina_ 🤌🏻
Harissa paste, i put it almost everywhere now, when roasting potatoes, when marinaring chicken. It’s amazing!
Kaffir lime leaves! I was always using regular lime leaves and it’s just far from the real thing. I’ve since bought a Kaffir lime tree haha. Still in the pot, need to put it in the ground for it to grow bigger.
Maseca. I never cooked Mexican food until a few years ago. Being able to make tortillas, pupusas, etc on the fly is so convenient. I also use it to make champurrado on cold days. We now have a dedicated Maseca pourable container.
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