7 Secret Ingredients Our Chefs Swear By | Dining x Ten

Secret Ingredients

As we whip up our familiar repertoire in the home kitchen day in, day out, there’s always this nagging question at the back of our mind: why does my pasta taste so different from my favorite restaurants’? How does one make an everyday dish pop without over-complicating the preparation or laboring hours by the stove?

Well, sometimes the answer is as simple as sprinkling a dash of kitchen stardust on top – you just have to know what it is. We asked seven chefs across US and Canada to reveal their favorite secret weapon in the kitchen, and they gladly obliged (we were very persuasive).

Barclay Dodge — Bosq Restaurant, Aspen

Chef Barclay Dodge

Name a secret ingredient you keep in the restaurant pantry that would enhance the flavors of a dish instantly.

Shio koji, which is a liquid form of lacto-fermented barley koji. We spray it as a finishing touch on food to give it a boost of umami and flavor, add to sauces and vinaigrettes, and use as a marinade on vegetables and proteins.

Name a dish you cook at home or at your restaurant where the magical quality of this ingredient is best demonstrated.

Our lobster dish is pretty fantastic. It is par-cooked in the shell: the tail is removed from the shell and then marinated in koji. The lobster is grilled over juniper branches and served with a black mussel-buttermilk sauce with dill oil. Very simple and very delicious.

How can home cooks use this ingredient at home to take their cooking to the next level?

Easy. You can buy shio koji – although we make our own – it is readily available on the internet. Give it a taste first to see what it tastes like, then use it as a seasoning. It is very versatile and can be used on many foods.

Joseph Rizza — Prime & Provisions and LÝRA, Chicago

Chef Joseph Rizza

Name a secret ingredient you keep in the restaurant pantry that would enhance the flavors of a dish instantly.

Stravecchio balsamico, or extra aged balsamic. The balsamic I like to use is DOP approved by the Consorzio di Modena. The brand I use is Sogno Toscano, which is aged for a minimum of 25 years.

Name a dish you cook at home or at your restaurant where the magical quality of this ingredient is best demonstrated.

I use this at home and in the restaurant, but at home I typically use it to finish my home-grown tomato and burrata salad. Just a slight drizzle over the whole salad really adds the best touch of sweet and savory to such a refreshing dish. I also use it on my steaks at home as well. I cook on hardwood charcoal at home, so the smokiness from the wood and the sweetness from the extra aged vinegar are amazing together. 

How can home cooks use this ingredient at home to take their cooking to the next level?

This extra aged vinegar is more like a glaze or syrup. It is super concentrated, so the best applications would be to drizzle it over a lightly dressed salad, over a freshly grilled steak or with a nice charcuterie board.

 

Mikko Tamarra — Fortuna’s Row, Calgary

Chef Mikko Tamarra

Name a secret ingredient you keep in the restaurant pantry that would enhance the flavors of a dish instantly.

Ajillo is a chili oil made with three ingredients: guajillo chiles, garlic and canola oil. It is made by cooking all the ingredients in low heat until the garlic is soft, then we blend it in a blender.

Name a dish you cook at home or at your restaurant where the magical quality of this ingredient is best demonstrated.

Ajillo is a very versatile condiment and is packed full of umami. In the restaurant, we use it to flavor our beans as a substitute for lard to keep it vegetarian. We drizzle it over the tomato salad, and it gives it another layer of flavor. 

How can home cooks use this ingredient at home to take their cooking to the next level?

At home, I use the same condiment when I make any stir fry, fried rice, vegetable, on top of the eggs and even instant noodles. Since it’s corn season right now, my favorite application is to mix it with mayonnaise and brush it over grilled corn. One thing to note is this goes for any chili oil: if you do not have time to make the ajillo, or you can’t seem to find the ingredients, store bought chili oil works just as good!

 

Edgar Panchernikov — Caviar Russe, New York and Miami

Chef Edgar Panchernikov

Name a secret ingredient you keep in the restaurant pantry that would enhance the flavors of a dish instantly.

Classic Osetra Caviar, from Caviar Russe’s exclusive caviar farm in Germany. 

Name a dish you cook at home or at your restaurant where the magical quality of this ingredient is best demonstrated.

The Golden Egg – a classic dish on our menu – is a perfectly cooked egg with a runny center, coated in panko and fried to create a crisp shell with a soft center. The egg is then placed on a parmesan foam, with the classic Osetra adding more richness to an already rich dish. The parmesan cream and the egg yolk help to bring out the depth of flavor of the caviar. 

How can home cooks use this ingredient at home to take their cooking to the next level?

