50 Secret Ingredients
Anchovies don't get enough respect. I like to incorporate them in my sauce to add depth with a little bit of saltiness. They're great to work with in Italian dishes.
Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives
2. Arborio Rice
I grind Arborio rice and use it instead of breadcrumbs on most of my fried foods. It has a higher sugar content than wheat, so it caramelizes faster, which helps prevent fish or delicate vegetables from overcooking.
Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello
3. Balsamic Vinegar
Balsamic aged for seven years or more adds tang to sauces, makes a wonderful steak sauce (with equal parts maple syrup) and rocks with chocolate and berry desserts.
Nadia G's Bitchin' Kitchen
4. Bay Leaves
A single leaf can add rich flavor to soups and stews. For more intensity, I toast and grind fresh bay leaves to add to cucumber-yogurt sauce.
Kefi and FISHTAG, New York City
5. Brown Butter
I baste meat with brown butter — it insulates the meat and gives it a nutty flavor.
Juni, New York City
6. Cane Syrup
I use this purest form of sweetness whenever possible. It's incredible in coffee drinks.
Cotton Row and Pane e Vino Pizzeria, Huntsville, AL
I shave celery into parsley salad and serve it with anything fried to cut the grease.
Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, Miami
8. Chili-Lime Rub
I rub a whole chicken with chili-lime powder and roast it. It's one of my favorite chicken recipes.
Mexican Made Easy
Try using cilantro instead of basil in pesto, then toss with pasta or drizzle over grilled fish.
It's common in both sweet and savory Mexican foods. We use it to add depth to braised meats, like short ribs, and to add complexity to stews, mole and other sauces.
Rosa Mexicano, multiple locations
11. Citric Acid
Naturally occurs in citrus fruits and is available in powder form. A tiny amount does wonders to heighten the flavor of any preparation containing fruit; it provides the sour element without any additional flavors and won't dilute the product as lemon juice would. It can be used in buttercream, mousses and jams.
12. Creole Seasoning
It's my best friend in the kitchen. It's the perfect blend of salt, peppers and other herbs and spices and makes for a one-stop seasoning shop.
The Originals with Emeril
I love transforming less-than-fresh bread into crispy seasoned croutons or breadcrumbs and putting them on pasta or salads for crunch. Rye or cornbread croutons are especially good on bacony beans.
Mary Sue Milliken
Border Grill, Los Angeles
14. Dijon Mustard
It's a tasty sandwich topping but also the best emulsifier for sauces and dressings. When something needs zing, I go for Dijon mustard.
I always add fresh dill to the mix of fresh herbs in lobster dishes — it really enhances the flavors. It's also great paired with beets, and when making egg salad, it's the only other ingredient you ever really need besides mayonnaise and salt.
Telepan, New York City
16. Espelette Pepper
This chile pepper comes from a small region in France and gives food a nice, spicy flavor but not too much heat. I especially like to use it with salmon: I marinate the fish with cocoa nibs, Espelette pepper powder and salt.
Jacques Torres Chocolate, multiple locations
17. Fish Sauce
Fish sauce injects serious flavor into any dish where garlic plays a key role. I use it in Caesar dressing, in several spicy dipping sauces and in roasted tomato preparations. I can't live without it.
RM Seafood, Las Vegas
18. French's Yellow Mustard
There is no substitute for French's — I use it in chow-chows and relishes. I make tons of mustard, but I always keep store-bought around.
City Grocery, Oxford, MS
19. Garlic, Ginger and Green Onion Paste
When I started at Chinois many years ago, my secret weapon was a blend of 1 tablespoon of chopped ginger, 1 1/2 tablespoons of chopped garlic and 3 minced green onions mixed into a rough paste. I would add it to almost every dish, like sautéed chicken and vegetables or scallion pancakes.
Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air and Spago, Los Angeles
20. Gulf Shrimp
The flesh of Gulf shrimp have a subtle, sweet and briny taste, but I also cook down the shrimp heads to extract the beautiful nutty flavor; I use the broth to make bisques and sauces come alive.
August, New Orleans
In all my restaurants I brew espresso not just to serve as a warm beverage but as a secret addition to chocolate mousse and also in marinades for meat. For chocolate mousse and other chocolate desserts, just a touch of espresso really complements the flavor while adding a layer of complexity. Not too much, though, as you don't want to actually taste coffee.
22. "The Craigie Trinity"
Coriander seed, fennel seed and New Mexico chile flakes: They go in pretty much everything we make.
Craigie on Main, Cambridge, MA
I like to use this North African hot sauce to give my guests that aha! moment. Use it in sauces, like an aïoli for shrimp, or as a special spread on a sandwich.
Comme Ça, Los Angeles and Las Vegas
I love the bold flavor of fresh horseradish. I grate it over grilled trout and mix it into applesauce and pear sauce to use as a condiment on roast pork sandwiches.
Grüner, Portland, OR
25. Kuzu Root Starch
I add kuzu root starch to soups because it is a great thickener and great for digestion. Sometimes I even make kuzu crisps, or crush it up and use it as a crust on proteins.
