11 Secret Ingredients to Add to Your Kitchen

Food & Entertainment

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Every so often, a new ingredient will come into my life via a new-to-me recipe that changes the way I think about my improvisational cooking approach. As I move back into my own kitchen with a new pantry and revised layout (optimized for more cooking space AND gatherings), I looked through my own fridge and pantry and collected a couple of ingredients I’d recommend adding to your shopping list.


I used to ask for them to be removed from the top of my Caesar salad orders until I realized the reason I loved Caesar dressing SO MUCH was the fact that most of the great ones had anchovies IN the dressing itself! For some folks, it takes a bit of time to get used to handling them or even how they look on the plate. SO consider using them as a secret ingredient for sauces. They have great depth and a little bit of saltiness and pair wonderfully with most Italian dishes.

Creole Seasoning

A blend of onion powder, oregano, basil, thyme, black pepper, white pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, and salt, a good quality brand of creole seasoning makes it a one-stop flavor bomb that takes the guesswork out of what to rub on your next pork chop or what to toss on shrimp before placing them on the grill. 

Fish Sauce

Again, this is something I bought for one recipe and didn’t know how to use until I understood how to improvise in the kitchen. In my experience, fish sauce works well with garlic; wherever garlic is front and center, you don’t really notice the sauce aside from a unique depth it provides that is a little milder than when using anchovies. 


This was one of the first fancy “I don’t really know what this is” purchases I made when I started to learn how to cook. It became a wonderful way to pack some extra punch into my marinades, dips, and sauces and take my cooking up a notch. Harissa is a North African type of paste/hot sauce that can also be used as a condiment or however you would typically use hot sauce. 


We were just in England, where they know how important dipping sauces are to a plate of fried food. Not only do I love mixing a bit of horseradish into tartar sauce or adding it over fish, but it also packs a bit of punch in sweet sauces as well. 

French Salted Butter

This is another love that came home from Paris with me. I like to make my own salted butter to make even the simplest loaf of bread extra special. Who says everyday, simple meals can’t be special in their own right? You can also add a generous helping to finish off sauces; the delicate flavor can really enhance the protein—especially fish!

Pickle Juice

Before you throw out your next jar, consider adding pickle juice to a brine for chicken or pork. You could even use it to boil potatoes or add to a dressing if you want to really live on the edge. 

Mascarpone Cheese

I recently used this cheese in a risotto recipe and OMG it added another level of creaminess and subtle sweetness that worked so well with a dish in which I generally use grated pecorino cheese. Mascarpone cheese works for both sweet and savory dishes and can be used in place of sour cream or cream cheese. 

White Miso

I gotta thank Gwyneth Paltrow for using this SO MUCH in her cookbooks that I finally bought some and now I add it to EVERYTHING—soups, salad dressings, salmon, anything that needs a little extra layer of depth. A tub lasts for a long time in the fridge and a little goes a long way. 

Pickled Jalapeños

This ingredient is perfect for SO MANY USES!! I love to add them to paninis, egg dishes, salad dressings, toppings for a baked potato bar or chili night, or just to zest up a basic piece of cheese pizza my kids didn’t eat. 

Dijon Mustard

I often add dijon mustard to salad dressings, to dress up some leftover roast chicken on a sandwich, or to zing up a marinade. 

If you are looking to get creative with ingredients in the kitchen and want to experiment with flavor, I recommend purchasing The Flavor Bible to study how flavor profiles work and understand how salt, acid, heat, and umami flavors are all levers to pull and tweak when getting creative in the kitchen. Happy cooking!

BY Kate Arends - May 31, 2019

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June 10, 2019 4:42 am

This is a great selection of ingredients and I could certainly add some of those to my pantry items!
As for French salted butter, I wholeheartedly agree. Not only because I am French, but I am precisely from the part of France where we swear by salted butter, so much so in fact that we even use it in baking cakes, tarts etc. It makes a lot of desserts taste incredible.

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