Caviar is great for enhancing any ingredient and adding depth of flavor and richness to any dish. At home it can be used on dishes like scrambled eggs, baked potatoes and pasta.

Raghav Chaudhary — Aiāna, Ottawa

Chef Raghav Chaudhary

Name a secret ingredient you keep in the restaurant pantry that would enhance the flavors of a dish instantly.

Found in abundance across Canada, sumac is a key staple ingredient in our kitchen. The tangy and slightly sour seeds provide an acidic touch like no other. Often precisely sourced or foraged, we keep sumac in our pantry as a staple for all seasons. Sumac is consumed vastly in the Middle East, and by highlighting its flavors, we embrace Canada’s multicultural heritage.

Name a dish you cook at home or at your restaurant where the magical quality of this ingredient is best demonstrated.

Sumac is used in our kitchen in a variety of dishes and cocktails throughout the year. Currently, in our summer menu, sumac is used in four dishes: amuse-bouche, fattoush, wagyu tartar, pan roasted lamb loin, and the sumac sour cocktail! Unlike many other citruses or vinegars, sumac offers a puckering mouthfeel to complement gamey and rich flavors.

How can home cooks use this ingredient at home to take their cooking to the next level?

The versatility of sumac is endless – whether one is making a marinade, salad dressing, or even a simple syrup – sumac makes for a delightful addition to any dish seeking a twangy kick. Developing the complexity of flavor is a key philosophy in everything we do. My favorite use for sumac is simply in a salad! Fattoush is a refreshing Lebanese summer dish. Fresh greens, cucumber, radish, tomato, and mint can be lightly tossed together with a sumac vinaigrette – a fresh delight!

Brian Fowler — BLACKBARN Restaurant, New York

Chef Brian Fowler

Name a secret ingredient you keep in the restaurant pantry that would enhance the flavors of a dish instantly.

Right now, my go-to “pop of flavor” and excitement are pickled sweet baby teardrop peppers. These unique peppers are a cross between a jalapeno and piquillo pepper. They have a beautiful, peppery flavor while still keeping that pop of vinegar and sweetness. I also love that they are not spicy as they are harvested before the capsaicin or oils are able to develop, producing a very unique flavor.

Name a dish you cook at home or at your restaurant where the magical quality of this ingredient is best demonstrated.

I’d have to say the olive oil braised octopus we serve at BLACKBARN in NYC’s NoMad neighborhood. The beautiful sweet baby pickled teardrop peppers give more life to our savory dish, which is complemented by roasted red pepper, hummus, preserved lemon, olive gremolata, fresno chili, fennel and watercress. The baby peppers’ bright flavors allow the octopus to be the star of the dish while still being a star on its own.

How can home cooks use this ingredient at home to take their cooking to the next level?

The use of pickles (sweet and or sour) always add an extra level of excitement and an unexpected pop of flavor. They can be used in place of vinaigrettes or dressings in a simple leafy green salad with olive oil or placed on top of a wood grilled steak to help bring out the flavors. Don’t be afraid to play around with them!

Lee Cooper — L’Abattoir, Vancouver

Chef Lee Cooper

Name a secret ingredient you keep in the restaurant pantry that would enhance the flavors of a dish instantly.

We make a peppercorn condiment made from finely ground beef and veal sweetbread trimmings that are slowly fried in olive oil until they are completely dry and crunchy. The crunchy meat mixture is then mixed with toasted and crushed black and pink peppercorns, fleur de sel, and just enough extra virgin olive oil so all the ingredients can be mixed together and spooned over cooked meat or poultry. If you like, you could even add Szechuan peppercorns for the tingle and exotic spice. 

Name a dish you cook at home or at your restaurant where the magical quality of this ingredient is best demonstrated.

The peppercorn condiment is a component in our steak Diane, which has long been a fixture on our menu. It adds spice, salt and fat to the fillet steak. The traditional version of steak Diane calls for brandy, shallots and peppercorns in its preparation; the L’Abattoir version sees the fillet steak topped with this peppercorn mixture and the finished sauce made with brandy, shallots and roasted chicken jus spooned over the steak. The peppercorn condiment provides spice, texture and seasoning to the dish.  

How can home cooks use this ingredient at home to take their cooking to the next level?

You could make a condiment like this with any variation of spices or meats depending on your desired use. This particular version lends itself to any meat or poultry dish that you are looking to add a little spice and seasoning to after cooking!

Who knew elevating home dishes could be so simple? Contact the concierge if you’d like us to help you source these secret ingredients, or experience how the chefs use them in the kitchen by booking a table at their restaurant. For more inspirational chef content, read our Q&A with 6 eminent US chefs.

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