Ingredients to Spice Up Your Life!
When I first became interested in cooking I would simply find a recipe that I liked and then follow it. Nothing wrong with that but the more I got into cooking the more I began to recognize the varied flavor palettes and how to pair ingredients on the fly. Now for me the fun in cooking is in the process. Experimentation and focusing more on the techniques rather than recipes.
Absorbing the sights, sounds and aromas as the ingredients are lead through the cooking process.
My approach today is to keep a well stock pantry and buy fresh seasonal food and kind of riff based on what I have available and what I have learned. There are some disasters occasionally but it is really fun when you can whip up something mind blowing with only what you currently have in your kitchen.
To help with this I like to keep on hand what I call my secret weapons. These are either exotic ingredients or twist of staples that give a dish that little something, that kick in the taste buds. Or they can even be substitutes.
Some are bought, some are prepared, some are introduced early in the cooking process and some are used as finishing and even dipping sauces. These are just a few of my secret weapons, but please feel free to share yours. I guess they will no longer be secret now will they. Hmm… Conundrum.
I use Spanish, Portuguese or Mexican fresh versions of this pork sausage to add a spicy kick too many dishes such as omelets, soups, pizza toppings, grits and even hamburgers (just mix or blend it right in with the burger meat). I usually remove the meat from the skin prior to cooking.
I add the pickled rinds to several dips and sauces Couscous benefit from a small hit as well as Bloody Marys. You will want to rinse the salt off before use and generally, you use either the rind (chopped) or the flesh.
You can get creative here, as the possibilities are nearly infinite. Compound butters add that little something extra to just about any dish that requires butter and you can make your own signature versions. Make ahead and top grilled meats and veggies or drop them into rich sauces. Here are just a few of my favorites; Serrano Butter, Shallot Butter, Roasted Red Pepper Butter. If you’re not a “butter person” then check out my healthier alternatives to butter here.
A unique tasting hot sauce from Mozambique with roots in Portugal can be use in soups, stews and on chicken. You will need to find African bird’s eye chiles to make it at home or you can buy it online from several companies.
Black Mamba Finishing Sauce
You may have seen this before on CCF here but this is truly a secret weapon. I really do not know how it works but it instantly flavors grilled beef when spritzed on just before the meat is done. Great results every time.
Angel Dust Creole Seasoning
Well my Louisiana roots are showing. I use this mixture on just about anything. I mean everything gets a hit of this in my house. Cereal anyone?
Something so small as substituting Dijon or yellow mustard with Creole mustard can really drastically improve any dish requiring the yellow stuff. I use Zataran’s brand and it has become easy to get these days.
Homemade Stock and Broths
I have said it before and I guess I am saying it again but homemade stocks and broths make a huge difference, especially in dishes such as soups, gumbo and etouffee. It can be time consuming but the payoff is worth it.
Tabasco & Crystals Hot Sauce
Not so secret I guess but my dependency on the two staple Louisiana hot sauces warranted their inclusion. I use Tabasco to add heat and Crystals to add flavor.
Again, this really is not a big secret but just like the hot sauces above it would not be prudent to omit it. Almost everything, even hot chocolate can benefit from just a pinch of cayenne. It really wakes up your taste buds.
Varied Dried Chiles
For me it is essential to keep a variety of dried peppers on hand. I like to make my on chipotle in adobe, use them when braising meat and to make a plethora of marinades, salsa and sauces. They add very nice rustic taste to meals.
South Louisiana’s smoky, spicy pork sausage can be found in many markets outside of Louisiana these days. I use it in the same manner as chorizo but the flavor profile is markedly different.
Sambal Oelek, Sriracha & Harisa
Sriracha has pretty much replaced ketchup in my house. It has nice garlic overtones and is hot but the heat dissipates quickly. I mainly use the Sambal and Harisa to make other more complex sauces and marinades.
Dry Jerk Seasoning
No not the store bought variety but the real deal. I always have this on hand and can quickly churn out jerk chicken, pork, fish, shrimp even steaks. It is very versatile and authentic.
Ted Reader’s BBQ Bone Dust
Sort of a rub, sort of a seasoning mix that turns any grill meats and veggies into something wonderful. You can make it at home. Make plenty, as you will be hitting everything with it. Try it on French fries. Ah, man! Or kick start a more boring veggie.
Truffle oil is rather played out but it still can give any haute or pseudo haute cuisine a distinctive flavor. But remember to use it sparingly or the taste can take over a dish.
Well that is all for now. What are your secret weapons? Let’s hear from you in the comment below.