Bouley and Brushstroke, New York City
Cooking with as many fatty animals as I do, I can't live without the acidity of lemon (both juice and zest) to cut through the fat.
Iron Chef America
27. Bacon Fat
Bacon fat, baby! Who doesn't love that smoky, hearty flavor? And you know how Gina and I love our pigs! We like to chop up some bacon, throw it in a skillet, render the fat and use that flavor to sauté our veggies. Oink!
Pat and Gina Neely
Down Home with the Neelys
I put mint in a ton of stuff: Bolognese, pesto, linguine with clams. It adds such a clean, crisp pop to food. People have a hard time figuring out what they are tasting, and after I tell them, they can't understand how they didn't pick up on it.
Anchovies & Olives, Seattle
29. Palm Sugar
I use a mix of three parts butter to one part palm sugar for basting meats at the end of the cooking process. It creates a sweet, chewy, crunchy coating on the outside.
Avec, Blackbird and Publican Quality Meats, Chicago
30. Pandanus Leaves
I use these long grassy leaves to infuse a vanilla flavor in steamed rice, coconut milk, even meat stews. Add them to the water in the bottom of your steamer to perfume whatever you are steaming.
Pok Pok, Portland, OR, and Pok Pok NY, Brooklyn
31. French Salted Butter
French salted butter is so creamy and amazing, and the salt adds such a luxurious richness to any sauce. It's my go-to in finishing sauces, mostly fish.
Iron Chef America
32. Peanut Oil
I use peanut oil for grilling just about everything. It provides really great flavor and has a higher smoke point than olive oil, so it won't cause that bitter taste you get when you grill with really expensive olive oil.
The Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, Fort Worth, TX
33. Pedro Ximénez Sherry Vinegar
The PX grape is the sweetest of the sherry grapes, and it makes a vinegar that is rich without being overly astringent. I use it in beans, stews or even rice dishes to add some acidity.
Tertulia, New York City
34. Pickle Juice
I use the leftover salty liquid from pickles to brine chicken and pork. I even boil potatoes in it to add some acidity.
Good Stuff Eatery, Washington, D.C.
35. Rose Petals
They are a nice addition to bouquet garni, adding a soft flowery aroma to stews and rice dishes.
Junoon, New York City
36. Mascarpone Cheese
I love to use it in both sweet and savory dishes. It can be used in place of sour cream or cream cheese.
Giada De Laurentiis
Giada at Home
I like to serve a very traditional dish called tortilla Española — basically an egg-and-potato frittata served with aïoli — and I add a touch of saffron to the aïoli for a flavorful punch.
Iron Chef America
38. Shiro Dashi
Shiro dashi is a concentrated broth made from seaweed, bonito fish and mushrooms. It adds a savory base note to any broth; I sneak it into onion soup.
Wit & Wisdom, Baltimore
39. Soy Sauce
This is my secret weapon in vinaigrettes. Whisk together 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 3 tablespoons olive oil and add a splash of soy sauce.
Ten Dollar Dinners
41. Pomegranate Molasses
I love to use it to balance out salad dressings.
Bobby Flay's Barbecue Addiction
When I was first testing my Bloody Mary recipe I added some Sriracha, and it didn't just make it spicier, it made it more flavorful. Now I add a couple of drops to everything from soup to eggs.
Iron Chef America
43. Tasmanian Pepperberry
These black berries, sometimes called mountain peppers, are hot berries with a crunchy seed cluster at the center. I use them with steaks or in vinaigrettes. I think they are killer because of their sweet heat.
Add depth to anything starchy: beans, potatoes, rice, etc.
Good Eats with Alton Brown
45. Thai Curry Paste
I use all three varieties (green, red and yellow) to create sauces for skirt steak salad and spicy duck noodles. Each curry paste has its own unique flavor and heat level.
BLT American Brasserie, Chicago
46. Tomato Jam
My old pastry chef taught me to add a scoop of tomato jam when preparing chocolate sorbet or chocolate ice cream. I know it sounds weird, but it elevates the flavor of the chocolate. But don't use it as a topping — it doesn't work the same way!
Happy's Bar & Kitchen, Boston
47. Worcestershire Sauce
I use a splash of this in everything from scrambled eggs to clam chowder. It just seems to fill the gap in flavor that is so often missing. To me, it is a secret weapon because it can add a cooked-in saltiness even if it's added at the last minute.
Alex's Day Off
48. White Miso
It adds an incredible layer of depth to food. You can brush it on fish, or add it to soups or salad dressing.
Red Rooster Harlem, New York City
49. XO Sauce
It's a spicy, salty, slightly fishy sauce with hints of chile pepper, garlic and ginger. I sauté fish in some olive oil and add a touch of XO sauce, but it also works well on vegetables.
Clio, Uni and Toro, Boston
50. Pickled Jalapenos
This jar of love stays in my fridge 24/7 to add zip, heat and sweet to so much. I add 'em to my mashed potatoes, deviled eggs, salad dressings and more. Plus, people always ask me, "What is it I'm tasting?" Yaaaaay!!
Cooking for Real